Translation Paradoxes and Misunderstandings, part 2

Opening: 27 February, project presentations 7 pm
Exhibition: 28 February – 26 April 2009

Kristina Ask/Christian Hillesø/Mads Rasmussen/Mia Rosasco, Alexandra Croitoru, Rainer Ganahl, Lise Harlev, Christoph Keller, Thomas Korschil/Eva Simmler, Uriel Orlow, Ingrid Wildi

Drawing on a formulation by Gottfried Keller, the preamble to the Swiss Constitution claims that Swiss people are to “live our diversity in unity.” A key element of this diversity is the country’s official quadrilingual status. Unlike other countries, Switzerland does not define itself on the basis of one language and culture, but four: “The national languages are German, French, Italian, and Romansh” states Article 4 of the Swiss Constitution. But this official quadrilinguality is seldom evident on an individual basis; for the most part it is spread territorially. Aside from a few cities and towns, the respective “language territories” are largely “monolingual” and display different “cultural” characteristics, observable for example in voting behaviour. One expression of this territorial multilingualism is what is known as the “Röstigraben”, the lack of understanding between German- and French-speaking Swiss.

Only the official quadrilinguality is expressed in this image of multilingual Switzerland; beyond the “official four”, up to 50 further languages are spoken. Around 20 percent of the population is made up of people without a Swiss passport, plus those persons who have meanwhile become naturalised citizens. Immigrants have brought other languages to the country – more people now speak Albanian, Portuguese or a Slavic language than Romansh. As the fourth most spoken language of the residential population in Switzerland, amounting to 9%, the Federal Statistics Bureau employs the vague category “remaining languages”. This grouping is only surpassed by German, French, and Italian, and is greater than Spanish, Croatian, and Serbian. The most spoken “remaining languages” includes Tamil, Arabic, Dutch, Russian, Chinese, Thai, and several (west) African languages. There is a specific reason as to why each of these languages is represented in Switzerland, and behind each reason is a history which the sweeping categorisation of “remaining languages” is simply incapable of reflecting. The official quadrilinguality has thus long given way to a diversity of languages.

Multilingualism in Switzerland fans out even further when we take a closer look at the individual categories of the official quadrilinguality. For instance, the majority states that German is their main language, but further differentiations exist within this grouping: firstly, between “written German” and Swiss German, and within the latter category between the various regional dialects. According to a statistical report compiled by the canton of Zurich, over two-thirds of those polled stated that they speak solely dialect in their private life, and even in working life and at school the number is almost 70%. In addition to what is known as the diglossia, a bilingualism where the standard or high-level language is one form while the other is the language used in everyday life and informal texts, and so covers the acquisition of both written and Swiss German, there are often marked differences between the respective dialects. Due to this diversity the everyday life of scores of people in Switzerland is shaped by permanent translation processes.
This is where the second part of the project line Translation Paradoxes and Misunderstandings would like to begin and specify questions concerning the Swiss situation which were already outlined in the first exhibition section. A series of “micro researches”, video works and an extensive audio installation explore multilinguality, phenomena of Swiss language regionalism, the problems it causes and the resistance it generates in everyday life, and the various structures affected by the politics of language. We characterise these artistic works as “micro researches” because they sketch an intermediate result of research undertakings, present a visual form for negotiating and discussing issues, but at the same time invite further questions and possible more detailed inquiries.

In his artistic practice Rainer Ganahl has been engaged for some time in exploring language and its influence on identity as well as social and political contexts. For his new work Züridüütsch he has conducted more than 25 interviews, asking people about their introduction to the local dialect and how it is has influenced them. Ingrid Wildi also examines language, cultural identity and social affiliations. The project Muertos Civiles is the continuation of her previous investigation into so-called illegal immigration. In a workshop with sans papiers, they analyse together Bruno Ulmer’s film Welcome Europa. Emphasis was placed on filmic representation and the everyday situation of the immigrants in Zurich. Uriel Orlow has looked closely into the communicative ensemble of the legendary coffeehouse Odeon and brought together guests and others involved in the Odeon from different generations for a discussion, where they reflect on the location itself as well as the conversations in and about the Odeon. At the same time, this approach generates something like a kind of “translation into the present” of the Odeon. Lise Harlev has pursued the traces of the Helvetica typography in Zurich and explored the locations and functional contexts of this font. Helvetica can be understood as a font that is “democratic” in the broadest sense, because its applications are universal and multifunctional and has thus been employed with great versatility worldwide. The font is thereby also a medium of communication, which translates for and in contexts. Alexandra Coituro has explored the question of the motivation for translating from Romansh into Rumanian and vice-a-versa. In the vein of a fictionalising and constructivist historiography, she looks into the connections which go beyond the linguistic level and, thanks to their associative power, prompt further historical archaeologies.

The “micro researches” are supplemented by a selection of already existing artistic works: the film Artikel 7. Unser Recht! by Thomas Korschil and Eva Simmler is a documentary on the chequered history of the minority conflict in Carinthia, which was sparked, amongst other factors, by the erection of bilingual place-name signs (German/Slovenian). DICTIONARY is a collective attempt to define words, languages, expressions, meanings, views, and idioms, an approach that means its format is that of an anarchistic dictionary. Christoph Keller explores the performative dimension of interpreting. His video installation Interpreters shows that this activity has more to do with interpretation than mere translation because the person doing the interpreting has to see things from the perspective of another person. Expressing thoughts in language encompasses and continually shifts between the poles of “self” and the “other”.

In addition, audio commentaries by the participating artists, translated and recorded in different Swiss German dialects, are presented at a round conference table and provide intermediary information on their research. The entire exhibition is framed, or more precisely underlaid, by an audio installation, which highlights the situation of multilinguality in Switzerland.