Paula Tabarez 

The Language of Birds

Throughout my research into the city of Genk I have concentrated on the link between its mining era and utopia. A simplified definition is an imagined place or state of things in which everything is perfect; this is what was presented to prospective workers for the Winterslag mine. In exchange for working in one of the most dangerous jobs at the time, men and their families were given housing, schooling for children, churches, temples and community clubs for all sorts of activities. 


Health problems from work such as decreased lung function were not considered an injustice so much as it seems like it was accepted as a part of the miners  life. Once the mines closed down, people were able to find alternative jobs quite quickly but now they were mere workers. It was the end of the utopia. This created a longing in the older generation for the past and left the city stripped of its identity.  

mah butas repari-ney             to have the boots repaired

mah gunsa zwo-ney              to get the work done.




Since I am not a part of the community of Genk and I was unable to visit the city, I naturally began to form an imaginary version of Winterslag.  I imagined what it would have been like if the city had its own language mixed in with all the nationalities that reside there. In my research of international auxiliary languages, I came across Lingwa de planeta which uses Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, Hindi, Persian, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish. Using this language I wrote a small text about the Genk I imagined. 

The language of birds

Charcoal, pencil and acrylic on paper. 

Music: INTP by LEYA

From a single black line a mountain grows, simultaneously a spiderweb is forming behind it and  black cracks on the earth form like lightning bolts. Underneath the mountain there is a spiral shell releasing black smoke. This is the story of how a utopia was formed and how it fell.

Spiral: connection with creation, with movement and proggressive development, the spiral is an attribute of power. 


Smoke: corresponds to the elements of air and fire. Some folklore traditions attribute a beneficent power to smoke, which is supposed to possess the magic ability to ward off the misfortunes that beset men, animals and plants. 


Spiderweb:  symbol of the center of the universe, the eternal weaver of the veil of illusions. In human life it represents creation, destruction and  the continuous human sacrifice. 


Extracted from A Dictionary of Symbols

By Juan Eduardo Cirlot