Pro Helvetia Studio Residency, Atelier Mondial, Basel, 3 April-30 June 2019
(in preparation for) (a language without an itinerary)*
For him, there are only target languages [langues d'arrivee] , if you will, the remarkable experience being, however, that these languages just cannot manage to reach themselves because they no longer know where they are coming from, what they are speaking from and what the sense of their journey is. Languages without an itinerary and, above all, without any superhighway of goodness knows what information. Jacques Derrida, Monolingualism of the Other, p 62.
This is the name of my project here in Basel, I forgot where the term came from for a while but continued to use it anyway. Turns out it is a Jacques Derrida quote, and - very broadly - for me, it speaks to the experience of not having an original language to return to - Derrida felt he did not, he was a Maghrebian Jew from Algeria who spoke French as his only language and yet, he did not identify with the language as a mother tongue because the language is one of coloniality, which he inherited as its subject. From this point, I understand that he critiques a nationalistic perspective on language as a sign of those people: an export of a national identity (in Africa, Caribbeans etc.) and as a depository for the history of a people because the wide expansion of a language such as French… or English … means that people who do not share that same sense of nationalistic pride also speak it. Therefore, the French that Derrida speaks is a language without an itinerary: he does not identify with its origin and so his movement through it is without the same sense of historicity… whose history is recorded through formal languages?
A language without an itinerary is a language that does not reverberate its so-called origins because the origins are not those of the speaker - and what if the speaker does not want to honour the history of the language as their own relation to it is one of violence/ forgetting? Aya drew this illustration for me of what competition in the art world looks like: initially she made a cone shape with the paper and drew ascending symbols on it to reference an upward movement of artists towards a single point (the sign of success to be on top). When she flattened the paper it looked like this. Symbols randomly moving towards a single point. This diagram also illustrates for me, Derrida’s language with an itinerary, the structure of the cone is the national identity or, in other words, the national ideology, which sustains the structure/ the single narrative of a language in history. When the paper is flattened, there is no longer an itinerary or, more precisely, no logical movement towards ‘up’: the structure doesn’t exist.
The film, Stalker (Tarkovsky, 1979), is set in a prohibited area, called The Zone, which has been allowed to become overgrown with nature due to its prohibition to people. The area is described as being hit by an invisible meteorite, mysteriously killing inhabitants. In The Zone, flowers don't have a scent. things that are repeated: words, birthdays, seasons, days, public holidays, times of day, phrases, years, train schedules, classes, religious ceremonies, breaths, routes, tones, looks, touches, gestures, symbols, spelling, mealtimes, calling, addressing, denying, locking, unlocking, reproduction, naming, ‘I cannot say ‘I’ in my mother tongue and still refer to myself’: In his essay, ‘The Monolingualism of the Other’, Jacques Derrida uses the term interdiction to refer to his experience, as an Algerian Jew, of not being allowed to say ‘I’ and still see the image of himself, while speaking in colonial french - the only language he knew.A nightmare scenario in which I am in my own home and yet this home is completely unfamiliar to me. Once I woke up during the midnight sun in Tromsø and yet, there was no light outside. I walked through my home, which was thick with darkness, and finally realised that I was fast asleep, upstairs. The ‘upside down’ in the Netflix original, ‘Stranger Things’, is a useful illustration for this place. A pidgin language is a language which can develop in contexts of labour and/or trade. Most commonly, it is known to have developed during the period of colonialism, where different groups of people were enslaved from across the world and brought to new land. They would not have shared a common language except that of the coloniser, i.e. French in Mauritius (aka Creole) or Pidgin English in the Caribbean Islands.I understand ideology to be an invisible set of agreements which we (in our communities/ societies/nations) subscribe to, to ensure that we ‘function’ together. However, we are most often born and conditioned into this agreement and do not (want to) know that we can disagree with it as the consequences can be unimaginable to us. i.e. It is a prerequisite to have a name on my birth certificate, which means that I am made subject to the law from birth.If I am not named, how can i be called?Another example: the process of Norweginisation of the Saami. The Saami were expected to lose their language, their names and other elements of their cultural identity to become a part of a Norwegian nationalist society. The Norwegian nationalist ideology did not include another subject who said ‘I’ when they were not called.An important factor to the invisible success of ideology is that everyone who has agreed to it also agrees to maintain it - all by themselves. i.e. we in South Africa agree that it is vital to be fluent in the English language, which is why we are educated in it (however, most of us do not speak English as a primary language in the country). Therefore, to island a language one needs to be outside of it - completely. As someone alien to Norwegian, I was already outside, I just had to find a means of taking my audience outside of their primary language as well. I was interested in the microaggressions between speakers from different parts of the country whose dialects could not hide where exactly each person has been raised and I expanded on these moments, i.e. when a word is mispronounced by a subject, this person makes themselves known as other to ‘regular’ speakers of that region. I wanted everyone to be uncertain in taal-eh.I used Norwegian as the host language for taal-eh because it is a primary-spoken language which I did not have access to, previously. As a speaker of a hegemonic primary language - universally and in my home country - I was enabled to reflect on the position of privilege as a dominant language speaker. As an English speaker in South Africa, my accent and handle of the language indicate a degree of cultural capital to potential employers, people in social settings, higher education and so on.My language is also descended from the colonial history of my country. With regards to Norwegian, I was interested in the colonial history of the language, for example, as a medium for forced education. I felt that this was an important model to work from as an outsider who, myself,had answered when called in my image-name.“The universal translator, therefore, absorbs or disperses alien otherness, projecting an anthropomorphic vision of the universe, reinforced by a supposedly universal reason, asnatural or true...” (Bould, M. 2009, ‘Language and Linguistics’, in The Routledge Companion to Science Fiction pp. 228, New York: Routledge) I love this quote because it expresses how ideology is linguistic. What are the consequences of disagreeing with universal reason - of not being able to be named?If we think of science fiction films, i.e. Mars Attacks, we can identify with the sublime fear of not being able to communicate with the aliens because, inevitably, their refusal to transparency, their otherness, becomes a threat to life on earth.Diglossia /daɪˈɡlɒsiə/ is translated from Koine Greek to mean ‘performing/speaking’ ‘two languages’. The term applies to a single community that speaks two languages: one colloquially and the other, formally.Depending on the region, Tsotsitaal will be based on one locally spoken language, i.e. isiZulu, sePedi, isiXhosa, while adopting elements of Afrikaans and English - the dominant languages of Apartheid South Africa. The name of the language translates to ‘criminal language’, which is more an indication of how it was perceived by, for example, white Afrikaaners who did not have access to the language.[T]he self’s opacity for the other is insurmountable, and, consequently, no matter how opaque the other is for oneself, it will always be a question of reducing the other to the transparency experienced by oneself” (Glissant, E. 1997, Exile Errantry, p. 49, USA: University of Michigan Press).
*Taal-eh (n.) (v.): ‘tale’ [taal sing.] ‘languages’ (Afrikaans).
‘Tale’ ‘speech’(Norwegian)* My artistic practice was cultivated within a Norwegian context, specifically around language, translation and non-sense. During my MFA, I used my position as an outsider to the Norwegian language to simulate another Norwegian - ‘taal-eh’ - a language which adopted elements of a pidginlanguage in its development. taal-eh is a language I imagine to operate as the uncannyof Norwegian. taal-eh is the point where speakers recognise a language as ‘their own’ and yet they cannot speak of themselves in that language.
taal-eh is the de-naturalisation of ideology from a “legitimised” language; it is performed through a process which i refer to as the islanding of a “legitimised” language from ideological discourse (> 1> ). to island a “legitimised” language is to alienate the rituals that enable its proliferation: speaking and writing ([1).
taal-eh uses norwegian as its host language. i collected a vocabulary from norwegian language films by repeating the words i heard spoken back to myself aloud while recording myself. these words would then form the basis of a new vocabulary, most of which was later both recognised – and not – by a norwegian audience: the first step towards islanding a legitimised language is to mispronounce its words – as a rule (3).
i then transcribed the vocabulary, phonetically, using english and afrikaans orthographies (the two languages in which I can speak and write). equally important in this process is the substitution of the signs of the language (4). during this process, it is vital to not fall into the trap of transference of power; i.e. subsequently privileging those with access to english and afrikaans, instead (5).
the final gesture in the islanding process is the alienation of the host language from all recognisable signifiers, which enable a language to have “meaning” and therefore also facilitate its translation into another language (6). the new vocabulary enters into a system of illogical, computerised signs,(7) which cannot be re-produced, both in speaking and in writing.8 the islanded language hence speaks itself for viewers, but does not offer an entry point (9). This work was presented as a room, which simulated a deprivation tank: it was pitch black and soundproof. The language was performed through screens (positioned at different angles and heights), individual speakers and in the vacuums between sound and moving image. The work performed itself over and over again: its effect was realised relationally, only, in participation with language speakers. The work affected itself in the same way that saying a word out loud to yourself many times over makes the word unfamiliar in your mouth .
In 2016, ‘taal-eh’ is publicly exposed as a formerly-dormant dialect disease, which has affected an increasing number of Norwegian speakers over the last two centuries. The year 1814 marks Norwegian liberation from the Danish monarch and, subsequently, the beginning of a period of attempted Saami assimilation into Norwegian society. ‘taal-eh’ is believed to have begun affecting Norwegian nationals at this point in history. ‘taal-eh’ is triggered when a speaking subject is confronted with a lie on which their linguistic and civic identity is based: when the speaker chooses to attempt to live the lie - knowing that it is a lie - for the purpose of continuing to function within their society . However, when the stories that we tell ourselves about ourselves no longer make any sense, we can experience a permanent mis-recognition of ourselves, which can result in either depression, psychosis or suicide. Alternatively, the brain will ‘blink’ and shift gears, so to speak, over to taal-eh. From this point on, taal-eh will speak the speaker and the speaker will no longer be in control of their language.
I developed this solo exhibition for the Arctic Moving Image and Film Festival in Harstad, November 2016. I was selected to be the festival artist by Hanne Hammerstein, I was featured along with artist Knut Åsdam.
I used science fiction narrative as the format for this work: I wanted to re-imagine the city of Harstad as a parallel universe , which would unfix my audience members’ comfort of knowing a space and also knowing themselves in that space (11). During my research process, I read Afrofuturist critiques of language and translation in predominantly white, American science fiction. One of the observations about classic American sci-fi was that an alien language is always translatable into some type of code, which the human antagonists are then able to un-puzzle and make transparent for themselves . I wanted taal-eh to be that language epidemic which would come from within the human antagonists and, which would result in a moment of complete confusion for the protagonists when they were no longer transparent to themselves. In this case, the protagonists were my predominantly Scandinavian-speaking audience members.