Jan Svenungsson

Comment to the exhibition Sprachverschmelzende Mitteilungen

In early 2006, JS was invited by Gerrit Gohlke to produce the third part of an exhibition series called "art + science". The other two artists were Heidi Sill and Karl-Heinz Jeron. The idea was that each artist should decide which field of science to interact with, and that a suitable scientist belonging to this field and working either in Potsdam or Berlin, would be invited to enter some form of dialogue with the artist.

JS became fascinated with the title to a seminar held at the Humboldt University in Berlin: "Ökonomie und Komplexität in der Sprache" (Economy and complexity in language). He decided to conceive a linguistic project for the exhibition. In his planned work, he would attempt to fuse together two different language versions of the same message into one – without the "double" message being allowed to have more letters or characters, than the longest of the two original versions of the text. How much of the original complexity would be possible to preserve in such a mutant text? In particular for a reader who is familiar only with one of the two languages involved? How much can bi-lingual written communication be rationalized, using such a method?

The resulting text(s) would be presented in the form of paintings (so as to involve one more layer of language...).

JS decided against using an already existing text as work material and instead wrote one himself. This text was then translated into a German, an English and a French version (using native speaker translators), then turned into a English-German mutant version, as well as a Swedish-French mix-up, using different methods in each case.

Finding a linguistic scientist with the necessary combination of qualifications + openness and curiosity for excursions outside of his/her immediate field, turned out to be more difficult than imagined. The search finally lead to Dr. Dirk Naguschewski (Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung, Berlin) who turned out to be a brilliant collaborator. For the exhibition he created two sets of "Schautafeln" (demonstration images), "illustrating" the different layers and branches of the linguistic science field, as well as producing wall paintings quoting two simultaneously poetic and didactic sketches by Ferdinand de Saussure.