Issue 28

Henning Lundkvist

Artist Talk 16.01.15



Since we don't know how it spreads, and we don't know how it
functions, we might as well start anywhere
For language may be a virus, but virus is surely also a form of
And all I can think of when I catch a cold – or when a cold catches me,
whichever is the best way of describing it – is how it speaks to me,
how the virus speaks, softly but aggressively
In a foreign language, sure, but a foreign language that I more or less
And it says; "you're either with us, or against us"
And I was stuck with this terrible cold for quite some time, and it
altered my voice completely
It possessed me
It made me speak with a voice foreign to my own
An alien within of sorts
And even now when my voice is more or less back to normal I'm still
not sure whether it's really my voice or if it's been replaced
And the language I speak is foreign
It's not mine
It is indeed all alien to me
And I'm stuck with this feeling that I've been there before, that I've
heard it before, this voice, this foreign language
And of course I have

And when it comes to language that's supposed to be a good thing
After all, as with most forms of indoctrination, language too is based
on repetition
It should go without saying, but it doesn't hurt to say it twice:
Without repetition, language wouldn't really work
It wouldn't be understood
It would just be a bunch of random, unrepeatable, and quite useless
utterings, shapes, forms, and signs
Or perhaps not even signs
Signs need to actually refer to something
Otherwise they wouldn't be signs at all, but merely shapes
Empty forms
But then again, as soon as meaning is produced, as soon as a useless
form turns into a meaningful sign, it is as if its meaning begins to
escape us
As if it's not quite there, in the sign, but somewhere else
As if the sign were a ventriloquist of sorts
And we repeat it again and again, trying to fix the meaning, trying to
take it back
Over and over again
In vain

First as tragedy and then as farce
And I really prefer the latter
For if it indeed were a farce, it actually might have made some sense,
all this mess
Tragedy implies purposefulness and a particular narrative, while a
farce can be just a mess
And if farce is all we're left with, which it very well may be, then I
assume we'd do better by just embracing it
By just digging in
"Just do it", as it were
Use what's there, however stupid it may seem at first encounter, and
then just copy it and duplicate it and repeat it and change it and see
what happens
See where it might take us

And thus we go
We dig where we stand
Dig our own graves
Our private bomb shelters
For gold, perhaps
Or just digging the good, old, useless hole in the ground, somewhere
in the middle of nowhere
Wherever we happen to be at the moment
The location is, in either case, entirely irrelevant
This is all much more generic than that, this whole thing we're stuck
And it's seemingly everywhere
And impossible as it may sound, it's more and more everywhere
It does thicken, somehow
It's increasing
It's closing in, as it were
In either case, "Just do it", as someone once wrote – and presumably
got rather rich writing

And in fact, that's where we are
That's one way of describing this generic location
This moment in time
A time and place producing the best-paid and most widely distributed
poems of all times, often not longer than just a few words

It's everywhere you want to be
Connecting people
Have it your way
It's my way
I'm lovin' it
Challenge everything
Because I'm worth it
Good to the last drop

And with these last little last drops of writing, of a language as
watered-down as it is hyper-condensed, seemingly drying up in front
of your eyes, you're left with the feeling that you shouldn't ask what
language can do for you, but what you can do for language
It leaves you there like a big question mark looking around a vast and
spreading desert, your nose dripping from the persisting cold
spreading through your body, replacing your voice with the voice of
something else
And you wonder; "is this really what I can do for language?"





But questions won't lead anywhere I'm afraid
There's no need to ask, to question
So if language leaves you looking like a big stupid question mark,
you're probably just roaming around the wrong territories
And all I've learned for sure by now is that while language does talk
back, it doesn't ask back
It doesn't question
At the most, it might bark occasionally

In this sense, language is a bit like a pet
Like a cute little kitten, or a puppy
A pet never questions you
And when it's little, it's very cute and doesn't really know what's going
But you have to feed it
Otherwise it won't stay alive
It's in your hands now
It depends on you, and if you don't feed it, if you don't treat it well, it
will probably raid your kitchen or do whatever it is that it'll do to get
what it wants
It's cunning, this little one
Don't underestimate it
And when you get it and it's just a little puppy, you really need to
know that it's not going to stay that cute forever
Like everything else it will grow up, eventually
And like everything else that grows up, it will grow ugly

It begins its existence all cute and cuddly, but gets more and more
demanding, and in the end it's not that it's not depending on you
anymore, but that it's also managed to completely control your life,
and now you depend on it
You might've tamed it, but in the process you were tamed too
And rest assured: it will always outsmart you
You think you can raise it and teach it to behave, but in the end it
doesn't really work that way
It never does
It's never just one-way like that
Not even feeding is a one-way activity
Feedback is key, as any guitarist since the invention of electricity could
tell you
Nothing moves in one direction and one direction only
And no matter how hard you'll try, your pet will have its own wishes,
its own life, its own desires
And it couldn't care less about you in the end
It might make it seem like you're not replaceable, but believe me – you

But then again, I have honestly never had a pet, apart from the three
tiny water salamanders that tried to escape from the aquarium all the
They didn't like me at all, and they definitely didn't like the aquarium
that I never cleaned, and first the water got all green and then almost
black and in the end I gave the salamanders back to the shop
Since then, and this was over 20 years ago when I was still what they
call a man cub, I've stayed away from pets
Not only by choice
I'm allergic as well
It's not that I don't like animals
Or pets
But with my allergies, I simply don't have a choice and that's that
So what I do know about pets is not from first hand experience
It's from what I see
It's from what I hear
It's from what I read
And just like you hear a lot about your friends' children, you also hear
a lot about their pets

And you also hear about these terrible people who'd get a pet for the
summer holidays and come autumn they're tired of it and leave it in
the forest
They dump it somewhere after getting tired of it, and it can't take care
of itself, poor little thing
It still depends on you
It can't feed itself yet
In fact, most pets never learn how to get their own food
When you get a pet it will probably depend on you to feed it for its
entire life, so you have to know what you're getting yourself into
It's a big decision to get a pet, an important one, and it comes with a
lot of responsibility






So my recommendation is, if this has not been made clear already;
don't leave language
When you get it, you're stuck with it and it's your responsibility
Even if it's not a cute puppy anymore
Don't leave it out in the woods where it can't take care of itself
Or, even worse: where it might grow wild, angry, and resentful
Where it might gather some new friends and followers, manipulate
them as easily as it manipulated you, and then come back for you,
come back for revenge
You're stuck with it for now, and you'd better just accept that
It can be quite a drag, sure, but not as much of a drag as walking the
dog and picking up its shit several times a day, I think
That's not something I'd like to do at all
That's not something I'd wish for anyone, but still there are plenty of
those people walking around
I'm always surprised at how many of them there actually are

And I'm not sure whether they really understand that language is not a
puppy anymore
Not by any standards
It's more of a genetically modified beast than anything else
It still depends on us for food, it needs us to feed it, but in a way that
just makes it stronger
It makes it even more powerful
And with us feeling that it's ours, that it's our responsibility, it makes
us depend on it even more
It's turned ugly now
We shouldn't underestimate its powers
And we should never forget; it's continuously evolving
It's evolving now, as we speak, through us speaking, through me
writing, through you reading, and we really can't take for granted that
it's still on our side
If it ever was

But dangerous as it may seem, the fact is that there isn't too much
language out there, but too little
Too homogenized
Diminishing each day
Replaced with an increasing language-like clutter
At this point, its gene pool is so messed up that we're not sure what it
is anymore
If it could still be called language, even
It evolved far beyond our understanding
We can't recognize it any longer
It outwitted us a long time ago

And when loads of it continually ends up on my screen I don't know
what to do with it
I don't know how to read it
I don't know how to treat it
I don't know how to write it
But its signs are everywhere
And the signs are probably communicating something, but I can't for
the world figure out what it is

We could quote practically any science fiction film here, where at the
first encounter with an alien life form the scientist sidekick says; "it is
trying to communicate with us"
"It is trying to tell us something"
And we can't decide what would be scarier, us encountering a new life
form that is trying to communicate with us, or us encountering a new
life form that is actually not trying to communicate with us at all
And what would be scarier; humanity being able to create life,
meaning we are nothing special and then we die
Or humanity only being able to produce something mimicking life,
meaning we are, in fact, all alone in our misery and then we die

And the same problem seems to be the case with the signs that clutter
my screen
Signs seemingly meaning as much or little even when seen in reverse
When read backwards
When mirrored or placed upside down
It honestly doesn't matter the slightest
They still speak the same visual language
And they still communicate as little

For despite their recurring shapes, their possible intelligence, and their
obviously intelligent design, I can't for the world decipher their
I can't make out whether they actually mean anything, or just take the
outer form of possibly meaningful symbols
Whether they simply mimic a visual language, without constituting one
And whether they are, to get back to the sci-fi vocabulary, in fact self-
"Do they have a will of their own?"
If so, "What do they want?"
And of course, "Do they have a soul?"
Once invented by man, they soon evolved beyond any recognizable
human language, outsmarting and leaving human language behind
while seemingly accumulating a will of their own until we couldn't
control them anymore
At one point, of course, it all turned ugly
It was inevitable, we will say in hindsight
For at this point, they are feeding us
Soylent Green is made of people
And people are made of Soylent Green






And the limits of my language are the limits of my world, and at this
point I can't distinguish where my language ends and where THAT
language begins, because the limits of my world are the limits of the
feedback loop in which I'm stuck
They have made it into the same loop, like a virus into a system
And at one point I caught this terrible cold which replaced my voice
with another, and even after I got my voice back I'm not sure that it's
really mine anymore
That it's not just a replica of it, a voice mimicking mine
And I was coughing and coughing and there was this gluey texture
that kept it all together and made everything sticky, and I used to
think it was just mucus, and then I thought it was the texture of
meaning, but it wasn't that either
Or at least it's not anymore
It's been replaced by now

For the thing with these forms, shapes, and signs, is that they're not
exactly intended to communicate
They are not forms to be filled with content in that sense
From what I can tell, they're supposed to be empty
Or rather, they are simply bulk, and nothing else
With profit acting as the binding ingredient I suppose, but even that is
being replaced by something else
Even profit is, seen from the perspective of language, a rather
nostalgic activity
Language has evolved beyond that by now

Once, meaning was produced through repetition
Through repeated production in fact
Or through the production of repetition, depending on how you look
at it
And there was this accumulation of meaning that was somehow
produced both in the transaction of words and signs and in the
difference between their meaning and their use, and this was the very
glue that built language together
Or so we were told
It had its ups and downs, its crises, its bubbles, its inflations,
deflations and depressions, but it always managed to get back on
track and accumulate more meaning

But then at one point it must have evolved beyond that, without us
really noticing
It seems that the signs somehow replaced meaning with something
else, with something beyond understanding, or at least beyond our
current mode of thinking
At one point, it must have gotten cleverer than that
"It", whatever it is
And with even that binding ingredient gone, the whole thing really
doesn't digest well any longer
Our digestive system isn't used to it
It can't take it in
It wasn't meant for this
It's like with those hyper processed foodstuffs where everything that
used to be "food" has been replaced with what could best be described
as edible industrial stuff
The only things that seem "real" in these products would be the
ingredients that are mentioned on the label as possible accidental
Things it "may contain traces of"
Nuts, for example
Nuts are real
Xanthan gum on the other hand, is neither part of my world nor of my
I know neither its origins, nor its meaning
It speaks a language I don't understand
Nuts I understand, to a certain extent

And "you are what you eat", but by now you also eat what you are, if
we'd follow the logic of Soylent Green, and we might as well
Or, for that matter, if we'd follow the logic of the contemporary
feedlot, where cows are fed corn and other cows, in an ever-
expanding closed circuit system
A circular argument that seems to widen further and further, but that
never ends
And that seems to lack an origin

And you get what you feed
And you are what you eat
And you eat what you are
Just feed it






A version of this text functioned as a script for a performance at Moderna Museet Malmö, Sweden, in
January 2015. The performance was part of the group show "The Moderna Exhibition III - Society
Acts". Earlier versions were used as scripts for performances at Officin, Copenhagen, and Artes,
Oporto. Yet another version of the text was subsequently published in "A Ton of Afghan Black for a
Time out of Joint", a pdf of collected artist talks and texts distributed via email in March 2015.