15.10 – 19.11.2005
Ellen de Bruijne Projects, Amsterdam
An installation consisting of clusters of household objects presented in tableaus, in which each object corresponds to a word. A set of 850 playing cards printed with the entire vocabulary of Basic English were used to tag the objects.
Within the duration of the show, I aimed at producing a complete photo dictionary of Basic English. Developed by linguist Charles Ogden in the 1930s as an international auxiliary language, Basic English consists of only 850 English words and a simplified grammatical structure.
The exhibition space was set up as a walk-in photo studio, equipped with a camera, a set of flash lights, tables, common household objects and 850 playing cards representing the complete vocabulary of Basic English. On the tables, objects were arranged to collections according to a predetermined logic, they were displayed as still lives, waiting to be photographed. Through the playing cards, words were temporarily linked with objects.
The installation revealed the problem of the arbitrary character of language. Only a quarter of the vocabulary is classified as “picturable words”, whilst the rest is non-picturable words, e.g. functions or abstract concepts like “God” or “freedom”. Even picturable words are hard to depict, as they are generalizations that refer to general concepts. The word “apple” refers to the concept of all apples, and not to any specific one; so do you pick a green one or a red one, an old one or a fresh one? Is there any stereotypical mental image of “the apple”? Or of “the dog”?
Over the timespan of the show, objects and words cross-pollinated: viewers were invited to play with the cards and objects. A certain poetry emerged between the object and the word. Irrational storylines developed as the initial system of order broke down and gave way to other, more complex ones. Objects acquired new meanings and associations.