A letter is a line, a sound, a form. It has no interest in us, it doesn't care who you are, whether you are an outsider, a professor, a crook, a writer or an artist. It is both, nothing and material that we control and by which we are controlled. THE CAPITAL WORDS WHICH GIVE INSTRUCTIONS, the italics, which make comments, and the ordinary type, which is “me just trying to get through the day,” as American poet Hannah Weiner (1928-1997) put it. Her poetry and her research in language and consciousness are the points of departure for this selection of words and books. On invitation by the Outsider Art Fair in Paris in 2014, I See A Big Apostrophe is an exploration into the places where letters, words and alphabets run away from being letters, words and alphabets.
In Paris, people like you will read poems; films will show writers presenting their texts; computer voices will intonate letters and words; some texts will be present in printed form. I See A Big Apostrophe takes place on the top floor of the Outsider Art Fair located at Hotel Le A in Paris. It may well start with A, with Walter Abish's (*1931) legendary Alphabetical Africa from 1972. Here, the ABC produces a text and structure while, at the same time, opening the gateway to absurdity. German artist Michael Riedel, born in the year when Alphabetical Africa was published, goes the other way around. He records conversations, transcribes them into texts and, with the help of software, re-shuffles the conversation's words alphabetically (and, in a second step, its letters too). The resulting new text is subsequently read by a computer program which here and there starts to stutter and cough as it stumbles over letters and words. In both cases the alphabet turns words and worlds into what might be called nonsense, freedom or poetry.
Other writers produce words in close relationship to vision. Hannah Weiner not only saw hovering words in the air or appear on people's foreheads, but left them the way they “act” by writing them down in numerous and astonishing variations as, for instance, in The Book Of Revelations. The physicist, publisher and artist Bern Porter (1911-2004) found poems in journals, on posters, and in advertisements. His book Found Poems, published in 1972, celebrates the world of unintentional poetry and, at the same time, documents to what degree commerce and entertainment transform language. Norwegian artist Matias Faldbakken's work is dedicated to a comparable dynamic when, by making words out of adhesive tape, he empties them out so that they have to live on as logos and abstract forms.
Words show up, turn into shells, camouflage and draw their energy from being dysfunctional. A seemingly final step was achieved by Spanish poet, artist and diplomat José Luis Castillejo (1930-2014) for his A Book of A Book (1977) consisting of reproduced photographs of empty pages. Castillejo who also published The Book of I´s (1969) and The Book of Eigtheen Letters (1972) later recorded himself turning page after page of A Book of A Book which was published only in an edition of 1. German artist Jue Löffelholz used this same recording to only record the looping audio signal at the very end of Castillejo's LP. What seems a total dead end, in reality is full of barely audible sounds accompanied by a steady pulse.
In Bern, Switzerland, at the psychiatric hospital of Waldau, Constance Schwartzlin-Berberat (1845–1911), left an impressive oeuvre of writings and journals, that transcend word, text and image in a still stunningly modern way. In her search to embrace language she followed the movement of (hand)writing and the sound and rhythm of words, thereby also creating new words to grasp reality. In New York in the early 1990s, the poet named Orion (who apparently had been part of the downtown poetry scene) put his writings up on phone booths or storefronts on the Lower East Side. American poet Kenneth Goldsmith, the man behind ubuweb.com, collected Orion's hastily written poems and made them accessible online. Schwartzlin-Berberat and Orion remind us that poetry shows up where we don't expect it. A third example is by the author Annette whose texts were included in Michel Thevoz's anthology Ecrits bruts in 1979. Born in 1890 in Brussels, she was transferred to a mental hospital in Schaerbeck, Belgium, where between 1941 and 1942 she filled 350 pages. Excerpt: “je qou je fezest ici / a la dat du katre / le kalendriee l'entre / tiin la nestans de / ma volonté je swi / libre ...” (I sew I do on the date of the 4th the calendar the conversation the birth of my will I am free...)
Rather than for an artistic movement or any –isms, each of these artists stands for a singular practice. I See A Big Apostrophe could include Dadaism, Raymond Roussel's Impressions of Africa (1910), Adolf Wölfli's Funeral March (1928-1930), texts by Ghérasim Luca or Friedrich Hölderlin, concrete poetry, graffiti and hip-hop or slam poetry. But this would put Hotel Le A on the verge of Z. So, for the moment, there is space left for only two more: “Let Us Make A Record” by New Orleans preacher, missionary, artist, musician, and poet Sister Gertrude Morgan (1900-1980) and 2014, the dystopian science fiction pocket-epic by Swiss artists Tobias Madison (*1985) and Flavio Merlo (*1990)