Day-to-Day Data
Abigail Reynolds
Title: Dictionary Ranges. Diagram of ‘table’
Location: Installation at all gallery venues
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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’
detail from Dictionary Ranges. Diagram of ‘table’
The 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[1] 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.’[2] 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.

Abigail Reynolds
May 2005

1. Mount Fear… Police statistics for urban Crimes, 2002 – present

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.

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