Ranges. Diagram of ‘table’
Location: Installation at all gallery venues
Abigail presents a new installation developed from her research whilst in residence
at the Oxford English Dictionary. Three freestanding sculptures investigate
the history of three familiar day-to-day words and phrases: ‘bog-standard’,
‘snack bar’ and ‘awkward’. Each sculpture maps out how
the meaning of these words has evolved over time. Within the sculptures the
different word meanings are each allocated objects. The objects are interconnected
via a set of rules, which are displayed on the gallery wall. The piece becomes
a game. Visitors can attempt to decipher which word meanings the objects represent
and how they relate to one another within the English language.
detail from Dictionary Ranges. Diagram of ‘table’
Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is generally perceived as a fixed authority,
but in actuality it is a research project that moves through the shifting terrain
of written language. The specific task of the OED is to track each individual
word through time from the first written records to the present moment. Words
constantly adapt and mutate, influenced by one another and by cultural change.
The OED structures each entry according to a complex externally imposed schema
of which alphabetising is only the most obvious, but words have internal structures.
Like minerals, words are complex structures generated over time by self-determining
rules. I am interested in the possibility of visualising the internal structures
within language as a physical manifestation. My choices of material and the
placement of each object are governed by rules suggested by the kind of relationship
one term in a group has to another. Words are so deeply embedded in our sense
of ourselves as individuals and as a society that it can be hard to consider
their workings. Dictionary Ranges is a kind of word game, an attempt
to make the familiar, such as a word like ‘table’, strange enough
to think about again.
Art is extremely well-suited to describing the indescribable and illogical.
No other discipline does this so well. It is the tension between the logical
system of the OED and the scattered unstable subject of World English that attracts
me to the Dictionary. I work with official data sets such as police crime data
and the OED because exploitable discrepancies immediately exist between my practice
as an artist and the practices that compile the data I work with.
‘Everything began with objects, yet there is no longer a system of objects.
The critique of objects was based on signs saturated with meaning, along with
their phantasies and unconscious logic.’ In extremes
of complexity, systems of classification break down. By using objects, the complex
nature of the relationship between words and their meanings becomes physically
manifest. The term ‘information fatigue’ appeared in 1991 to describe
a contemporary phenomenon. The game of super-complexity in art is therefore
one to be tested.
Mount Fear… Police statistics for urban Crimes, 2002 –
2. Jean Baudrillard The Ecstasy of Communication (New York: Semiotext(e),
1988), p. 11.
Dictionary Ranges. Diagram of ‘table’ is a result of a
period of residency, supported by the Leverhulme
Trust, at the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). Abigail Reynolds would like
to thank the Oxford University Press and particularly the Director and Chief
Etymologist at the OED.