The artists invited to realize a project at 1646 are asked to engage in conversation with a correspondent via email or DM, be it someone previously unknown to them or whom they’re already familiar with.
This conversation spans the period before an exhibition is completed. 1646 invites the correspondent at the other end of this exchange to ask questions so they may be guided through the artist’s decision-making process and how their initial ideas develop toward completion. It provides insight into the artist’s body of work and is intended to paint a picture of the otherwise untraceable choices that constitute the artist’s practice.
17 OCTOBER: Jason File [JF] – Kasia Fudakowski [KF]
I’m pleased to meet you via e-mail!
Since we’re starting from zero, more or less, perhaps a good place
to start would be a brief introduction to your plans for the 1646
presentation you are developing. Could you explain a bit about
what you have in mind, and how it relates to your art practice in
Looking forward to corresponding with you over the next two
months as you develop your project.
21 OCT: KF – JF
Thanks for getting in touch, I’m very happy to be connected with you
for this project. I was excited when Johan suggested the conversation
with you because of your work with the different aspects of the
law which is something I’m also very interested in, and I’m looking
to bring more and more into this project, though it may not manifest
itself ‘this time’…
So just to give you a quick introduction: The exhibition at 1646 will
be a presentation of the next ‘episode’ or instalment of my ongoing
film project Word Count. It’s based on the futuristic and fictional
premise that in the near future scientists confirm a direct correlation
between the dramatically rising sea-levels and the amount of
words that we speak. A new law is passed which restricts each
citizen on the planet to 433 words per day. This comes to be known as
Cage Law, after John Cage’s famous 4’33”.
The ever-expanding accumulating footage of Word Count investigates
the consequences of the first year of this new law’s implementation,
with some citizens being more able and willing to adapt than others.
I see it basically as a kind of filter through which to see the absurdity
of our current reality.
I’m not working with a feature length script, but rather, each time I
have the opportunity to shoot, finding a micro scene or scenes that
makes the most sense given the implicit limits of each opportunity,
and slowly making my way through and around four central character’s
Bridget, a stand up comedian, Jennifer, a lawyer specialising in
Cage Law, her husband David, an out of work radio DJ and Professor
Sanchez, a radical intellectual who rejects the philosophy behind
Cage Law. Each character represents a different position. Jennifer’s
character works with the system and only strictly within
the legal limits, her husband represents someone who has
given in and given up, the professor symbolises a kind of
martyr to an idea while Bridget, the stand up comedian,
is the only character that has the mental agility to really
positively adapt her behaviour to create a new way to
communicate and indeed self-actualise.
For The Hague I am concentrating on the husband’s character,
who, having recently been made unemployed (as a victim
of Cage Law), tries to find purpose in his life by diving
for flooded debris in the sea. He repairs and resells
various things, ‘recycling’ them for word credits. I want
to use The Hague’s location on the coast as a kind of fifth
character in this film, asking how might life be different
in The Hague under this new law.
Maybe that’s enough to start us off? Looking forward to
hearing from you soon.
23 OCT: JF – KF
Thanks very much for this introduction to your project.
It is a thought-provoking scenario you have proposed,
and I am excited to see how it evolves.
If it sounds good to you, I’ll try to restrict my questions
and comments to the improvisational comedy rule
of “yes, and?” that takes a scenario as given and goes
in pursuit of further development. This is because your
“Cage Law” idea prompts a lot of questions from the law
and politics side of my brain (Who passed this law? How
did it overcome resistance from interested parties? How
is it enforced internationally?) that I think are not really
necessary for you to answer given the micro-local
approach you seem to be pursuing in your filmed scenes.
One set of questions, though, I think come from a similar
place, and are perhaps more relevant to the scenes
you are producing – I’ll go ahead and put them out there
given that you mentioned your interest in the legal aspects
of things. One interesting feature of the criminal trials I
have worked on for the United Nations in The
Hague has been seeing how the trial transcripts differ
physically across different languages. I have attached
a page of the English language transcript from one trial
as an example. There is an effort to ensure that the
page numbers for the English- and French- language
versions of the transcript correspond, but French is a less
“efficient” language in terms of the number of concepts
expressed on average per syllable and word; the result
is that the English transcripts periodically contain
blank pages to allow the French transcripts to catch up.
You may have come across this phenomenon – it turns
out that there is actually a wide range of language
efficiency across different languages, ranging from
Mandarin and English at a high information density per
word, to Spanish and Japanese at a low information
density per word. In this study (http://ohll.ish-ly-
Language.pdf, see also http://content.time.com/time/
health/article/0,8599,2091477,00.html), researchers at
the University of Lyon found that low information density
corresponded to a higher rate of speech so that the
total amount of information conveyed across time was
relatively similar no matter what language was spoken.
It seems that in The Martyrdom of Professor Sanchez, his
words are counted the same in Spanish (one of the less
efficient languages) as in English (one of the more efficient
languages). So this got me thinking, the Cage Law
must be unfairly discriminatory against some countries
and languages, while a competitive advantage to others.
Especially in the legal realm, German is famous for its
openness to packing complex concepts into a single word
that looks to outsiders like a verbal car crash (for example,
the famous rechtsschutzversicherungsgesellschaften,
which describes insurance companies that provide legal
protection). Would languages start evolving
like this, with people also using conjunctions, eliminating
articles, using active instead of passive sentence structures,
et cetera? It seems that as a lawyer,
Jennifer might be the kind of character who would take
advantage of this for her clients, or her family, or her-
self. Indeed, maybe her law firm, or a cabal of govern-
ment workers, might seek additional advantages through
codes or even new languages. What if they did this to
seek power, like in the (dated) 1949 Robert Heinlein sci-
fi novella “Gulf”, or if they tried to use Ithkuil, a lan-
guage constructed for efficiency and accuracy, as docu-
mented in this New Yorker article (https://www.newyorker.
com/magazine/2012/12/24/utopian-for-beginners) from a
few years back? Does the Cage Law include using written
words, or clear body language? Would hearing-impaired
people and others with a good command of sign language
suddenly have a huge competitive advantage in communi-
cation? Would there be other noticeable changes in the
physical surroundings or environment that your char-
These are all speculative questions that relate to the
way such a rule could alter individual behaviour and so-
cietal structures, so I guess it raises the more general
question of how far do you want to go in your elaboration
of the “rule-making” component of this collection of
performed scenes? And likewise, how much do you want to
allow audiences to figure out from clues in the scenes
themselves versus the text that accompanies any pres-
entation of this work?
I have other questions I wanted to ask, but I think this
is plenty for our next exchange – I hope all is well with
you! (Where are you based at the moment?)
29 OCT: KF – JF
Thanks so much for your engaged and concentrated response.
I’m now on the train on my way from Berlin (where I live) to
The Hague to shoot the next ‘instalment’ with a heavy bag
filled with green rubber suits and what feels like a cold
coming on. I’m super excited though to be shooting at the
Pier which will be the first time we really see the water
more present on the screen.
Your response technique of ‘Yes and…’ is apt as it’s exact-
ly how I’m also working with this idea as the premise sim-
ply functions as a filter through which to see the world
and our, at times, absurd social behaviour.
So, although so far I have been, as you say, pursuing the
theme on a more micro-local level, this is more of a capa-
bility/budget issue than a particular choice at this point.
I see this project as an ever-growing series of shorts
which will slowly, drip by drip, begin to illustrate the
potential consequences of the implementation of this law,
and that picture is always changing and hopefully getting
bigger and richer. The point is that Cage Law would af-
fect every level of life from the micro to the global so-
cial political sphere and so it’s a joy to jump around and
see where the chips fall in each situation.
To answer your first question, o f who
[I imagine] passed this law, I see it as a mirroring of
The Rome Statute, The Dublin Convention, or The Paris
Agreement where certain nations got together to agree on
a level of co-operation on a specific issue. The idea with
this is that of course some nations were/are either not
represented or boycotted the decision, which has conse-
quences for the whole. I’m interested in using stereotypes
as dangerously ‘useful’ or ‘efficient’ short cuts to start
to play the game of ‘what if…’.
So along those lines, I imagine for example, the brooding
Nordic nations realise they don’t use all their word cred-
it quota each day due to their lower population-to-land-
mass ratio, i.e. they don’t bump into each other much, and
begin to sell off their credits to nations in far great-
er apparent ‘need’ like Italy and Spain where, by break-
fast, most citizens are already struggling to stay with-
in their quota.
Monarchic England is the first nation to reveal a two-
tiered class system in which the wealthy, educated ‘up-
per-class’, inexplicably has a higher word count access
than the underprivileged ‘lower classes’. The sudden crim-
inalisation of ‘over-speaking’ results in over-crowded
prisons, and with austerity measures introduced result-
ing in cuts to legal aid, the poor are progressively mis-
represented, their voices, literally, taken away.
The proud Poles, feel unreasonably and personally victim-
ised by Cage Law because they are the only nation with over
six grammatical cases. As a credit saving policy, they de-
cide to radically do away with the past tense, resulting
in a 35% decrease in national speech requirements…
The Germans are laughing with their compound nouns and thus
retain their position as the strongest economic power in
what is left of the crumbling European Union. Through acts
of apparent charity they buy up huge swathes of, ironical-
ly German subsidised credits from the indebted Greeks be-
fore selling them back to them at a higher interest rate.
The Americans might use their global and financial influ-
ence to ‘buy’ up credits from poorer struggling nations,
which might sell their entire gross national credits with-
out even asking it’s citizens, rendering them forcibly si-
lent for extended periods of time… while ‘rogue nations’
which did not sign in Cage Law might refuse to co-oper-
ate throwing any delicate adaptive efforts of the under-
signed out of the window.
I imagine the western-centric nature of Cage Law would
also encounter difficulties when assessing tonal lan-
guages. Being unable to decipher the difference between
syllables and words, a syllabic half-credit system might
be imposed in Asian countries which results in them be-
ing at a bureaucratic disadvantage at the global table. I
was very interested to read about the relative efficien-
cies of language that you mentioned, and LOVE the visual-
isation of the blank English pages existing to allow the
French to catch up.
There would also be unexpected shifts under Cage Law like
for example Mexico’s regrettable history of indigenous il-
literacy ironically works in its favour with its populous
being much more accustomed to working with images and
signs than words. Many impoverished locals, particularly
the female population, also find that their words sudden-
ly have a value that they did not have before.
You asked about the written aspect of this scenario, and
although I revel in this ever evolving thought experiment,
I am aware that in the film I don’t want it to be a check
list of all the ‘clever’ things I have thought of for this
rule. Do you know what I mean? These shorts should ex-
ist as sketches that just suggest various scenarios. But,
yes, the written question is an important aspect, and the
narrative conceit I have invented is that a written word
is equal to half a spoken word credit. The idea being that
somehow the production of new information is not infinite
or at least that there is a cost involved. This means how-
ever, that everything that was already spoken and recorded
or written down can be recycled. And that’s exactly what
the character of David, the unemployed husband, is up to.
This week we will film him as he dives for analogue record-
ed speech, mostly in the form of records, and dries them,
straightens them out and then re-sells them for credits.
I think it’s important to repeat that the Word Count pro-
ject takes place in the first year of the implementation
of this new law, so it’s really as much about our relative
ability to adapt as how we might do it. I imagine long-term,
people would indeed develop much more sophisticated means
of communicating non-verbally, be that sign language or
recorded speech, but yes, initially there would be a hi-
erarchical flip which might see the hearing or speech im-
paired at an advantage. There might be people who consid-
er donating, or abstaining…
I’m aware that this email is swelling, and I haven’t an-
swered all your questions, and while I would love to write
on, I think it would be wise to practice a little self-re-
straint, and finish here!
15 NOV: JF – KF
I very much enjoyed reading your extensive response, as
it suggests so many avenues this project could take! It
also built out the world or worlds that might be inhab-
ited by these characters in numerous ways.
One major aspect of your response imagined the use of
national stereotypes as a way of teasing out the im-
plications of the Cage Law, which for me highlighted
the importance, or at least the potential importance,
of a humorous or satirical element in this project. I
noticed that in the series of shorts to which you re-
ferred me in your initial message, the structure and
content seemed to work together to operate almost like
a set-up with a punch line. Do you see humour as playing
an important role in this project, or in your art prac-
tice more generally? Has it contributed to this par-
ticular instalment as you develop the David’s charac-
ter and world as he goes diving for speech? How much
of the action is scripted as opposed to improvised?
(… and how did the shoot go? What’s next?)
Best of luck as the project begins to take form!
5 DEC: KF – JF
Sorry for the long pause. The shoot went well and the edit
was pretty smooth, now just on my way back through the
mist to The Hague for the install.
Yes! Humour is THE most important element to me, though
I’m happy for it to get momentarily or even often submerged
in the horror. This instalment of the film or in fact three
little films are a good mix of tragic, comic and the mix of
that in the very every day.
What I’m most nervous about for the install is to get this
sound piece working which involves a sound regulated mag-
netic valve. The idea is that when people speak in the first
room, the tap will release water. The hope is in the end
there will be many buckets of water, representing how much
was spoken in the room… let’s see if it works!
Are you in The Hague at the moment? Will you make it for
the opening? Or London? What are you working on right now?
Would be nice to meet some day.
10 DEC: JF – KF
Ahh yes, the début of a new technology! I’m familiar
with the excitement and anxiety that comes with that
particular type of experimentation. I have found that
it can sometimes provide incredible opportunities for
collaboration across disciplines by seeking out experts
with the right kind of background to advise on develop-
ing technical solutions to out-of-the-ordinary artistic
problems – but then there is always that pesky problem
of whether it will actually work on time! How have you
approached this particular issue? Is it something where
you already have special knowledge and can make some-
thing like this on your own, or have you worked with spe-
cialists to design and build this valve? If the latter,
how did you find them and how has it gone?
I would love to hear your more of your thoughts on how
humour is the most important element for you, especial-
ly in terms of whether (and how) you think it might be
capable of affecting the audience in ways that are oth-
erwise not accessible in contemporary art. Is it con-
nected to an exploration of the notion of the absurd?
I hope you can find a moment during your installation
period to send one last response on or before our 11
December deadline for printing, although I know that the
few days before opening can be intense. Also, if you feel
that there are important aspects of this project that
I have not asked about, and that you would like to con-
vey to your audience, please feel free to include them.
(Which sort of raises that perennial question of how
much you want the audience to receive directly though
the work versus through accompanying exhibition text…)
As for me, I regret that I will not be able to attend in
person to celebrate the opening of your exhibition with
you on the 14th. I am currently in the United States for
some project development – just finished an installa-
tion that is on show at a museum in Sarajevo, and wrap-
ping up the edit of a new video that will be screened in
London on the 17th. However, I look forward very much
to meeting you sometime soon, and will be there in spir-
it. I will keep my fingers crossed that all elements,
including your sound-activated valve, work the way you
want them to!
In the meantime, best of luck this week, and have a great
12 DEC: KF – JF
Thanks for this last email. Such beautifully leading ques-
tions! I don’t know if that’s the lawyer in you or this specific
slightly artificial assignment, either way, it’s
been very interesting to exchange with you. Shame that
you won’t make it to see the show, but I’ll send you some
links to the new films asap. I meant to write back sooner,
to get one more exchange in before we finish, but I’ve been
a bit exhausted in the evenings after installing and sud-
denly things like being horizontal and watching a Metallica
documentary seemed very important… Anyway, we have till
tomorrow morning, so here is me squeezing one in.
The show in now installed, and it’s a strange feeling. I’ve
never done a show like this. Can’t help thinking it’s a bit
of a 90’s exhibition! Installation art, immersive, ‘mul-
ti-sensory’. It sounds and smells like an exhibition any-
way. Interestingly there is this really nice sound bleed-
ing between the videos in the space, so while you watch
one specific person or couple trying to deal with the world
under Cage Law, you catch glimpses of other little worlds
happening at the same time from the corner of your eye.
The project as a whole is still very fragmented, but I feel
like slowly I am getting a bit more of the picture together,
and snippets of narratives will start to make more sense.
The short we shot with David (the diver and husband char-
acter) fleshes out his character a little now, but I guess
you don’t have to know that it’s ‘David’, it could just be
a guy pulling records out of the ocean.
I’d say the humour is pretty undercover in this exhibition,
because the atmosphere is a little oppressive (I’ve built
this temporary tunnel construction which is made from tim-
ber and grey-green plastic sheeting with water weighing
down from above so that when you walk under you have to
hunch over to avoid it’s dull weight) and it’s therefore not
a ‘comfortable experience’, but I’d say humour is still the
motivation behind the project (not that humour has to be
comfortable, far from it). And yes, it’s very much linked
to an exploration of the absurd (if the absurd is an exag-
geration of the truth). For me, humour or the comic, when
it works is like a short circuit to the truth and it only
works when it connects to the truth. I also believe it’s the
most economic form of communication, in the sense that if
it works, it connects to something already in the mind of
the beholder. I am so in love with Kierkegaard right now,
and in his ‘Repetition and Philosophical Crumbs’ he ar-
gues that the Socratic way is ‘the most positive’ (as op-
posed to negative) relation you can have with another, i.e.
the continual questioning to allow the subject to discov-
er what they already ‘know’. That’s vastly over simplified,
but what I mean is that the comic element is like a super
conductor and it can connect on such an intuitive level,
bi-passing the critical cerebral level that much of con-
temporary art discourse exists on.
The water feature works! Many people helped along the
way with it including my engineer brother, my electri-
cian friend back in Berlin and finally Floris here in the
Hague who seemingly very enthusiastically took over the
installation while I worked on the plastic with Johan and
Clara. So, I’m very lucky. Fingers crossed it holds out
for the show.
So, thanks again for your time and thoughts on this, and
all my very best
Kasia Fudakowski studied at The Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art, Oxford University and has exhibited internationally at venues such as; The Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego; Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen, Düsseldorf; Kunstverein Braunschweig; Arnolfini, Bristol; GAK, Bremen; FUTURA, Prague; Harburger Bahnhof Kunstverein, Hamburg; Sprengel Museum, Hanover; and Museum Ludwig, Cologne.