BAK, basis voor actuele kunst, Utrecht is pleased to present Englishes, a solo exhibition by Nicoline van Harskamp. Since 2013, the artist’s work has been engaged with exploring the widespread use and modification of the English language by its non-native speakers. Englishes depicts the development of the plurality of spoken English that displaces the perceived position of primacy occupied by dominant strains of the language. The work addresses the political import of this linguistic development, pointing out how our use of language is consistently entrenched in structures of class and power. Challenging these connotations, van Harskamp proposes a dissolution of English into "Englishes," co-opting it as a common and ever-growing linguistic resource. Englishes thus becomes a site of solidarity—be that through the expressivity of speech or by a claimed common right to edit.

The exhibition consists of a series of episodic films comprising interview, performance, and scripted fiction that explore the myriad variations of English spoken between people who do not have any other shared tongue. The episode Portrait of an Englishes Collector (2015) sees an amateur linguist conduct a telephone study of the "Englishes" spoken in the remotest corners of the globe. In another work, Darling Good Night (2016), people waiting for their residence permits in a very isolated part of Norway, retell—in various "Englishes"—their “linguistic journeys” from their home countries to Europe. A propositional, commonly-shared language is further elaborated in Wer Mae Hao (2015), in which a group of children tell a story in an English constructed from their individual, self-made varieties.

A new short fiction film, PDGN (2016), draws conclusions from previous strands of the project and puts forward an unlikely, but desirable global link language. This predicted version of English, which may not sound like any language we know today, is partly automated by “PDGN software” designed specifically for this occasion. It is conceptualised with the help of software designers, Esperantists, recreational language inventors, and academics in fields such as creole studies, computational linguistics and language evolution. PDGN is produced by BAK and realized with support from Centro Andaluz de Art Contemporáneo (CAAC), Sevilla.

Nicoline van Harskamp (Amsterdam) is an artist whose work considers acts of language and communication in relation to ideology and solidarity through video, installation, and scripted performance. Her previous projects include Yours in Solidarity (2011–2013), which addressed the recent history of anarchism through an archive of correspondence, and was presented in different stages of completion in Mexico City, Frankfurt, London, Shanghai, Zagreb, Mumbai, Montreal, etc. Her live work, including Expressive Power Series (2010) and English Forecast (2013) among others, has been staged at Tate Modern, London; Kunst-Werke, Berlin; Witte de With, Rotterdam; New Museum, New York; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Arnolfini, Bristol; Serralves Foundation, Porto; and Kaaitheater, Brussels.

Curator and writer Mihnea Mircan has been commissioned by BAK to write an essay on the occasion of Englishes and a public reading of the text takes place on 28 October 2016 at BAK, on the occasion of a Q&A with Nicoline van Harskamp and a number of invited experts.

The activities of BAK, basis voor actuele kunst have been made possible by financial support from the City Council of Utrecht and the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science of the Netherlands. The project Future Vocabularies is realized with generous support from the DOEN Foundation. The project Englishes is kindly supported by the K.F. Hein Fund, the Fentener van Vlissingen Fund, and the Mondriaan Fund.

  • Part of Future Vocabularies long-term research and propositional trajectory rethinking art’s conceptual lexicon