Panel: Visual Languages
The story of Genesis recounts the confusion bestowed on language as a means of halting the progress of the Tower of Babel. The unified purpose of mind which characterised this society was the direct product of a common language. The most effective means of dividing society was to fragment its language. As Dwight Bolinger points out, the number of languages in use today are still in the thousands, although very few, one or two perhaps, can be understood by the communities involved. Today we witness the confusion at increasing frequency as the desire for international communication ànd travel multiplies. Marshall Mcluhan’s ‘Global Village’ becomes an increasingly accessible place. With the discovery comes fresh challenges in communications for both individuals and corporate bodies.
Although it might be aqued that we all have a national interest, a national identity to cherish an impart to our new partners in dialogue, there remains an urgency to highlight our commonalities rather than our differences. The international traveller may often be surprised to find that, beneath the surface, their preconceptions are confounded. Their attitudes toward a speaker are illogically entwined with their attitude toward a form of speech. The multiplicity of existing languages is attributed to the divorce of meaning from form. The meaning of the smallest units is scarified so that they can be re-assembled to form an infinite number of signs. This leap into the arbitrary which has generated so many alphabets, has supplied a rich and complex system of differences for us to attach our prejudice, jealousy and mistrust. The manufacture and export of corporate products has often traded on these perceptions by turning stereotypes into unique selling points. National myths are authorised and underpinned through publishing and packaging.
Despite this questionable display of the selective and manipulative redefinition of national identities, commercial excursions into international language have nevertheless brought the alphabets and icons together on the same object. Naturally, this is usually confined to the level of instruction, warning and command. However, there remains a juxtaposition of differing codes where before we encountered our own familiar hand. This diorama of languages commonplace on displays and instruction manuals for electronic goods, the statutory lists on food packaging and the directional signs in public spaces all strive to find a common speech necessary for consistent corporate communications. As a visual artist, this is an invitation to seek ways of giving visual form to a common international speech, a speech which is appropriate for an international dialogue to set against the multinational monologue of directional and cautionary signs. In the muddled narrative of everyday life, dialogue is the most common means by which we convey information to each other.
We must ask ourselves whether the field of cultural production should reflect only the needs of the economic field. Are we satisfied that the economic field reflects all the needs of its various societies?
- David Crow (UK), Head of Graphic Arts, Liverpool Art School, Liverpool John Moores University
- Yaki Molcho (Israel), Tel Aviv Centre for Design Studies