An exhibition exploring text as image


S is for Script. Also for scripture and scribble, both of which are marks made through the hand. In the time that is take ink or paint to dry, scripture and scribble begin a dance through our eyes into our heads. Which of the two leads? People who can't read can still recognise scripture, people who can read struggle with scribble. Sometimes the line quality charms us, and we skate across the lines, across the surface of the paper, sand, plaster or stone..........

The pen, the brush and the pencil are used for writing and drawing and through these tools, it is easy to slide from one condition to the other. It's not so easy with the typewriter and even harder with the word processor. With these machines, making a mark has become a matter of choosing a prefigured shape: subtlety, timeliness and the sense of the specific hand or occasion have to be achieved through other means if at all.

And yet the hand will not go away. That is, the urge to make something specific, non-standard, ambiguous, personal and fallible will always be with us. Scribble balances the dogma of typographic orthodoxy. The tyranny of corporate television forces the video artist to play.

C is either pronounced s or k, depending on whether the word is crystalline or circular. Yet it is the same letter. Boundaries between arts practices are like the survey lines across continents: artificial proclamations set out without reference to the ground conditions. Like flora and fauna, like weather, like people, many artists working over these lines. Here are some examples: Arnold Schoenberg's sprechgesang (speech-singing) in his Pierrot Lunaire of 1912; Michael McClure's Ghost Tantras where language slips into animal noises and back again; the Griffins' housing estate in Castlecrag, Sydney of the 1920s, where tiny stone houses become rocky boulders in a spread of landscape; the huge stockpile of gestural paintings from Dubuffet to New York and back to Cy Twombly, which are nether drawing, writing, sign or symbol, but a demonstration of the arena they share.

Here in Script, the prevalent slip is between writing and drawing. This is not a distance, but rather, a huge liminal zone between extreme versions of writing and drawing. In this liminal zone, writing is now silent and visual, drawing is now kinetic and aural and both play out their rituals on flat page. Here in script, there are also other liminals - writing/video and writing/sculpture, pointing to others..........

The same hands write and draw and the same eyes read and view.

R is for Read. Once we get a clear signal to read something, as is now happening in this text, we shut down all other perceptions of the surface, its marks and patterns. What would happen to a text if it could really be seen for what it is? Conversely what if the process of reading - the sequential build-up of bits of data which is later fused into a coherent thought - were to be encouraged with visual images or pictures?

When we recognise a letter, we deny its individual character and its specific materiality, because what we recognise is a generic set of relationships. These constitute the sign which then has an established or conventional meaning, and then we are supposed to stay within that meaning. (Naming does the same thing.) If we went back to the letter and to its specific qualities, reading would increase the possibilities of interpretation, making the language, the sentence, the word, the letter, the fragment of script provoke more than could be possible with whole books of conventional prose.

I sounds like eye, but is our letter for a self-confessed individual: the individual who looks and sees. Image starts with an I.

The picture is our culture's way of encoding visual perception. Every picture is worth a thousand words if not more. In a picture, the whole is before us, before we examine the detail. A picture thus sets the context for a kind of reading to take place. Every time we approach a picture, it instantly sets the tone, establishes the visual field, and then we enter into it to read again and again. How like the world, we might say, and indeed the subject of a lot of painting is the study of how we see the world in front of us, of how we perceive our way through it.

P stands for Print. Print is a technique for producing identical copies, an institution for data collection, and a medium of exchange and distribution. Print is a kind of ecology, with energy inputs and outputs, various rhythmic behaviours. It is systematic, but manifests in many ways. It is a kind of world on its world, a kind of landscape and if not totally consuming, forms a significant part of any consideration of our exterior visible world.

In one of Jorge Luis Borges' stories, a writer realises that his books have not represented the world, but merely added to it. We might, as readers, add that on the principle of conservation of matter/energy, all that any writer does is formalise trees, soot, money, water, caustic soda, thoughts, leather and lead into objects of a different form, with no gain or loss to the planet at all. Print is both nature and culture, like food, like the landscape garden, like whale- and bird-song.

P is also for pixel, which is the cell of the newest socio-biological realm that surrounds us. The behaviour of this realm is recognisably different to print: this is due to the speed of electricity as opposed to the speed of the wheel.

T is for Text, which exists in Time, in Theory at least. But it also exists in space. The marks that constitute any text have to float around on a 2D surface. Most text takes a surface for granted, as if it were a stable foundation, eternal and unchanging. Much of this surface is actually paper, which is only a representation of stability and permanence: we all know that paper can be easily folded, cut, crumpled and torn. Under those conditions, text moves into 3D.

Sheets of paper are themselves distributed in 3D space, but are so codified as piles and stacks that we normally don't notice the spatiality of the text under those conditions. Some sense of this spatiality can be gained in urban areas where words are distributed up, down, left, right, above and below us. here there is (and has been since the Cubists and Futurists began painting advertisements, posters and journals) a sustaining model for this spatiality of text. A word floating in air, without a paper guarantee, is a wondrous thing, idea and provocation.

In video - in electronic space - there is no paper guarantee: all text floats in a complete illusion out of the reach of the hand. Electronic space is incredibly deep when modelled or out of focus, and totally flat when in single colour or tone. The same barely-visible pixels form pictures and words and one can easily morph into the other. But note: the video screen has evolved to a horizontal A4 shape, to another liminal zone: we read in a "landscape" format.

Alex Selenitsch
September 2001