Last Whispers: artist Lena Herzog on endangered languages


Last Whispers: Oratorio for Vanishing Voices, Collapsing Universes and a Falling Tree, created by artist Lena Herzog, is a project about the mass extinction of languages. It will be featured at Ca' Foscari starting in April 2022. The initiative is promoted by UNESCO and curated by Silvia Burini, Maria Gatti Racah, Giulia Gelmi, and Anastasia Kozachenko-Stravinsky of Ca' Foscari's Department of Philosophy and Cultural Heritage. 

Every two weeks the world loses a language. At an unprecedented speed, faster than the extinction of some species, our linguistic diversity—the very means by which we know ourselves—is eroding. Today, out of the 7,000 languages remaining on Earth, only 30 are spoken among the majority of the world population. It is estimated that at least half of the planet’s currently spoken languages will have died out by the end of this century. Some estimates project a much greater speed of disappearance. In an attempt to raise awareness about this issue, The United Nations General Assembly and UNESCO declared 2022-2032 the “International Decade of Indigenous Languages.”

Last Whispers is both a profoundly modern and traditional choral work. The spatialized sound composition layers recordings of speech, recitatives, incantations, songs and ritual chants, with audible punctuations of sounds from nature and outer space frequencies (made audible), including gravitational waves of supernovas (dying stars) recorded by LIGO, “The Listening Ear.” The result is a visceral, sensory immersion. While we drown in the noise of our own voices—uttered within dominant cultures and languages—we are surrounded by a vast ocean of silence. The project aims to further awareness of language extinction on a global scale. 

The immersive soundscape of Last Whispers is an invocation of extinct languages and an incantation of those that are endangered, composed from recordings held in the world’s greatest linguistic archives. With generous support from the Jim & Marilyn Simons Foundation, Lena Herzog selected recordings from the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme at SOAS University of London (now at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities), the Smithsonian, the Rosetta Project, and over a dozen other world archives.

Lena Herzog is a photographer and artist whose internationally recognised work is conceptual, multidisciplinary, and focussed on topics such as rituals and gesture, loss and displacement. Her approach is rooted in the intersection of art and science, understood both as objects of study and as processes. In her printed work, Ms Herzog uses traditional, contemporary and experimental photographic techniques, while in her multimedia projects she employs cutting-edge technology in the realm of sound, immersive installations and virtual reality. Ms Herzog’s artistic sensitivity in tackling topics related to global sustainability, and her meticulous documentary research make the Last Whispers project particularly meaningful for the Venetian and international public. 


Last Whispers will be presented at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice from April to September 2022 in three separate installations:

  • an immersive virtual reality experience which can be enjoyed thanks to visors and headphones from 21 April to 30 July in Tesa 1 di Ca' Foscari Zattere - CFZ. Each visitor will use a set which will be sanitised after use
  • a site-specific installation of images related to the project will be exhibited in Ca’ Foscari’s main courtyard and will be open to the public from 21 April to 30 September 2022

  • an audio-visual projection will be presented in Ca’ Foscari’s main courtyard as the key event in the 2022 edition of Art Night, which will be held on 18 June 2022



21 April - 30 July  2022
10:00 — 19:00
CFZ - Ca’ Foscari Zattere / Cultural Flow Zone
Zattere al Pontelungo
Dorsoduro 1392

21 April – 30 September 2022
8:00 – 19:00
Courtyard of Ca’ Foscari University
Venezia, Palazzo Ca’ Giustinian dei Vescovi,
Dorsoduro 3246

Date: June 18th, 2022
Time: 18:00 opening / showing at 21:00
Venue: Courtyard of Ca’ Foscari University