‘In Other Words’, the group exhibition at the Lewis Glucksman Gallery, transforms the 26 letters of the alphabet into fugitive non-conformists. Neon letters cling indecipherably to a wall, three- dimensional letters are projected falling down the face of a building, other letters seem brash and bolshy, taking the place of the art they are supposed to describe by inflating their own titles. Above all, this exhibition is concerned with the artist’s physi- cal use of text and the potent ability these humble symbols have to light fires in our brains.
Kay Rosen’s work has a spare and pared-back aesthetic. Phantom Limb in Gallery 1 comprises the over-sized white letters ‘p’ and ‘b’, spaced some distance apart against an otherwise black wall. Her strategy, using the work’s title to explore the viewer’s ability to fill-in and complete an artwork, continues in her work Tent in Gallery 2. Rosen examines our ability to construe meaning, while traversing the slippery boundary between reading and seeing. Peter Downsbrough, using a similar aesthetic, utilises our movement through the gallery as a means to heighten communication between his two works. Downsbrough’s pieces are physically slight and, like Rosen’s, ensure the complete work is visible in the mind’s eye of the viewer.
One of the strengths of this exhibition is the man- ner in which it expands upon a subject matter predominantly associated with cerebral activities. ‘In Other Words’ examines the means by which our bodies and their location in the world are implicated and contribute to word formation. Short Cuts, by Erica Van Horn and Simon Cutt, is a walk-in installation derived from an earlier publication. The artists collected verbal expressions from areas around England that describe a narrow passageway between buildings. The quantity and diversity of the words are remarkable but their colour and flair are flattened by an intentionally homogenised presentation in the gallery space.
In White Calligraphy Re-Read, Takahiko Limura explores how nuanced tones can become manifest when words are embodied. In this video work, Limura returns to a 1967 film in which he scratched characters from Kojiki – an early Japanese text – into 16 mm film. The original film has been digitised and is played in the gallery at a slower speed, enabling the artist to voice charac- ters which the video pauses upon.
Many of the pieces in the exhibition use the words of their titles to form the fabric of the artwork. Michael Stumpf’s Massive Angry Sculpture renders these words, expressively, as heavy three-dimen- sional objects stacked upon each other, while the light resin material and timber supports provide contrast through their inherent vulnerability. In Sema Bekirovic’s video work How To Stop Falling, the letters in the title are filmed falling, one at a time, down the facade of a tall building. Tim Etchell’s two part neon work, Will Be, has the viewer scanning the wall of splayed, brightly coloured letters in search of the strident assuredness of neon. The letters re-assemble on a nearby wall, coherent but somehow frustrating. In all these cases, the manner in which the artworks are executed tugs at and resists the direct self-referentiality implied by folding the title into the artwork.
On the window next to Will Be is a small rectangle of text printed onto transparent adhesive. This tract is one of three ‘provocations’ written by Gra- ham Allen, the co-curator of the exhibition. Allen uses these provocations to complicate a piece of work and to emphasise the many academic disci- plines relevant to the exhibition. In this particular text, Allen cites William Blake’s comments on the unsettling quality of words carved into stone, and their terrifying irreversibility. Central to this ex- hibition is a similar commitment to resisting the fixed shape of words. There is enormous scope to expand upon the ideas in this show, stretching and testing the visual power of words, but ‘In Other Words’ embraces the challenges of the subject matter with energy and rigor.