9th Inter-format Symposium on the Fluidity of Humour and Absurdity



Janks Archive is a collective research project (2012-present) which investigates traditions of insult humor in cultures from around the world. This multifaceted study documents this tradition through field recording, and presents the collection through an online archive, public events, exhibitions, publications, and a podcast. Since 2012 we’ve travelled to 16 cities in 9 countries, talking to local residents, and learning about local variations of this type of humor.

Over the course of this study, we have amassed a library of research related to humor, jokes, insults, and archives. For the 9th Inter-format Symposium we propose to present our research along with images and videos from our archive in the form of a lecture/conversation. Additionally, we will stage collection events throughout the symposium where we will install text works (in the form of banners, sings, etc.) to instigate conversations with participants and ask them to share “verbal abuses” from memory to the camera. The lecture could be presented in one of your interior spaces, and last 1.5 hours, while the collection events could be staged anywhere in a public space and occur intermittently throughout the symposium (lasting 2-3 hours at a time).

Insults are an ancient oral tradition embedded within the collective consciousness of a culture or region with inherent ties to human social evolution. The word “Janks,” for example, is a colloquial term from Southern Alabama which refers to an insulting joke that one person says directly to another person. “Playing the Dozens”, “Signifyin”, “snaps”, “burns”, and “rippins” are other names for similar American traditions of verbal dueling. In Northern Ireland you “slag someone off,” in Mexico “Albures” is a verbal game of double entendre, in Italy, “Stornelli” is form of insulting folk poetry, in Finland you might “throw slander” (Heittää Herjaa), in Latvia it’s “Uzbrauciens,” and the list goes on.

This oral tradition is an aspect of culture that does not usually get written down, and is something that “high culture” typically ignores. We are interested in how language morphs, shifts, travels, becomes obsolete, and is forbidden to some, but acceptable to others. In this time of great political upheaval and xenophobia, we are driven to increase more understanding of something which on the surface seems antagonistic, but may ultimately be an invitation for exchange and mutual understanding.



Download (PDF): Janks CV



LIBRARY (detail)
*For more images of the library and a recent exhibition link here

COLLECTION EVENT: Raleigh, North Carolina, September 2018
Raleigh Collection
*For more information about our collection events watch this short video


The Eternal Insult is a two-channel video installation that selects videos at random from our global archive and plays them on opposing screens. The result places the viewer in the center of an endless verbal duel and references traditions like the Dozens (USA) and the Albur (Mexico). As opposed to a traditional video with a set beginning and end, in this installation, once each scene has played, the order is re-shuffled and played again. The relationship between joke teller and receiver is thus constantly in flux, and jokes begin to take on new meaning with each iteration.

*For more images of our installations link here