a to z
A to Z is a series of projects begun in 2011 based on the premise of making a visualisation for every word* listed in the Concise Oxford English dictionary, starting at "A", and proceeding in alphabetical order.
A to Z: From Aardvark to Axle (2011-13); 461 drawings for each of the 461 "A" words
A to Z: Babble to Byte (from Memory) (2013-14); 479 drawings for each of the 479 "B" words, produced without the use of any visual source material (i.e. made entirely from memory)
A to Z: All the Cs (Through the Lens of My Camera) (2014-ongoing); c.800 photographs for each of the c.800 "C" words, with accompanying texts
The premise of the project is clearly absurd, but it also represents a serious attempt to systematically account for what makes up our world. It challenges the notion that some things are more important than others, and instead treats everything within a language equally.
In part the project stems from the basic question: what should an artist take as their subject-matter? Right from the very first week of art school, this question bothered me intensely. Fellow students made work about their personal hang-ups or life story; others used existing artists or styles as their starting point; still others explored the formal concerns of their chosen medium. But I wanted to make art about the world. The trouble was, the world was frustratingly large and complex - where could I possibly begin?
The scale of the project seems ridiculous - but dictionaries and encyclopedias have been written by individuals in the past. In the age of Enlightenment it was seen as a necessary and achievable project to catalogue and understand everything in the world: the scope of knowledge was more or less graspable by single scholars.
But that has all changed: nobody could now claim such authority. There is simply too much to know. And yet, in the age of Google and Wikipedia, knowledge has become so much more accessible. The information is all there; the only problem is what to do with it. With the A to Z project, I have decided to respond to everything in the world visually, starting at the beginning of the alphabet, and continuing from there.
1. Words should be visualised in alphabetical order, starting at "a".
2. One visualisation should be made of each word.
3. Every word listed in the Concise Oxford English Dictionary (7th edition, 1982) should be visualised, with the following restrictions:
(i). Only nouns should be visualised.
(ii). Unfamiliar words (i.e. words outside of the vocabulary of the artist) should be discarded.
(iii). Proper nouns should be discarded, unless they are listed without capitalisation (e.g. "Apollo" should be discarded, whereas "aboriginal" should be included).
(iv). Obscure, technical, specialist, or scientific words should be discarded (unless they are in general usage).
(v). Only one visualisation should be made per word listed (i.e. per headword). Therefore only one sense of words with multiple senses should be chosen (e.g. only one of the two senses of "boot" - a tough leather shoe, and the luggage compartment of a car).
(vi). Words with different derivatives listed separately (e.g. access, accessibility) but with the same basic meaning should only be visualised once. Where the meanings are distinct (e.g. affect, affectation, affection) they should be treated as separate words.
(vii) Compound words should be discarded, unless they are written without spaces or hyphens (e.g. "hotdog" would be visualised, but not "hot water" or "hot-press").
(viii) Synonyms should be treated as separate words (e.g. "achievement" and "accomplishment" should both be visualised).
(ix) Foreign words which have not been naturalised into English (i.e. those with headwords in italics) should be discarded (e.g. "aperitif" should be visualised, but not "aficionado").
4. There is no restriction on approach, style, size, media, or interpretation - except where specified for a given letter (e.g. the "A"s were simply "drawings", the "B"s were "drawings produced without the use of any external visual source material”, whilst the "C"s are defined only as "photographs").
Article on A to Z by Sofia Martinellini A is for Artist: Drawing by the Book, published in Berlin Artparasites, 2013
Limited edition prints are available from Galerie Art Claims Impulse
The opening project A to Z: From Aardvark to Axle (2011-13) was first shown at Galerie Art Claims Impulse in Berlin in 2013; selected drawings have also been shown at Picaresque, Ha Gamle Prestegard, Naerbo, Norway in 2014; and The Picture Show, Galerie Jaap Sleper, Utrecht, Netherlands in 2013. Part of A to Z: Babble to Byte (from Memory) was shown at HilbertRaum in Berlin in 2015.