The Background Speaks: David Mabb's Announcer and the Emergence of Information

Rosamond, Emily. 2015. The Background Speaks: David Mabb's Announcer and the Emergence of Information. Message, 2(1), pp. 20-25. [Article]

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In David Mabb’s series Announcer (2014), thirty large canvases stage an interaction between the Kelmscott Chaucer (originally published in 1896 by William Morris), and El Lissitzky’s illustrations from Vladimir Mayakovsky’s poems For the Voice (1923). As in many of his works, Mabb complexly layers historical moments in which social critique, dissent and utopian socialism forcefully intersect within art and design; and he examines how such instances of political expression may play out differently across text, image and pattern. How might these historical moments imagine a future for typography, text and concepts of equality? I argue that Mabb’s use of the Chaucer pages as a background for Lissitzky’s designs stages a process by which text loses its particularity as narrative, and becomes a texture of information. In transforming text into an informatic texture, they speak to the development of the concept of information as developed in the 1940s, which equalized events and phenomena by presuming them all to be quantifiable and thus information-bearing. Information has formed the basis for newly evolving data analytics practices, which definitively wield the “equality” of information to their own advantage. Mabb’s series tacitly questions the emergence of this quantified conception of significance – which has fundamentally changed the landscape of meaning for text, type and image. If Morris and Lissitzky each envision a radical new form of social equality in their works (each of which, ultimately, fails), then Mabb’s work stages a process by which a new equalizer comes along, transforming these previous moments into quantities. Thus, they grapple with the continual redistribution and re-conceptualization of equality, and with how each conception of equality might produce its own hierarchical divides.

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Visual Cultures



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Date Deposited:

10 Oct 2017 13:29

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29 Apr 2020 16:35

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