PREHISTORIC KREATUR: the 37 kilo salmon of the Pasvik river
2009-12-03 00:00:00 UTC by the silent reader

2008-08-26 00:00:00 UTC by the silent reader


Outdoor Toilet, Nitsijärvi

Moonshine Cabin, Bjørnevatn

Food Storage, Mustala
2008-07-01 00:00:00 UTC by the silent reader

The magical properties of an archive

Dismembering the semiotic, communicative from the phonetic, lexical aspect of language opens up a possibility for magical correspondences. The onomatopoetic, the alphabetic, the mimetic. The mysterious shapes of individual letters, the picture puzzle of the word. Language becomes an archive of non-sensuous similarities ready for the reader that connects the dots. The reader then becomes a bearer, a medium for the magical aspect of a shadow language.
2008-05-14 00:00:00 UTC by the silent reader

Language and time

The beginning of the Skolt Saami Language Memory Project speeds up history, that is, the inevitable entropy of a endangered language. The end of the project slows it down again to the point of exhibiting a frozen distribution of a language in time.

Usually one considers language to be distributed in space, by its agents in their geographical area. One can also consider the history of a language - its development and transformation. But seldom, if ever, do one witness a language distributed in time. One word at a time – throughout the months, or years – the installation in the East Sámi Museum will parse through the dictionary depending on the amount of visitors passing by.

(One side effect of this distribution will be the disassociation of the language from the normal identity discourse of indigenous people. Legally, to be counted as Saami you have to document that your parents, grandparents or great-grandparents spoke a Saami language. Language is the principal marker of your identity, which may increase cultural isolation. In this case the language will be given to all – putting into question this identity marker).
2008-05-08 00:00:00 UTC by the silent reader


(image credit: Valentin Laube)
2008-05-05 00:00:00 UTC by the silent reader

A destructive perspective.

Today: the first tests of the recording and archiving system. Everything has to work perfectly before we take it into the field in a couple of months. The informants will be filmed in their home surroundings looking into the camera. The words of the dictionary will appear on the screen before them and they will read them aloud one by one. Each word will be stored as a separate video file on the computer.

A dictionary is in essence artificial. Only some rare kinds of poetry can bring life into a list of words starting with the same letter, and even then it is seldom systematically alphabetical in its construction. The alphabet and written language in general has a stench of death about it.

The choice of the dictionary as the image of language is the complete opposite of language-as-life. If languages are organic and alive by nature then the Language Memory Project would seem to spell out a death sentence for the Skolt Saami language.

To make matters even worse I am asking 30 representatives of the language in question to become dictionary robots reading aloud only the individual words – the atoms of their living language – in a room with no listeners. On the Finish side this will involve about 10% of the Skolt Saami community – on the Russian side it will involve 100%. In effect they will be atomizing their own language into a list of dead, alphabetized items.

All the while I will be there silently filming the spectacle – this burning funeral pyre of a self-destructing language.
2008-05-04 00:00:00 UTC by the silent reader

Phonetic alchemy

The metaphor of dying and living languages is based on a dated romantic conception about languages being organic in structure. Thus there is a need to revisit the dialectic of the death and life of languages to view the language-image from a fresh angle. The philosopher Walter Benjamin writes in the introduction to his essay on Goethe’s Elective Affinities:

– The history of works prepares for their critique, and thus historical distance increases their power. If, to use a simile, one views the growing work as a burning funeral pyre, then the commentator stands before it like a chemist, the critic like an alchemist. Whereas, for the former, wood and ash remain the sole objects of his analysis, for the latter only the flame itself preserves an enigma: that of what is alive. Thus, the critic inquires into the truth, whose living flame continues to burn over the heavy logs of what is past and the light ashes of what has been experienced.

Replacing the concept of “work” with “language” in this quote one can perhaps glimpse a more complex dialectic at play. According to Benjamin’s idea of a critique and the work of the critic it would follow that the critic does the exact same historic and linguistic analysis as the history scientist, or “commentator”. But still their aim and result is vastly different. The critic use the detailed analysis as a means to destroy and dismember the wholeness of the work. This is made more potent by the history that has gone before. The more obscure and forgotten the work, the better suited it is for a philosophical and artistic critique. The resulting destruction-through-analysis is comparable to an archive of language: a dictionary or database of language samples, each analysed into every last miniscule phoneme. The archive kills the living language in order to preserve it, but at the same moment creates its potential alchemical transformation into new life.
2008-04-29 00:00:00 UTC by the silent reader