Performing the Relationship between Language and Authority

As the Reading edge library slowly takes shape, more and more publications are becoming part of its diversified collection. With a starting point in specific works and the artists behind them, the Reading edge interviews attempt to initiate an extended discourse regarding publishing and performative practices, and the transgressive field where those poetics evolve and intersect with one another.

Artist and writer Moa Franzén has published the book ‘ordbok/lexicon’, which is now one of the publications represented in the library. ‘ordbok/lexicon’ uses the form of the lexicon to discuss and perform the relationship between language, authority and hegemony by putting it at play through ruptures, repetitions, displacements and poetry. We asked Moa to tell us a bit more about this particular work, and the conversation revolved around how text and body intertwine, and the relationship between performed and printed text – topics that are central to her artistic practice.

What was the beginning of this publication? How did it come into being and how did you distribute it?

The publication was part of my MA degree presentation at DOCH. I had been occupied by writing for and as performance, and wanted the presentation of my project to take place both on stage and on the page. The performance and the publication accompanied each other during the event – the audience was invited to enter a small reading room after the performance, where the publication was placed. Since then, it has been presented through performance readings with artist Vilda Kvist.

ordbok/lexicon uses the form of the lexicon to discuss the relationship between language and authority. You write: ‘Violence appears with articulation.’ Would you like to share your thoughts on how you worked with the relationship of power and language in this particular project?

As I experience it, there is always a relationship between power and language – or rather, power is always at play in language. Language is a system, and like all systems, it requires submission from the ones existing in it. The lexicon is an explicit example of this. The form of the lexicon was productive for me to use, since it presents itself as an ultimate authority on the meanings of words and how to use them. It is a question of ownership, really. History and ideology are included as well. The form of a lexicon is static and strict, which means that every alteration or intervention will leave very ‘loud’ traces; even subtle interventions will disrupt it. The form itself marks a voice that is productive to play with – will we believe it? Follow it? What is at stake when we submit to a language we haven’t created, but nonetheless are subjected to, and must use to describe ourselves and our experiences. I wanted to interrupt, displace and dissolve the relationship between authority and language, word and meaning, even between word and word, in an attempt to open up the notion of language so that it represents ambiguity, playfulness and meaning as migrant and errant.

You write: ‘Definition breaks the lock.’ I read it as an invitation or request. As you say, the form and function of a lexicon is to define words clearly, whereas poetry, by its very nature, works with dislocation of meaning. For me, the merging of these, stated in ordbok/lexicon, is what creates the intense and interesting tension in this text. Poetry and poetic language are often believed to carry the potential of being a subversive force. What are your thoughts on that, and what is your relationship to poetry?

Poetry is what makes me able to write at all, or maybe I should say what makes it possible for me to breathe in language. I certainly think of it as a potentially subversive force. To me, it is also a crucial counterforce to the narrative, normative matrixes that we are flooded with today, in which I cannot recognize my experiences but, nonetheless, am expected to organize and express myself through.

ordbok/lexicon is, in its physical appearance, small, about 10 centimeters, pink in color, and very light, quite the opposite of the traditional lexicon which, in addition to its metaphorical heaviness and power, also has an actual weight. Was there a thought behind it, or how did you work with the design of this publication?

The design was made in collaboration with graphic designer Anna Giertz. I wanted it to have two covers, and appreciate that you have to move it to read it – turn it, flip it. Since the text isn’t very long, I knew it was going to be light – we made it small to maximize the amount of pages, wanting it to be more of a small book then a leaflet. We both wanted it to be small enough to fit in a pocket. Anna proposed the rounded corners as a reference to the format of the passport, another official, authoritative and violent ‘book’. The pink was proposed by Anna, and I immediately fell for it – it is a color that is negatively connoted when it comes to authority, since it is connected with femininity and girliness.

You write: “silence the words we do not yet have”. You work on the border between literature and choreography. The body is very much present in your text; breath, voice, mouth… How would you describe your personal relationship with working artistically with the body/text respectively?

Yes. Well, in my work, text and body are more or less intertwined. For me, it is a way of trying to understand how language shapes and forms the body, as well as how the body can reform and reshape itself and its experiences, as well as language. Both language and the body are subject to the founding factors of hegemonic structures and ideological systems, and in my work, I try to understand what this means, how it works, who I can be within it, what I can say, what saying actually means, and what kind of subversive potential there is – or could be.

As you mentioned, ordbok/lexicon has also been performed by you and Vilda Kvist. How did the content of the publication transform when taking the form of a public performance?

Vilda and I worked out the structure of the reading in a very intuitive way, where rhythm was the focus, and we wanted to play with the intertwinement of our voices as well as a blurring of the distinction between word and explanation. We ended up mixing the Swedish and the English versions, turning and flipping both the book and the language. During the performance, we chose to stand quite close, facing each other, to establish a sense of intimacy, and worked with the structure of a kind of call and response, an interrogation as well as a duet.

On that topic, for you and from your experience – how does printed and published work differ from performance? You mention that you use ‘writing as a base, voice as a tool, and performance as form.’ Can you tell a bit more about the roles that the different expressions take, and how the outcome perhaps both differs and/or is interwoven?

The relationship between performed and printed text is central to my practice. I’m interested in the ambiguity between performed textuality and spoken writing, the context and means of writing as activated for and through a stage, a site, a paper, the body of the performer, the body of a voice, or the body of a page. I’ve been trying to understand what space the written material inhabits in a performance – can one talk about it as a text when it is transformed by and through the performance? These questions continue to fuel my work in a very productive way, but I’ve grown less interested in trying to pinpoint the differences. Of course they are there, but the materials I’m working with are the same – time, space, body, voice, language – what differs is, most of all, how you engage with them, both as a writer/performer, and as reader/spectator, and I think that time is the key material here, as well as the sense/presence of one’s body. The situations in which you encounter a work as a reader or spectator are radically different, and to me, that is the greatest concern when I create work for a page that is meant to be read, or work for stage that is meant to be heard. When I write for the page, I work with the relationship between the text and the silent reader, when I write for stage, I work with the relationship, not just between the performer and the audience, but between the members of the audience as well. In both cases, I often address the reader/spectator directly, wanting to write their position and presence into the work. I think I am very inclined to see the affinities rather than the differences right now.

Thank you, Moa!

About Moa Franzén:
Moa Franzén (b. 1985) is an artist and writer based in Stockholm. Her practice revolves around writing and performance, and places itself in and between visual arts, choreography and literature. Franzén’s work evolves around the relationship between language and violence, rhetorics and ideology, body and power – most often with writing as the base, voice as the tool, and performance as the format. Franzén works within curatorial collaborations where the organization of temporary spaces for exchanges, conversation and performance is of key interest. At the moment, she is involved in curatorial constellation We Happen Things, alongside choreographers and dancers Tove Salmgren and Manon Santkin, and seminar project Flacka with visual artist Sofia Magdalena Eliasson. Franzén has a BA in Visual Arts from the Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm and Bergen National Academy of Fine Arts in Bergen, and an MA in Choreography from New Performative Practices at DOCH.

Interview questions: Josefin Gladh
First published at

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