Text and pictures by Katy Hawkins
I used to be consumed by the notion of being, or becoming, a “Londoner” when I first arrived- often wondering when I'd arrive at this abstract point. But as with most things in life, there is never a defining moment when you could say: THAT WAS WHEN. At some point I eventually did begin to feel like a “Londoner”, which mostly just involved me looking down my nose at tourists and walking extra fast everywhere, whilst sighing passive aggressively at anyone in my way.
I asked friends (expats) what they thought made them feel like a "Berliner” (even if just momentarily). They said...bumping into someone they knew unexpectedly on the street, being able to give CORRECT directions (in German), being an established "regular" somewhere, getting involved in with goings-on in their respective Kiez, achieving that “small-village” feeling or else : "Before you go into a club, instead of making yourself pretty you make yourself look more trashy” or "thinking that a nap from 11 to 1 am is a good idea" or "Not craning to look at the view while crossing Oberbaumbrücke on the U1"...
At this moment in time, I can’t see myself ever feeling even remotely like a Berliner until I speak decent German, which over-rules any other successes I have.
(Alongside perhaps FINALLY finding a permanent flat in the city, and consequently having a constant favorite späti owner to invest in)
I think when living in a foreign land the limits of linguistic communication become more obvious than anywhere else. I often find myself resorting to absurd noises or bodily gestures when I am unable to express my thoughts into one of the very, very limited German word-shaped "boxes" I have at my disposal. Perhaps these non-verbal attempts at expression are, whilst probably incomprehensible, at least somehow"purer" in form, for at least you do not have to settle for an unsatisfactory wrong-word, which holds miss-placed and unintentional weight. A problem which also permeates into conversations held in one’s own mother tongue.
This idea confronts me every time I force others, through my ignorance, to speak English - and I often consider the compromises in language that they make in order to express themselves. It is sad to think that you might only be enjoying a watered-down version of the relationship you might be having if you were to share the same mother tongue(s). Or maybe it is this plain-speech that is the more honest, the one which comes when you have not yet learnt to manipulate the said language into the shape of pretence, lies, sarcasm or vague riddles. Instead you can only emit simple: wants, demands, questions- perhaps the debased essence of decorated-language.
The exhibition which made the strongest impression on me, since arriving here, was “Found in Translation” at the Guggenheim early this year, focused around the subjective, and live, "art form" of translation. Indeed, as language is rallied upon to convey ideas and reference objects which we consequently construct our lives from; the task of translator should be approached most delicately. The work which stuck with me was one entitled Dante/Calvino by Alejandro Cesarco, it consisted of 10 framed published translations of the same verse from Dante's Inferno. Each translation varies, for each translator arrives at their own “conclusion” forged from their subjective interpretation of the original. I’d always thought it was such a pity to read a text that had been translated, as I always considered the possibility that I was losing out on something, perhaps an element of a given text that the English language could not accommodate for- however this entire show pointed towards what you might stand to gain in this process. Evident, for when we are finally greeted with the final art work, we are met with the work of Dante, the individual translator, the artist and then finally - ourselves (as the author "dies").
Anyway, I need to stop being so lazy and try harder with German….
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