Berlin-based artist Hanne Lippard‘s understanding of language is unique. She works primarily in English but also speaks Norwegian, Swedish, Dutch and German, as well as a bit of Italian. Lippard has lived in most of the regions where these linguistic systems lead. Her multilingual upbringing no doubt informs her language-as-art performance practice focussed on the rhythm, melody and dispersed significance of words when actually spoken.
For anyone who speaks more than one language, you can recognise the vacillations of meaning replacing sound as the understanding of a given tongue grows in a given environment. The objective aural engagement with one or more morphemes, the insensible patterns of speech and accents, evaporates as comprehension emerges. For her recent FOAM exhibition running at Prishtina’s LambdaLambdaLambda in Kosovo — which ran September 24 to December 11, 2016 — the audio component of Lippard’s show is an attempt to recapture that sense of estrangement; the estrangement of not understanding.
“ch… ch, k… ch, k, ch, k, ch, k, ch, k, ch, k…” the artist enunciates in her ‘101 misspellings of Cappuccino mp3‘ piece that accompanies the FOAM exhibition, before continuing “…chapakino, chapaseeno, chap-no. Ciaoppuccino, chap pachino, crappuccino, capiolo, yoko, fomo. Milk. Froth.” The artist’s typically robotic vocal register, resembling the automated voice of a call centre, breaks in and out of patterns of recognisability in an installation of an LED sign that reads “Ca O Co Co”, another one on the floor at the entrance, like a doormat, that says “Coffee to go.” The rest of it is covered by a grid of acoustic foam panels, automatic milk foamers with organic milk. There’s a speaker playing the digital audio on one wall, a rectangular mirror on another. Its reflection is overlaid with cursive script announcing, “It once had a reputation as the rendezvous of the literary and intellectual elite of the city,” bordering the top; “it is now a popular tourist destination,” below.
A shorter accompanying audio piece called ‘No Milk Today,’ features Lippard whistling and ‘shooshing,’ not necessarily in the silencing sense but in mimicking the sound of a milk frothing machine. Oscillating between sounds and signifiers, the FOAM installation is threaded with wordplay and humour. It riffs on the almost-but-note quite mute self-awareness of the voyeur and foreign tourist (“…stress-presso, nes-presso, depresso…”), deftly mimicking that subjective space of indecipherability, mispronunciation and misunderstanding that comes with finding meaning in the unfamiliar.**