A to Z

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. In total, around 12,000 visualisations will be made, taking an estimated 30 years to complete.

A to Z is an umbrella work comprising a series of successive semi-independent projects defined by a particular letter of the alphabet; each introduces some new conceptual parameter or media restriction, whilst adhering to the basic parameters of the overall work.

The work originally developed out of an interest in utilising randomness as a generative tool, inspired in part by a well-known technique for encouraging lateral thinking, which is to pick a word at random in the dictionary and apply that to whatever subject-matter is being investigated – thus breaking out of the constraints of conventionally linear, logical thought.

A to Z deliberately pushes the rationale behind this technique to an absurd level, where there is nothing left except the non-linear thought; divorced of any context, the efficacy of the operation is called into question. What remains is a farcically large collection of sequential images, whose meaningfulness is undermined by the excessive faith in semiotic cogency that drives the project’s relentless marrying of words and images.

* Rules

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”).

A is for Artist: Drawing by the Book, a feature on A to Z by Sofia Martinelli, was published in Berlin Artparasites in 2013.

Limited edition prints are available from Galerie Art Claims Impulse.

A to Z: From Aardvark to Axle (2011-13) has been shown at a solo exhibition at Galerie Art Claims Impulse, Berlin in 2013; and also at Picaresque, Ha Gamle Prestegard, Naerbo, Norway in 2014; and The Picture Show, Galerie Jaap Sleper, Utrecht, Netherlands in 2013. A to Z: Babble to Byte (from Memory) has been shown at Media Ambages, HilbertRaum in Berlin in 2015.