Reunion in New York
For Deutsche Bank Art and for everyone else involved in this year’s Moment event, it was an exciting day. After months of preparation, the time had finally arrived: Karin Sander’s temporary artwork wordsearch appeared on October 4 in the business pages of The New York Times. The newspaper project was realized on both sides of the Atlantic simultaneously; for this occasion, The New York Times was printed in Europe for the very first time. The preparations for a celebration in Central Park were just beginning after the newspaper had already been distributed for several hours on the streets of Frankfurt. Together with Karin Sander, Deutsche Bank Art had invited every word donor involved in the project to lunch in the boating house. Months had passed since the first meetings took place between Karin Sander’s wordsearchers and the word donors of the over 250 languages spoken in New York City, each of whom had provided a word for the publication in The New York Times.
For many of the guests and their families, the reunion was also an encounter with an array of various languages and cultures. A large number of the word donors had never met before. Just how this meeting turned out, and how Karin Sander’s word sculpture progressed can be seen in our photographs from Frankfurt and New York and read about in the following report by the wordsearcher Franziska Lamprecht, who was present at the celebration in New York:
With a view of the park and the lake, tables covered in white tablecloths, and a buffet, the boating house began receiving its guests at noon. In order to introduce every word donor to Karin Sander, we as the former wordsearchers had gone through the 250 photographs, names, languages, and birthplaces of each word donor the night before on the internet page accompanying the project. Yet shortly after everyone arrived, our memory of the photos became confused: Mari Lee from the American Indian House had cut off her “identifying feature,” a long black ponytail. Julia from the Russian butcher was wearing neither her green apron nor her green hygienic cap. Immaculee didn’t have her red sweater on, but rather a costume in pastel colors. The Tibetan cook was missing his greasy apron, and the man in the grey suit could have been either Mr. Rombot from the Indonesian Consulate, or Wagiman (language: Javanese), Mr. Kurniadi, or Husni Husain (language: Macassar).
Following the short speech, however, a mutual introduction became superfluous. The word donors’ attention had been drawn to Karin Sander, and each of them tried to introduce her to his or her family: “That’s my father. That’s my mother. That’s my wife. That’s my son and his girlfriend…” Everyone wanted to have their picture taken with her, thank her, congratulate her, or tell her a personal story.
After the meal, the newspapers were distributed. An urgent search for words began in the financial section. “Where’s my language? Where’s my word? Where’s my name? What’s my word called in the next language? What word did you donate? How many languages can you speak? How many can you read? Where do you come from?” And then it all suddenly seemed to work, the system of the word chain. You start with one word, possibly the one you donated for the word collection, and already the foundation stone is laid for a conversation: Jigme from Tibet is telling Patrice from West Ghana how and why he wound up in a Chinese prison, how he was tortured and fled to Nepal and how he finally found political asylum in America. Juan from Colombia, in the meantime, is talking to Patrice’s wife, a native Japanese, about the special qualities of Tokyo. And Matthias, the donor of a word in Plattdeutsch, is talking to a Blackfoot and a Dakota Indian about a theater piece a friend of his recently directed on the expulsion of the Cherokee from the American Southwest.
An event was being celebrated that both emphasized the ethnic and cultural differences and nationalities and yet made it possible to forget them. Most of the guests had become a part of a work of art whose effect spread as quickly as the words could be reproduced: in a newspaper with an edition of 1.7 million, they were presumably read by at least 3.4 million people. How would those uninitiated react to the word sculpture, however? People who neither knew the ideas behind the collection and ordering of the words, or even that it was a work of art?
“What’s this supposed to be?” asked the hotel proprietor in Chelsea when we showed him the newspaper. “That’s incredible!” Initially confused, then surprised to discover words amidst the stock prices, he became curious, sat down on a revolving chair, and immersed himself in the newspaper. After two minutes of silence we heard the first reaction: “Eschhh!” – “What does ‘Eschhh’ mean?” we asked. “That’s an unbelievably beautiful Hebrew word that describes what it is with its pronunciation: a rustling and hissing that carries up to the heavens. And here it is in Aramaic! I never read something like that in an American newspaper. And here it is in Yiddish – and here in English, too: ‘Fire.’”
For those that had read the catalogue supplement to The New York Times describing the project a week before, it was presumably easier to understand how the word chains had come about. And some of the word donors whose pictures were printed the size of an entire page are particularly proud of this part of the project. The woman who donated the word “Isi” (world) in Kinyarwanda told us that she was receiving telephone calls from friends almost every day who wanted to know how she made it into the New York Times. Her answer: “Angels are watching over me.”