This book contains the first 100 Babel images and a contextual introduction to the project.
BABEL is an ongoing series of collages, paintings, digital prints, artist’s cards, books, wall-works, boxes and installations, all derived from experiments with the word as visual image. There are long traditions in Islamic, African, Oriental and European art of artists and poets experimenting with the visual elements of letter forms and printed text – from Egyptian hieroglyphs, through Celtic illuminated manuscripts and Chinese calligraphy, to Koranic decorations in Arabic script and contemporary experiments in ‘concrete poetry’ and cyber texts. Many contemporary visual artists have been fascinated by the aesthetic dynamics of the painted word, the play between ways of meaning and understanding that the crossover of literary and visual ‘ways of saying’ can produce.
There are whole university departments now exploring the philosophical and artistic nuances of visual poetics and the relationships of language, graphic systems and the written word. The BABEL images relate to those traditions and discussions in various ways, asking questions about how we ‘read’ such images, about the relation-ships between the symbols recognised in these images as linguistic code that carries – or at least implies – particular kinds of utterance and meaning but which in this visual context may take on quite other associations, resonances and, not least, colours. BABEL engages with those echoes and shadows, and I am interested in the intellectual, aesthetic and perceptual issues the images – individually and collectively – raise. But BABEL is essentially a playful, whimsical, ironic response to the various pleasures and pressures of a life devoted, one way and another, to the text.
Some of the BABEL images are evolved from the printed textual detritus that inundates all our lives, much of it uninvited – advertising flyers, faxes, free newspapers, e-mail spam etc. – and quite a lot of it unintentional too, via computer and printer generated texts. BABEL also employs found texts, sometimes literally found, having been lost or abandoned by their previous keepers – notable among these a copy of Marx’s Capital found, with its covers torn off, in a builder’s skip. Then there are the masses of ‘unnecessary’ texts that a place like a university produces every day – minutes and memoranda and drafts and discussion documents. And in a multi-cultural city like Birmingham, alongside the restaurant signage and advertisements in ‘foreign’ scripts are council and school and hospital documents that come written in eight different languages, so that one feels sometimes that we are drowning in texts of one kind and another. For the BABEL project this textual material is worked in various ways: recycled, juxtaposed, overlaid, cut through, coloured, painted, rearranged, printed, copied and re-copied to construct these images which become, I hope, ‘beautiful, unsayable, meaningless, profound.’