July 16, 2012

Good Moves / Bad Words. Justin F. Kennedy, Ali Mongo and Kate Hers

Kate Hers' "deutschsprachliche Projekt", 2012

In Berlin I used to participate in a great hip hop course taught by Justin F. Kennedy. Justin always reminds me of my one-year stay in San Francisco - a year of pure sun, light, and happiness. His dance is invested by this positive vibe. Now living and dancing in Berlin, he returned to SF for a residency in 2011. In the Uferhallen of Wedding I went to see the result: Flitter, Flutter, Glitter, Gutter (or any combination of the four). Modern dance has a way of confronting you with your greatest agonies. Not so in Justin's SF dance piece. It made me laugh and it was as if the spectators' smiling faces were intrinsically part of his choreography. Also in the hip hop course we learnt plenty of good moves, which I still use to tackle daily life in Berlin. There is the “drop bounce bounce” movement, bouncing off a negative comment like a basketball. Brushing the dirt off the shoulder exactly three times à la Michael Jackson works too.

Only recently I discovered that happy moves are not necessarily only triggered bodily but also by using words. It was while re-reading Andy Warhol's Philosophy book that I became aware of this – his favorite word being “so what”:

“My mother didn't love me.” So what.
“My husband won't ball me.” So what.
“I'm a success but I'm still alone.” So what.

The Mongolian, originally SF and now Berlin-based painter Ali Mongo has a similar way of ending tough topics: “Why not?” Ali Mongo goes through life with an ease that is remarkable. Traveling around the world he encounters trouble regularly. Yet, when the trouble is not too big (in which case a change of name will do. I once used to call Ali Mongo Sammy.), a “why not?” suffices. In my search for a German equivalent Sebastian Jehl of the Walter König book shop in Hamburger Bahnhof came up with a proposal: “Was soll's.”

Ali Mongo in his studio in Berlin

It seems, however, that a lot of people moving to Berlin are anticipating a harsh culture. Therefore they are eager to master a “bad” vocabulary to face the situation. The Singapore artist Ming Wong prepared for his move by doubling Petra von Kant in her terrible breakdown in Fassbinder's Die bittere Tränen von Petra von Kant: “Ich bin im Arsch ... ”. On June 29 I attended the screening and presentation of the work of Kate Hers in Art Laboratory Berlin. Kate Hers is the brain behind the amazing website estherka.com which brings together the latest updates about jobs and residencies for artists and useful information on, for instance, how to apply for an artist visa in Germany. Born in South-Korea and raised in the United States the issue of transmigration is key to Kate Hers' artistic work. Living now in Berlin she started this year an interactive language project called “Das deutschsprachliche Projekt” (germanproject.estherka.com). Mostly in collaboration with the person who offers her a peculiar German expression or word Kate Hers makes “teaching” podcasts, which are published on her blog. Swear words fill the main part of the project. Through repetition the viewer is taught the correct pronunciation because, of course, you want to get these things right.

The statistics have not been made yet, but Kate Hers told me that she noticed a few particularities. Plenty of variations came up to insult a woman as “old hag”: Kackbratze, Schabracke, Schreckschraube, alte Schrapnelle. Swear words for an elderly man are harder to find. Plenty of words also for “idiot”: Dulli, Trottel, Halbdackel, Kloppi, Vollpfosten, Schwachmat, Arschgeiger, Dumpfbacke, Hornochse, Saftsack. Whereas in the United States swear words using genitals are much more common (asshole is the most famous one), in Germany it is apparently a bigger insult to affront somebody's intelligence. Indeed, one would go so far as to fake a PhD just to avoid the offenses. Kate Hers' “deutschsprachliche Projekt” is not exactly a happy words projects. Yet by tracking those bad words and tackling them in a humorous way she opens up a space where they lose their weight and power. Additionally, it might bring you in a good mood to be able to recognize an insult while also proposing your offender a few alternatives. Recognizing an insult is not so easily done when you are new in Berlin. Berliners have a way of saying the most harmless words, such as “bread”, in an, at first hearing, angry tone. An Icelandic friend of mine learnt it the hard way at his local bakery. After a while he finally barked back. Since then the bad vibe has vanished into thin air.

See for Justin F. Kennedy's dance piece: http://vimeo.com/36000917
and Kate Hers projects: http//:estherka.com; http://thegermanprojectpart2.wordpress.com/http://usartberlin.org

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