verysmallkitchen

NOTEBOOK ON LANGUAGE IN THE LANDSCAPE

In Uncategorized on August 30, 2010 at 10:32 am

PHOTO: David Berridge, West Bromwich, June 4, 2010

 

In her essay “Language in the Landscape” Johanna Drucker observes:

“Language in the landscape, whether roads signs, billboards, or graffiti, shapes our relationship to the landscape in many ways. Language can be explicit (DO NOT ENTER), deceptive (THE ONLY REAL BEER), enigmatic (EDY’S CHARACTER CANDIES), confusing (PARKING THIS SIDE ONLY BETWEEN 4PM AND 6PM ON ALTERNATIVE TUESDAYS EXCEPT WHERE INDICATED), and elucidating (WINDOW 6 FOR TAX FORMS ONLY). In every case, written language represents an invisible conversation: someone is speaking, someone is being addressed, the message has a purpose, and the message is delivered in a particular way. Language is a symbolic system, full of implication. It allows us to discuss things that are not present. We cannot dismiss language in the landscape as auxiliary or duplicative. The relationship between linguistic statement and physical object influences every encounter we have with out environment.” 

Drucker’s essay, originally published in Landscape. Vol.28, no.1, 1984, offers a preliminary classification of language in the landscape. Drucker begins by focussing on the forms of written language itself:  “The forms of written language are twofold: first, the visible features of the method of production, such as the style of typography or calligraphy, and medium employed; second the forms of the language per se, such as current slang, obsolete jargon, newly coined words, and unconventional spelling. Form affects meaning.” She then considers language in the landscape by means of the following categories:

Information

Beyond Information

Instructive Language

Language as Advertisement

Language as Identity

Language as Evidence

Language Creates Speculation

Language as Edification

Language as Context

Drucker’s comments on this final category also serve as the essay’s conclusion. They relate, too, to the photographs above, which were taken on walks around West Bromwich on June 4 2010, as part of my residency at the Black Country  Creative Advantage. My written response to the language in the landscape can be seen here. As Drucker observes:

“Landscape serves as the context for the language in it. Written language does not simply identify objects in the landscape. Language changes our perception of the very situation in which it acquires meaning. As we observe words in the landscape, they charge and activate the environment, sometimes undermining, sometimes reinforcing our perceptions. For us, language is full of culture and history, but it is also full of ambiguity and enigma. Because it is a set of symbols we use to invoke concepts, we may  find it divorced from the very objects it aims to identify, posing the issues of definition and identity as distinct from the material in which they are embodied.” 

SOURCES: Johanna Drucker, “Language in the Landscape” in Figuring the Word: Essays on Books, Writing and Visual Poetics (Granary Books, New York City, 1998), 90-99.

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