Moja på tvoja
Site-specific sound piece and publication, 2018

An exploration of the dynamics and fluidity of language, the intersections between languages in specific geographic and cultural contexts, and the ways language carry and transmit tradition and rituals. An attempt to uncover the everyday rituals used to build common traditions, ceremonies and frames for the act of trading, using language as a starting point.

My starting point was Russenorsk, an extinct pidgin language used between Norwegian fishermen and Russian farmers in the Barents region during the Pomor trade. The core vocabulary consists of 150-200 words, based on equal parts Norwegian and Russian, with very simplified grammar. This language emerged out of a specific need in a specific context, and so the vocabulary is mainly related to trade with an abundance of words for different types of fish, grains and other merchandise, words for weight, volume and other measurements, etc.

In an attempt to uncover the everyday rituals of the community, I removed all the words directly related to trade. What remains is the means of communicating everything surrounding the trades; words and phrases that still held enough significance to become a part of the limited vocabulary of the language. This non-trade-related vocabulary is what is used as a ritualised communication to construct a common symbolic reality, to maintain a community and to build a representation of shared beliefs.

These remaining words and phrases were presented as a publication, printed on a type of paper used for food trays in Soviet style Russian canteens, in the remaining newspaper section of the printing house that was previously located in the building where the exhibition and festival were taking place.

The publication was accompanied by a sound piece, based on recordings of the voices of two men from the Barents region, one Norwegian and one Russian, as they recite phrases in Russenorsk. The phrases are played randomly in two speakers with one voice coming from each speaker, as if they are talking to each other, in an attempt to (re)construct and re-enact an interaction or dialog between the two. The conversation between the two is inevitably a failure, as none of them knows how to speak or pronounce this extinct language, which is a parallel to the fact that Russenorsk in itself is inherently a failure at speaking the other’s language (research indicates that the Norwegians using the language thought that they were speaking Russian, and vice versa); but then, there was never a true or correct version of Russenorsk as it was always shaped by its context, and serving its original purpose of communication.

Exhibited at Selektor Festival, Arkhangelsk, Russia, in September 2018. Curated by Kurant Visningsrom, Tromsø.