Names can cross cultural boundaries in ways that most other words cannot, but they can also suffer damage along the way. Mispronounced, garbled, even replaced completely with something more acceptable to the dominant culture, they can start to lead a life of their own.
Fixed in corporate and state systems more firmly than numeric tax ID’s or IP addresses, names are generally no longer treated as language but as lexically opaque formulas. In their indifference to language diversity, authorities are known to rephrase, re-order and re-alphabetize names when they don’t fit their administrative standard. They are also known to deny rights to people without a stable name label.
In this series of works, names are treated as spelled and translatable identity markers as well as spoken word.
For ‘My Name is Language’ Nicoline spoke with hundreds of people about the role of names in their – private and professional – lives. Always starting with the same questions: “What is your name?” “Who gave it to you?” “What does it mean in language?” these conversations led to intimate observations about how names are affected by the power struggles within politics, religion, education and kinship systems.
In history, women have lost their names after marriage or childbirth; traveling peoples have adapted the suffixes in their names according to the language of the territory they were in; non-German diacritics have mostly been banned under Nazism; names imposed by colonizing forces have been reappropriated by the Basque, the Kurds, the Urhobo and the Irish alike.
These stories are retold by performers in the waiting rooms of bureaucratic institutions, places where names are in actuality collected, filed, inflicted, withdrawn, or adapted, such as a civil registry office and a municipal housing authority. In these performance works, listeners are mixed in with the speakers, none of whom uses the same (variety of) language. Names appear not only in spoken form, but also in writing and in translation on information screens overhead.
The piece was first commissioned as by steirischer herbst Graz and Project Arts Centre Dublin in 2018. In 2019 an edition was produced for the Ruhr Ding festival, and installed for 2 months in the waiting area of the monumental Rathaus Oberhausen. New live editions were produced for the Museum for Contemporary Art in Antwerpen (2020) and the Amsterdam Museum (2021). A video installation was produced for Museum Het Valkhof in Nijmegen (2022). Between each edition, script overlaps exist, but most monologues were written specifically about local topics.