Reading edge interview: Moa Franzén with ordbok/lexicon

As the reading edge library slowly takes shape, more and more publications are becoming a part of its diversified collection. With a point of departure 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 one another.

Artist and writer Moa Franzén has published the book ordbok/lexicon, which is now one of the represented publications 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 circled around how text and body intertwine and the relationship between performed and printed text – topics that are central in her artistic practice.


What was the initiative for making this publication? How did it come into being and how did you distribute it?

Moa: The publication was part of my MA degree presentation at DOCH. I had been occupied with 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 together with the artist Vilda Kvist.

ordbok/lexicon uses the form of the lexicon to discuss the relation between language and authority. You write; “violence appears with articulation”. Would you like to share your thoughts on how you worked with the relation of power and language in this particular project?

Moa: As I experience it, there is always a relation between power and language – or rather, power is always in play in language. Language is a system and as 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 come in here as well. The form of a lexicon is static and strict, which means 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 none the less are subjected to use to describe ourselves and our experiences. I wanted to interrupt, displace and dissolve the relation 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 to ambiguity, playfulness and meaning as migrant and errant.

You write: “definition break the lock”. I read it as an invitation or request. As you say, the form and function of a lexicon is to define the words clearly, whereas poetry as such operate with dislocation of meaning. For me, the merging of those which are 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 relation to poetry?

Moa: 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 potential subversive force. To me it is also a crucial counterforce to the narrative, normative matrixes that we are over 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 colored and very light, quite the opposite to 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 layout of this publication?

Moa: The layout 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 caught on to it – it is a color that is negatively connoted when it comes to authority, since it is connected with femininity and girlishness.

You write; “silence the words we do not yet have”. You work in the borderland of literature and choreography. The body is very much present in your text; breath, voice, mouth… How would you describe your personal relation to working artistically with the respective body/text?

Moa: Yes. Well, in my work text and body is 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 is subject to, as well as 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 together with Vilda Kvist, how did the content of the publication transform when taking the form of a public performance?

Moa: Vilda and I worked out the structure of the reading in a very intuitive way where rhythm was in focus and where 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 version, turning and flipping both the book and language. During the performance we chose to stand facing each other quite close, to establish a sense of intimacy, and work with the structure as a form 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 the different expressions take and how the outcome perhaps both differs and/or interweave?

Moa: The relationship between performed and printed text is central in my practice. I’m interested in the ambiguity between performed textuality and spoken writing, the context and means for 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 busy with understanding what space the written material inhabits in a performance – can one talk about it as a text when it is transformed by, and transformed 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, the body, the voice, language – what differs is most of all how you engage with them, both as writer/performer and as reader/spectator, and here I think time is the key material, as well as the sense/presence of your body. The situations in which you meet a work as a reader or as spectator are radically different, and to me that is the greatest concern when I do a work for a page that is meant to be read, or a work for a 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 the stage I work with the relationship, not just between the performer and the audience, but with the relationship 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!

Among many other publications, ordbok/lexicon will be available in the READING EDGE library, a place inhabiting a variety of divergent bodies and languages, interfacing each other onto an edge where reading as knowledge is understood as labor of interdependency, by proliferation of difference, always singular, unavoidably borderline.

The library is projected to be opened in early fall 2018.


About Moa Franzén:

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