The exhibition lends its title to the most recent work, based on “Pygmalion”, a story from 1912 by George Bernhard Shaw, that tells of the power relations between language, class and gender: working class girl Liza Doolittle is attracted by the notion that Professor Higgins can raise her social standing by teaching her to speak English like a lady. But entering into a contract with him, she comes under his manipulative powers – not only her diction, but her identity is remoulded, and often against her wishes.
Van Harskamp collected 21 translations of the play and then invited native speakers of each of these languages - from Turkish to Japanese, from Farsi to Czech – to take it in turns to translate it back into English, initially for a live audience at Kunstraum, London. In the exhibition at Onomatopee, recordings from the reading will play alongside ‘reportage drawings’ from the event and a display of the books used for the translation. The transcribed sessions are also brought together in a limited edition book, that, by taking on all the idiosyncrasies of the quick-fire translations, suggests what a future English may look like on paper.
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