Caroline Bergvall

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Caroline Bergvall
Caroline bergvall.jpg
Born Caroline Bergvall
1962 (age 55–56)
Hamburg, Germany
Occupation Poet, artist, academic
Residence London, England
Nationality French, Norwegian
Education Université de la Sorbonne Nouvelle, University of Warwick, Dartington College of Arts
Period Contemporary
Notable works Drift

Caroline Bergvall (born 1962) is a French-Norwegian poet who has lived in England since 1989. Her work includes the adaption of Old English and Old Norse texts into audio text and sound art performances.

Life and Education[edit]

Born in Hamburg, Germany, Bergvall was raised in Switzerland, France and Norway as well as the United Kingdom and the United States. She studied as an undergraduate at the Université de Paris III, Sorbonne Nouvelle, and continued her studies at the University of Warwick and Dartington College of Arts where she received her MPhil and PhD, respectively.[1]

From 1994 to 2000, Bergvall was director of performance writing at Dartington College of Arts.[2] She has taught at Cardiff University and Bard College.[3] She was appointed in 2007 as an Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded Creative Writing Fellow at the University of Southampton and stayed in this position until 2010.[4]

Performances and writing[edit]

Bergvall has developed audio texts and collaborative performances with sound artists in Europe and North America. Her critical work is largely concerned with emerging forms of writing, plurilingual poetry and mixed media writing practices, in addition to Performance Writing.

Bergvall's work often draws inspiration from and explores Old English and Old Norse sources. A review of 2011's Meddle English: New and Selected Texts in The Brooklyn Rail noted that her essay "Middling English" urges readers and writers working with English to "excavate its fractured and fractious history." [5]

She wrote FIG (Goan Atom 2), poetic and performance pieces (Salt Books, 2005). Installations with Ciaran Maher include Lidl Suga for TEXT Festival (2005) and Say: "Parsley" at the Liverpool Biennial (2004). Bergvall's work has also been shown at Dia Art Foundation, Museum of Modern Art, the Serpentine Galleries, Tate Modern, and the Hammer Museum.[2] Bergvall was 2014-2015 Writer in Residence at the Whitechapel Gallery, London, UK.[6]


Bergvall's 'Drift' project is exemplary of how her work embraces multi-modality. 'Drift' was commissioned as a live voice performance in 2012 by Grü/Transtheatre, Geneva.[7] Another version was performed by Bergvall at the 2013 Shorelines Literature Festival, Southend-on-sea, UK,[8] and produced as video, voice, and music performances by Penned in the Margins across the UK in 2014. 'Drift' was published as a collection of text and prints by Nightboat Books in 2014. An exhibition drawing on various elements of the 'Drift' project, including electronic texts made in collaboration with Thomas Köppel, prints, sound, and a "digital, algorithmic collage", was shown at Callicoon Fine Arts, New York, in 2015.[9]

The titular poem of the 2014 Nightboat Books-published collection 'Drift' reinterprets the themes and language of the Old English elegy 'The Seafarer' to reimagine the so-called 'Left to Die' account of refugees crossing the Mediterranean sea, which was reported by Forensic Architecture at Goldsmiths University in 2011.[10] According to a review in Publishers Weekly May 2014, 'toys with the ancient and unfamiliar English', as Bergvall pays particular attention to Old Norse and Old English words and their etymologies, and conveying the experiences of lone voyagers.[11] In one passage she omits all vowels from her text followed by two pages of the letter 't'. The Poetry Review suggest that 'It’s as though we’re losing sight of the poem in the fog—or as though severe weather has battered the text, which is breaking up and sinking like a shipwreck'.[12]

Oh My Oh My[edit]

In October 2017, Bergvall performed her pieces Oh My Oh My in the Great Hall of King's College London for their Arts & Humanities Research Institute's annual Arts and Humanities Festival. Bergvall's spoken word was accompanied by trombonist Sarah Gail Brand and musician Bill Thompson. The description for the event provides a reflection on the work:

In Oh My Oh My, Bergvall explores linguistic connections and displacements through a mix of spoken performance, live improvisation and a chorus of treated interviews. Drawing on language material recently recorded in travels across Europe, as well as live recordings captured during the Global Women’s March for Documenta14, Caroline Bergvall presents poetic variations for a world on the brink. Using a distinctive and unique process of translation and sonic patterning, Bergvall weaves together a language-scape that stretches from Algiers to Reykjavik, creating an abstract and complex passageway of sound made by ancient, endangered, and new local languages. This piece expands an ongoing body of work by Bergvall, which explores issues of linguistic travel and sedimentation, as well as medieval love poetry, and shines a light on linguistic and political thresholds.[13]


Fiction anthology[edit]


  1. ^ "Caroline Bergvall". Academy of American Poets. 
  2. ^ a b Kinnahan, Linda A. (November 2011). "An interview with Caroline Bergvall". Contemporary Women's Writing, special issue: New texts, approaches, and technologies. Oxford Journals. 5 (3): 232–251. doi:10.1093/cww/vpr019. 
  3. ^ "Caroline Bergvall". Poetry Foundation. Retrieved 3 March 2015. 
  4. ^ "Centre for Modern and Contemporary Writing". University of Southampton. Retrieved 28 March 2018. 
  5. ^ Leong, Michael (11 July 2011). "Echo's Accent". The Brooklyn Rail. 
  6. ^ "Writer in Residence 2014-2015: Caroline Bergvall". Whitechapel Gallery. 
  7. ^ "Caroline Bergvall commissioned by Centre d'Arte contemporain, Geneva". 
  8. ^ "Shorelines 2013, Metal". 
  9. ^ Schwendener, Martha. "People and Language, All at Sea". The New York Times. 
  10. ^ "Forensic Architecture: Left-to-Die Boat". 
  11. ^ "Fiction Book Review: Drift". Publisher's Weekly. 
  12. ^ "Catching the Drift, Mysterious Passages in the May 2014 Poetry". Poetry Foundation. Poetry Magazine. 
  13. ^ "CAROLINE BERGVALL PRESENTS: OH MY OH MY". Arts and Humanities Festival 2017. King's College London. Retrieved 28 March 2018. 

External links[edit]