Dorit Margreiter presents two animations utilizing her zentrum typeface, which she designed in 2005 based on the signage of Bruehlzentrum, a modernist housing project in Leipzig. One will feature the letters of the alphabet broken down into their modular pieces, the other will channel information from Dia's press office, transforming it from information into something more abstract.
Funding for this series has been provided by the New York State Council on the Arts.
Dorit Margreiter's web project "alphabeth" is an animation of Dia's press releases. What we see are two frames in which two abstract sequences of white shapes appear on a black screen. One frame, running in a loop, presents the typographic system in which all the letters of the alphabet are created by combining one or more of a total of twelve square and curved elements. In an adjacent frame, Dia's most recent press material is automatically loaded, rendered, and translated as an endless feed of abstracted text. One being the code to understand the other, yet both the same.
The font stems from the artist's investigation of the diverse cultural and political encodings of a modernist neon sign in her 2005 multi-part work "zentrum". The film, video, poster, sculptures and specifically designed typeface in "zentrum" are a tribute to a neon sign that gave a modernist inner city housing project, the Brühlzentrum, in the early Sixties in Leipzig, its visual identity. All graphic and sculptural elements in the work are based on the modular components used for the original neon lettering. As a graphic set of modules "zentrum," the typeface can shift its medial character, from image, to text, to sculpture, becoming applicable in a variety of forms. The neon lettering, anonymously designed at the time to give the housing project its visual identity, can stylistically be traced back to Josef Albers' stencil typography from the late 1920's, known as the Kombinationsschrift (combination type).1 The gravitational counter-flows of Margreiter's technical explorations, reflecting on the capacity of the digital to reproduce the aesthetics of the analogue, signify changes of social relevance from the past and their digestion into cultural memory. By translating the analogue aesthetics of socialist modernism into the digital realm of the twenty-first century, she reveals and perpetuates modernity's ongoing inherent relationship with the moving image: "alphabeth's" minimalist black-and-white abstraction being reminiscent of early 20th century film animations such as those of Oskar Fischinger.
Margreiter's animated decoding of public information defies the "intelligibility" demanded by the press release, transforming it into something impossible to understand. The speed of the image sequence in the streaming-text screen determines the level of abstraction. "alphabeth" functions on the tension between abstraction and information, from its Bauhaus roots to its coding of last minute information. Her focus lies in time's rhythm and gaps, subverting the punctuation of a greater historical text through the banality of a press release, remaining nevertheless in a tight stylistic embrace. "alphabeth" is a metaphor of the contingent evaluation and mediation of art as a cultural phenomenon as well as a commodity whose visibility is granted through the media.
"alphabeth" is characteristic for Margreiter's continuous investigation of the contingent relationship of modernist aesthetics in the interface of high and low culture. From live event to film, from drawing to digital print, from typeface to architecture - the artist not only reflects media politics, but also the politics of its representation and institutional ties: from the vision of Josef Hoffmann's Austria Pavilion in Venice in "Pavilion" (2009) to the utopia of the University of Leeds' TV studio in "Aporia" (2008), or from the glamorous, retro-futuristic 1960's architecture of John Lautner in "10104 Angelo View Drive" (2004) to her cinematic investigation with Rebecca Baron of the aestheticization of poverty, in "Poverty Housing. Americus, Georgia" (2008), where an actual South African slum was reconstructed to scale.
Margreiter provides Dia with its own neon sign. "alphabeth" draws on a site specificity that might not be physically available, but tangible through the phenomenological tension of abstraction and language. The fleeting nature of the moment captured in the staging of a flickering a neon sign in her grainy black and white 16 mm film "zentrum," as well as the animated abstraction of institutional information in "alphabeth," visually grasp for a "past" and a "future" in the now. In the darkness of the web she lights up the structure inherent to its deconstruction and iteration, addressing the aesthetics of art's legibility.
1. "Josef Albers' Kombinationschrift was designed at Bauhaus in 1929. The font is constructed out of 10 basic shapes based on the circle and the rectangle. It was to be a system of lettering that was to be efficient, easy to learn, and inexpensive to produce." Texts on Type: Critical Writings on Typography, edited by Steven Heller and Philip B. Meggs. Allworth Press, New York. 2001, p. 182.