A crowd of people gathered at the Coleman Burke Gallery in Fort Andross last Saturday to celebrate the opening of “Speaking in Tongues,” a new show by Assistant Professor of Art Alicia Eggert. At one point, one woman began to tap dance, quickly quieting the room. Three other dancers soon joined her and all four moved about the space tapping what turned out to be Morse code for “I am trying to tell you something.” This unexpected performance by The Rhythm and Sole Tap Dancing Company fit in well with Eggert’s cryptic combinations of language in art.

Eggert’s exhibit speaks to her upbringing in a Pentacostal family.

“My father was a Pentacostal minister so I grew up going to a church where people would speak in tongues. The story of the Pentacost fascinates me—the idea that the disciples were given the ability to speak a language they didn’t know in order to communicate an important message to people around the world. I think making art is like speaking in tongues. As an artist, I often feel like I’m speaking a language I don’t fully understand,” said Eggert, in an email to the Orient.

Eggert says that her use of language allows viewers to become interpreters and walk away with a personal understanding of what her work means. These individual opinions can often end up redefining her own perspective on her work, making her audience collaborators in building the full significance of her art.

The viewers’ place in Eggert’s exhibition is apparent from the second one enters the gallery. Immediately in front of the entrance is a large, elevated neon sign that reads “You are on an island.” The word “on” flashes on and off so the sign sometimes declares “You are an island.” This sort of playful indefiniteness shows up throughout the exhibit.

Another of Eggert’s pieces, called “White Lie,” is made of miniature white picket fence that forms the outline of the word “LIE” that viewers can step inside. Standing inside, one feels isolated, trapped by some twisted, suburban version of the American Dream.

Much of Eggert’s work involves lights, often neon, that move or change to convey a sense of ephemerality. The gallery contains three free standing sculptures and three wall installations. 

This idea of communication between the artist and the viewer is embodied in the concept of site-specific art. Eggert is always conscious of the surroundings of her work and the environment dramatically affects her process, which she attributes to her years as an interior designer.

“Speaking in Tongues” is Eggert’s largest solo exhibition, which she says provided her with a greater degree of influence over the space, adding that “the curating aspect was a learning experience.”

Eggert’s favorite piece is titled “Everything You Are Looking For,” which was designed for a specific wall in the gallery. The space inspired her to create a jumble of neon letters that would light up to spell various things. After seeing the perfect quote on a friend’s Facebook page, Eggert collaborated with another friend, Amy Jorgensen, to create a nonsensical, line of letters that light up in turn to spell “Everything You Are…Looking For Is… Invisible.” Everything, that is, except the exhibit itself.

“Speaking in Tongues” will be on display until November 30 at the Coleman Burke Gallery in Fort Andross.