Mother Tongue is a linguistic journey down the Danube exploring the intersection of identity, place, and deep time.
“In developing a sense of ‘we’ that is wider than the ‘we’ of culture, religion or clan, it will be important to have an image of what kind of human relatedness we wish to bring into being.” Diane Eck
Map of the Danube River – From its headwaters in the Black Forest of Germany to its outlet in Romania into the Black Sea. Source: Daniel Ullrich
Just recently, an amazing opportunity presented itself to me – to initiate a linguistic journey through Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, and Bulgaria along the Danube River. I would love to have your help with this project.
The Big Idea came while tracing a line between my summer teaching appointment in Germany and subsequent artist residency in Bulgaria. When I saw that the Danube River was a geographic connector between my destinations, I decided, rather than fly or take the train, to bridge Western and Eastern Europe by boat.
For those of you who know me, a deep interest of mine is to navigate the cultural and geographic identities that unite/divide countries in this part of the world. I am driven to do this project because of my own life experience living on the boundary between East/West. I grew up in the Soviet Union as a grandson of an American émigré, moved to the United States at 16 and learned only recently that my grandfather spent most of his life in Soviet prison camps and that he was German. So inhabiting this ‘divide’ is knitted within my family as it is with many of us who feel pulled by our complex identities with multiple cultures, geographies, and histories.
The Danube travels through more countries than any other river in the world. It has served as an agent of separation between tribes, ideologies and empires. It flows from Western to Eastern Europe which represented Democracy and Communism in the not so distant past. While people often distinguish themselves from one another by their geographical territory, politics, culture, appearance, religion or language, the timeless quality of a river is deeper than these divisions. The river symbolizes life as a continuum of change. In its flow it encompasses all of the people of its watershed without discrimination: non-objectively. This non-objectification, or naming of specific qualities that makes us belong to a group or excluded from it, is what interests me in this project.
On July 16, 2013 I will begin traveling the 1700 kilometers over three-weeks on local boats, recording audio, video and still photographs. The audio recordings will be of conversations in the mother tongue of fishermen, artists, philosophers, ferrymen and others. In my recordings I will include all the languages spoken along the Danube – German, Bulgarian, Croatian, Hungarian, Romanian, Serbian, Slovak and etc. I will make an attempt to speak to everyone in their native language and learn as much of it from them as I can. I am interested in asking these people questions about their relationship to the river and to their neighbors from other countries on the river. I am also interested in their ideas about the possibilities of evolving beyond the exclusionary us and them mentality that our current social structures provide.
On August 5th in Oryahovo, Bulgaria I will install the first stage of the project at Gallery Savchevi as part of the artist residency Plein Air Oryahovo. Audio of conversations will be played along with an aerial view video projection of the Danube onto the floor in the installation.
After the trip, a piece of vocal music will be co-created based on my field recordings with accomplished Spanish voice composer Sonia Megias.
The final product will be a limited edition multimedia book of photographs and conversation excerpts that includes a DVD of the Mother Tongue musical composition and video documentation of the project.
In order to execute this project I am seeking your support to fund my passage down the river, lodging and food along with audio recording equipment and data storage for the digital documentation of the work. Your support means a lot to me and I will be forever grateful for your contribution.
Back to You
As an expression of my gratitude for your support you will be rewarded with choices of audio postcards from the trip, DVD’s with documentary video and audio, or even a book with photos, video and a vocal performance made from the recorded conversations.
Travel with me as I share real-time stories and artifacts with you on the Legends of Sofia blog.
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I am learning German and speak passable Bulgarian as well as fluent Russian (a Slavic language related to Slovak, Serbian, Croatian, Ukranian and Bulgarian and spoken in many former Soviet Block countries like Hungary). I also speak English when all else fails.
I think the biggest challenge will be to be able to have English translation from the original conversations. I am fortunate that English is a language spoken by many in the Danube region. I will have to rely on willing translators in route as well as the possibility of hiring translators in post-production.
I have completed multiple projects in Bulgaria, Germany and Serbia and have contacts in those countries.
Most of my projects have been self funded, and I am as committed to this project as any I have completed in the past.
Capsizing on the Danube: I am an excellent swimmer and have swum across the Danube from Romania to Bulgaria.
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