Accent Elimination
Six-channel video with sound, six televisions, three pedestals, dimensions variable, 2005

My foreign-born parents who have lived in the United States for over 40 years both have distinctive but hard-to-place accents that I have never been able to imitate correctly (and have not inherited). Inspired by posters advertising courses in "accent elimination," I worked with my parents and professional speech improvement coach Sam Chwat intensively for several weeks in order to "neutralize" my parents' accents and then teach each of them to me. The very existence of these courses points to the complexities of assimilation and self-image, and the tricky maneuvering between the desire to preserve the distinctive marks of one's culture, on one hand, and to decrease them in order to seem less foreign, on the other. In the video, my parents and I struggle to hear and imitate what is so close at hand and yet so difficult to access. The accent is treated very literally, like an heirloom, and the project illustrates the very awkward attempt to concretely transfer this elusive, and ultimately culturally determined, attribute.

This is a six-channel piece, with the front "talking head" monitors showing a synchronized conversation, scripted by my parents, which plays out first in our natural accents, and at the end in our "reversed" accents. The middle section consists of outtakes from our practice sessions in my studio, and has been edited to play with the patterning and repetition of various words.

Watch a video of Accent Elimination.

Radio interview about this project at Lingua Franca.

Radio interview about this project at The Unobserved.

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