I shall also call the whole [of language], consisting of language and the actions into which it is woven, the 'language-game.'
The following text summarises the observations, associations and ideas that form the basis of the proposal for an interactive installation "Janua linguarum resarata/The gate of language unlocked", as a part of the opening manifestation of the new Media Center of Sendai, Japan. It can not yet be a definite proposal as I only know the working title of the basic concept 'Door of Words', and have no information on space, facilities, budget and the way in which this new media center will function in the local community.
I understood that the reason to ask me was an installations I worked on: the 'Orbis Sensualium Pictus/The World Explained In Pictures' based on the book with the same title by Comenius (a project together with Milos Vojtechovsky). Principles, content and techniques developed in that project will be part of my new proposal. The 17th century Latin title of the proposed installation for Sendai has also been borrowed from Comenius, it belongs to one of his famous books on language learning.
The idea of having hand size objects as an interface to trigger image and sound sequences (as in the table interface in the Orbis Pictus project), will come back in a different form. I used the same technical principle of object sensing in a more recent installation on shamanism (with different stones and fossils as an entry to narrated creation myths; a project together with Fred Gales). A study, last year, for an essay related to the work of Agnes Hegedus on personal memorabilia (Artintact no.5) has stimulated my interest in, and deepened my understanding of the use of man made objects as memory and language devices. Earlier ideas to use sound imitating words, onomatopoeia, in an interactive installation (the speaking and listening interface of the first Orbis Pictus project in 1994), can be part of this new proposal. It might also be possible to integrate some of the Orbis Pictus material where the change in definitions of 'things' over three centuries, from Comenius to modern times, is made audible and visible. Adding material from the Japanese perspective seems to me essential. Last, there is a possibility to include an association of ideas from two ongoing studies, one on pictograms in the context of the history of visual language, and the other on shadow plays in different times and cultures. Recycling and recombining older ideas, for me, is not a repetition because of a lack of inspiration, but a possibility to extend and deepen what I have learned.
Instead of making a definite design I choose to describe the basic principles and the process that will lead to a functioning public work. Rather than working in my studio in the Netherlands with regular collaborators, construct a finished work, export it to an other country, and exhibit it, I like to propose a participatory process involving also local people, local talent and local facilities, that will result in a 'non-finite installation', with the possibility to make variations and add more content, over the years.
The proposed 'installation' intends to make it possible to playfully learn what language is about. The concepts are based on the never ending debate on origin and function of human language with such now famous participants as Plato, Kukai, Augustinus, Bacon, Comenius, Locke, Leibniz, Swift, Humboldt, Sausure, Neurath, Wittgenstein, Piaget, Foucault, Eco and lesser known, equally important people that where gripped by questions of language as John Wilkins, Lancelot Hogben, Kees Boeke, Francis Yates, Roger Brown, Krzysztof Pomian, Yukio Ota, Robin Allott. I have no intention to impress the reader by 'dropping all those names', the list of names is of course incomplete and from some points of view inconsistent, I only use these names to illustrate the variety of opinions and the multiple perspectives that I want to use as starting points for the process that will lead to the making of the 'installation'.
The essay in which the basic principles are described is still in production, it has three interconnected parts:
BABIES -how new-borns develop language by the use of all their senses and how nobody knows the real answer on the question of a child: "where are words coming from?"
GULLIVER -how he witnesses on his travels experiments with new languages at the academy of Lagado and how this relates to Japan.
SEMIOPHORES -how objects can change from things to signs and can be invested with different meaning.
Reading all this, it might sound somewhat vague, but I think that form and structure of the actual installation can be visually simple and its use intuitive.
The computer will have a database with all the unique transponder codes of the Objects, Schablones and Question-cards. It will link instantly the specific image and sound sequences. Without going in much detail now, a short list of possible sequence elements can be given:
-real sounds of a thing or being
-name or other brief description
-definitions from different times, cultures, sources
-symbol for group of things/genera
-series of images of members of such genera (dog/dogs, chair/chairs, tree/trees, ear/ears)
-taxonomies in which single things/being are classified (tableau's/diagrams)
-different allegoric representation of things/beings in heraldics, emblem art, comics
Some 'sequences' can only consist of image or only of sound, other can have a combination of the two. Many variations are possible, it all depends on time, money, availability of source materials, inspiration...
In conclusion I want to say that such an installation, with such a variety of (databased) material, will need a clear and transparent design. Although the objects and schablones will come from all kind of different places and sources they should be chosen and prepared in such a way that to the public it will seem to be a kind of spatial dictionary with sculptural and graphic entries. The right detailing of the Sensor/Display device is also of extreme importance. It should be as elegant and transparent as possible and still show its embedded functions (transmitter/receiver antenna, sound reproduction, projection surface). The computer and projector need not to be hidden and the hanging/standing of these pieces of equipment and the connecting cables can be part of the overall architecture of the space.
The space itself need not to be very dark, the luminosity of the new generation of small LCD projectors is sufficiently strong to allow for ambient light. Also the use of high quality mirrors and the relative small projection surface will give a strong and brilliant projection that can even withstand (filtered) daylight.
The acoustics properties of the proposed contact speaker in combination with a glass plate needs to be tested, but might work in such a way that the sound will be audible only in a restricted area, close to the glass plate. This is an important design aspect as multi-media centers tend to be overflowed by mall adjusted sound sources.
At this stage I will refrain from further detailing. What I wanted to sketch is a realistic frame work that can be filled in as circumstance will allow.
(c) Tjebbe van Tijen
Imaginary Museum Projects
Amsterdam, octobre 1999
* Kukai quote ->
-five great elements and their syllables: Earth/A, Water/Va, Fire/Ra, Wind/Ha, Space/Kha.
-ten worlds: of Buddhas, bodhisattvas, pratyekabuddhas, sravakas, heavenly beings, men, asura, beasts, hungry ghosts, inhabitants of hell.
-six kind of objects: sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, thought.