I am a text based artist and like most Americans, I speak only one language. When asked to participate in the week long "Construction In Process" exhibiton in Lodz (October 1-8 1993), I figured that the last thing Poland (or the rest of the world needed was more imported American culture--in English, no less (remember the Clash's 'I'm So Bored With The U.S.A'?). Hence, I decided to work solely in Polish, a language that I have neither spoken nor written. My method of writing allows mwe to "sight" and "sound" language by stringing together words according to their visual, audio, and/or phoenetic combinations. Understanding could be achieved, perhaps, on a different level--one of a "willful ignorance."
I set up in a sunny corner of the museum with my portable computer and a portable printer. I decided that I would work with the sound "ah"; any word or sentence ending in the sound of "ah" would become part of my piece. I set to work with Polish newspapers, magazines, and pornography. After combing these source for a morning, some of the students that were assisitng the other artists became curious and asked what I was doing. I explained my project and invited them to participate if they pleased. I put out a large stack of paper and pens. Before I knew it, they wer at work, dropping off phrases and words as they came to mind in the course of their day.
The work proceeded over three days. the first day, the students wrote down all sorts of "dirty" and "sophmoric" sentences and words. I never asked what they meant--I only entered them into my computer as they were given to me. Occassionally someone would tell me what they had written and it was in this way that I gained insight into the nature of the content. The second day, their outpourings shifted toward the political. "I hate the Pope," "Suchocka is the last virgin in Poland," and commentary about Solidarity and the Communists were entered into the work. By the third and last day, their outpourings became extremely personal. Phrases such as "I hate my father" or secret notes were passed to their friends through the piece.
Finally, with the assistance of the students, I put the words and phrases into an alphabetic and syllabic order with the entries going from one syllable A to Z, the a semi-colon, then two syllables A to Z, then a semi-colon, then three syllables, A to Z, etc., all the way up to 40 or 50 syllables. I then pumped the text out of my portable printer and tiled together a huge wall-text consisting of four columns of words 12' high, covering a wall 15' long.
The result was that I had "written" a 1500 word work in a language I did not understand--not a word of it. But the Poles did. And they really felt like it was their own. Thus, it was a collaboration in the truest sense, with mutual ownership--or should I say no ownership at all.