Tale Teller VI is a conceptual artwork of a type Plensa has called “souls:” human figures or heads described by stainless-steel matrices of alphabet letters. The figure takes a classic Plensa pensive pose: seated with arms clasped around the legs. The alphabet letters are of multiple languages (Arabic, English, Greek, Hebrew, and Japanese) and the artist ensures that they do not spell actual words or deal with specific concepts or topics. Rather, he sees written languages as the distinguishing feature of humans; specifically, our ability to understand and interpret our lives through literature and poetry.
The Yorkshire Sculpture Park, United Kingdom, shared the following statement in connection with their 2011 one-man exhibition of Jaume Plensa sculptures:
Plensa’s work always deals with humanity, with body and soul, and is largely figurative. Plensa believes that sculpture is an extraordinary vehicle through which to access our emotions and thoughts; his work poses questions and sets up situations where we are encouraged to think again, to talk with one another, to be silent and meditative, to touch, to be together. The artist’s work is particularly concerned with the fact that people are losing the ability to converse, both with others and with themselves, and his work actively sets out to make us reconnect with our own souls.
Plensa is very widely read and often refers to how his family home was filled with books as a child. Throughout his life he has discovered poems and texts that have moved him profoundly and it is these rather than the visual arts that have provided the broadest source of inspiration, often being directly referenced in his own work. Yet it is not just works of literature that fascinate him, but language itself. An abundance of letters and words, often forming the outline or shell of the human body, has come to characterize his sculpture and drawing. Plensa’s use of both language and the figure makes his work particularly accessible and poignant as it exists directly in the world we inhabit; it is universal. Yet through these material elements it reaches out to the immaterial, to the mind and the soul; even when alluding to life’s adversity it is hopeful and unashamedly beautiful.
That is, the sculpture’s content beautifully fits the theme of the Notre Dame Sculpture Park: Reclaiming our Nature—both the natural environment and our spiritual nature. The focus on language and literature is also very appropriate for a university.
Tale Teller VI, 2014, Jaume Plensa (Spanish, b. 1955), stainless steel and stone, 91.75 x 47.5 x 55 inches. Acquired with Funds Provided by Mr. and Mrs. William C. Ballard, Jr., 2015.009 (photograph predates installation with the Charles B. Hayes Family Sculpture Park)