2019 #39

Universal Tongue

by Anouk Kruithof

Selected by
Diane Smyth,
Writer and editor

UNIVERSAL TONGUE docu anouk kruithof cinekid 50

Selected by Diane Smyth,
Writer and editor

Through an extensive video archive – amassed by a global team of some 50 researchers – Anouk Kruithof’s Universal Tongue presents a visual anthropology of online dance footage from the internet age.

Diane Smyth: Why did you want to make a project about dance in online videos?

Anouk Kruithof: For me, dance is a way of knowing the world; it tells us something about ourselves, our cultures, and about the human condition. Dance is about empowerment, connectedness and sharing… It’s something universal. This was the most pressing reason to produce a kind of “dance-conclave through the jungle of the world wide web”. I had the idea in mind for several years, but in late 2018 I got the opportunity to develop it with the support of a Dutch organisation, Cinekid.

Did you always have the idea that Universal Tongue would compare dance from lots of different countries?

For me, doing the project the right way meant scanning the whole globe, with a large team based all over the world. It was important that the project didn’t focus on the specifics of either a certain country’s dance culture, or on a specific direction in dance such as well-known viral dance moves, but to make a more universal statement. I wanted Universal Tongue to express a longing for a much more hybrid and inter-connected world.

It's a huge project! Did you always envisage it would be so big?

I worked with 50 international researchers, to whom I paid a symbolic fee of €1 per delivered video. I made a PDF with instructions on how to search for videos as well ‘tags’ they could use while searching. I also searched for videos – I myself sourced 1452 – and in total we amassed 8800, from which the work was created!

It somehow grew huge and out-of-hand – maybe because I gave too much freedom to the researchers in defining how many videos they sent to cover the area, countries, or specific global dance-styles they were researching. But I felt that giving the team this freedom would deliver a certain completeness in the material. We started off with 250 hours of video, so the end result – eight films, each lasting four hours – isn't even that large, is it?!

It must have taken a long time to cut down all the material, figure out what to use and in what order, and cut it together?

I worked with a team of editors to organise the videos into "solo, duo, group or mass" categories, which relates to the number of people you see dancing. This was a clear strategy to try to ensure the editing process was objective – as far as that’s possible. I wanted to show a sort of globalised ‘language’, and for Universal Tongue to have a hybrid identity that was fully fluid. I asked the editors to work quickly in response to the music, hoping to get an eclectic mix made without judgement.

Many of the dancers are professionals; did you make any distinction between professional and amateur dancers?

No, this isn’t important to me. Everyone is a dancer. We even have animals dancing in Universal Tongue!

Were you inspired by any other artworks about dancing – I'm thinking of Mark Leckey's Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore, for example.

I love Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore – to me that’s an incredible art piece, but it’s about UK rave culture between the 1970s and 90s, which is something very specific. There are so many works that take dance as a topic, but I had never seen a project that took global and digital dance from the internet as a whole as its focus. Universal Tongue is a kind of visual anthropology solely about dance from the internet era, which in itself is very different from the found VHS footage from which Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore was made.

What do you hope this work can do?

I hope this work is transformative towards a more fluid world – which is without borders and with limitless exchange and understanding, but in which historical backgrounds and crucial cultural differences are also visible and relevant, in order to understand these new identities with their complexities, their origins, and most importantly, where they will lead us in the future.

To me, this project is maybe the most hopeful I’ve ever made, because dance and the moving body is, more than anything in our diverse and complex world, what unites us in recognition of our shared fragility and the common human condition.

Text by Diane Smyth

Read more (3 min read)

Photo of Universal Tongue by Anouk Kruithof

Universal Tongue exhibited at Medialab, part of Cinekid, Amsterdam, 2018

Photo of Universal Tongue by Anouk Kruithof

Universal Tongue exhibited at Medialab, part of Cinekid, Amsterdam, 2018

Photo of Universal Tongue by Anouk Kruithof

Universal Tongue exhibited at Medialab, part of Cinekid, Amsterdam, 2018

Diane Smyth is a freelance writer, editor and curator.

To learn more about the project: www.universaltongue.com

Anouk Kruithof

Dordrecht, NL


Anouk Kruithof

Dordrecht, NL

Anouk Kruithof (b. 1981, the Netherlands) is a versatile multidisciplinary artist who has worked with photography, video, photobooks, installation, performance, and sculpture. Kruithof’s artistic output is extensive and varied, although she is primarily concerned with societal issues (privacy, government surveillance, pollution, and climate change) and how these interact with modern technology; images and videos found online are frequently incorporated into her work. Representative of this is Kruithof’s latest project, Universal Tongue, for which she asked 50 researchers to send her youtube videos depicting dances from around the world. Kruithof’s compilation of thousands of these video clips demonstrates the diversity, and commonality, of dance worldwide.

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