As a document of dead and dying languages, Susan Hiller’s The Last Silent Movie (2007) fills a room with ghosts—black screen, subtitles, sound. If not a language lost already, then the haunting possibility. Understood within A Problem So Big It Needs Other People, Hiller’s work approaches sovereignty from a linguistic perspective. Translation is just another way of understanding negotiation: it is the give of knowing and the take of naming,
What does the real or looming extinction of so many languages tell us about how to approach tensions between French and English speakers in Québec? Or rather, how can the people of the Province of Québec, and the country of Canada, learn about co-existence from the tragic loss of so much already? What conditions prompt the loss of language, and how can current tensions between different cultures be approached in a way that may allow for different future histories to play out?
Language is a powerful marker of identity, and language does shape the world. Below, performance artist and scholar Peter Morin responds to Hiller’s work. Originally commissioned by Jesse McKee for an exhibition at Gallery 101 entitled Well Formed Data, it is published here with permission. Many thanks to McKee and Morin for their generosity.