May 23, 2015

Art Object of the Week: the German Sign Language Video Ad at U6 Friedrichstraße

I try not to look at advertising in public space because its clichés tend to annoy me. Yet there is one I always look forward to. It’s in the Friedrichstraße subway station U6 and it’s screened every Wednesday. I’ve been trying to record it with my cell phone but I’m always too slow to capture it in the rush. So this Wednesday I went to the Friedrichstrasse just to see the ad and I managed to video tape at least a part of it. Why am I so eager? Well, this ad about German Sign Language (DGS) is just great! I did some online background research and it’s conceptualized by Andreas Costrau from He himself is featured in the video. I happen to know Andreas Costrau - I took DGS classes at his school. And when I co-curated with Wolfgang Müller the exhibition Gesture Sign Art. Deaf Culture / Hearing Culture, we were so impressed by his way of thinking that we quoted Andreas Costrau on the cover of the catalogue: “In the past people used to say ‘non-hearing’ culture; nowadays it’s mainly ‘deaf culture’. I’d like to think that in the future we’ll be talking in terms of ‘visual culture’.” 

Andreas Costrau can say things that confuse you, like: “There are more sign language impaired persons ("Gebärdensprachbehinderte") than hearing impaired persons.” I remember reading an interview in which the interviewer asked him how sign language was taught. He answered that it was taught like any other language, starting with basic words, grammar, etc - how else? But the interviewer still wasn't convinced: who wants to learn sign language? Costrau said it was a strange question to ask, because why do people want to learn French or Spanish? Once, when giving a talk, announced to be a talk about sign language, people complained that they couldn’t understand his talk because it was in sign language and his answer was that they should bring an interpreter: "It’s not only my barrier, it’s also theirs. But because we are a minority, it’s just our barrier.” In the U6 subway of Friedrichstraße Costrau's crash course DGS ends with: "It is just another language."

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