At a time when ever-greater numbers of people are bilingual (or trilingual), it’s often the case that the language someone most regularly talks in isn’t the same as the language they think in. A mother tongue precedes any other tongue – the umbilical idiom an individual instinctively falls back on, and the one they feel most at home in. The title of Kondo Heller’s video MU/T/T/ER plays on the word for ‘mother’ in German – a language, like English, with which Heller is intimately familiar without it always feeling unconditionally, authentically familial. Over the course of an evocative sixteen-minute video and audio collage, compiled where Heller was living during lockdown, snatches of English and German share the space with remembered or re-discovered Swahili and, as a background murmur to all these, a subliminal but ubiquitous resident voice that surfaces in the spluttered mutterings and stuttered utterances that are the common parlance of someone living alone. These fragments of inner monologue, mumbled under one’s breath or spoken out loud, are matched to different rooms in the house, as if to echo different facets of the self. Little bubbles of speech that percolate through the larger bubble of the home, they coalesce with a hubbub of other sounds, from the chatter of television and radio to conversations over the internet or on the telephone. In a moment when ever-greater numbers of people have been turning to every linguistic and technological means at their disposal to reach out and connect, Heller’s video is a poetic reminder of the patterns and habits of introspection, and the quiet tumult of everyday personal thoughts that reverberates within.
Read The Fish Is Still Raw by poet and artist Belinda Zhawi, who draws on her own unique experience of language and food in her essay on Kondo Heller's MU/T/T/ER.