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37  |   M A K I N G  U S  W O R D
For Felix Philipp Ingold

Twelve panels, 2001
Collage, cut-and-pasted printed paper on fiberboard, with painted wood
Each panel 75 x 60 x 2.5 cm.

MAKING US WORD; or, Telegraphic Prosody.
28 pages, 21 x 15 cm .


Barely twenty years after Samuel Taylor Coleridge composed twelve “correct examples of English in the principal metrical feet,” Samuel F.B. Morse invented the electrical telegraph and contrived a system of clicks and spaces to make it speak. As the one event really had no direct bearing on the other, it would seem reasonable enough that it took me a decade and a half to bring the former—which I had copied out into a notebook in 1986—into relation with the latter (of which a graphic representation had caught my eye in an old Viennese book of “Written Characters and Alphabets of All Times and All Peoples of the Earth”). And indeed, it was not until late in the summer of 2001 that my thoughts began to run in this channel, and I drew up the plans below, for the work that bears the title MAKING US WORD.

At the time, I had just been finishing IDEA—the small wall pieces that use sections of track from a child’s wooden train set—and was playing around with ideas for a series of works that involved visualizing Morse Code in relief, as described above. How, while sketching with dots and dashes, I came to consult the old notebook in which I had recorded Coleridge’s examples of iambus, spondee, dactyl, et al. I do not now recall ; but happening upon them again, as I did, what caught and held my attention was that the very fundaments of speech’s structural engineering—the statics of our diction, as it were—appeared embodied in the various rhythms paced out by those metered feet. Excited as well by their names’ etymologies, I was struck by the scope and profundity of the connections I felt one might establish between prosody’s stresses and syllables, and the accents of Morse’s “electric” alphabet.

The concept for MAKING US WORD joins and conjoins elements of the two systems—in both their descriptive and prescriptive functions:

•  The long and short (or stressed and unstressed) syllables of each of Coleridge's twelve simple metrical feet are assumed to be signals given in Morse Code, for instance: the short and long syllables of the iambus as, respectively, the dot  and dash of the letter “A” in telegraphy; the one long and two short syllables of the dactyl are construed as the “dash, dot, dot” representing the letter “D”; the “long–long–short” of the bacchius as the letter “G,” and so forth;

•  The twelve letters thus arrived at—A, D, G, I, K, M, N, O, R, S, U, and W—are arranged to form the phrase “M-A-K-I-N-G–U-S–W-O-R-D” ;

•  The dots and dashes of the letters in the phrase “MAKING US WORD” are in turn taken to represent stressed and unstressed syllables in a rudimentary prosodic analysis; and a verse is composed according to this metrical plan, using words extracted from anagrams of the phrase “MAKING US WORD”;

•  A series of visual images is arrived at in the following manner: The names of the metrical feet are spelled out as if in Morse Code, letter by letter, the dots represented by hemispheres of wood, and the dashes by flat rectangular blocks, all painted a flat, matte black. These forms are mounted on twelve panels, the surfaces of which have been covered with a collage mosaic of small rectangles of paper cut from the “white” areas of the pages of magazines—whereby the printed letters, words, and figures on the backs of the snippets of paper can just barely be deciphered—and arranged on each panel within fifteen horizontal stripes, or lines, each five centimeters wide.

•  Each of the panels is assigned the Morse-alphabet letter value suggested by the stresses of the metrical foot it names, and the twelve are hung in the order established by the letters of the phrase “MAKING US WORD.” [Should fewer than the full twelve be exhibited, the work is to bear as its title the word or words spelled out by the letter values of the panels chosen  and they should spell a word or words), in the order in which they are presented.]

The twelve principal metrical feet (according to Coleridge), with their long and short (stressed and unstressed) syllables interpreted in the Latin and Morse alphabets …

M            spondee            — —            
A             iambus            · —            
K             amphimacer        — · —
I              pyrrhic             · ·    
N            trochee            — ·    
G            bacchius            — — ·    
U            anapaest            · · —         
S             tribrach            · · ·    
W            antibacchius        · — —
O            molossus            — — —
R            amphibrachys        · — ·    
D            dactyl            — · ·         

…  and a verse anagrammatized from “M A K I N G  U S  W O R D,” in keeping with that pattern of stresses :

S O  K N O W
A N D  M A R K
D O W N   A S  S O U N D
O N  A
D R U M  O U R
W O R D S’  S O N G  M A-
K I N G  U S  W O R D,
A S  M A K I N G
U S  M I N D,  O U R
M I N D S  M A R K  D O W N
O U R  W O R K S  A N D
S I N G  I N  U S.

I very much hope that this construction manual doesn’t unload too much baggage onto a work meant to speak, not to the intellect, but to the intelligence of the senses. In MAKING US WORD, I want the viewer to sense the ideas behind the finished piece, but not find himself examining meaning, verbatim, on its surface. It is my will and pleasure that concept become percept—and that MAKING US WORD bear its burden lightly.