C H A R A C T E R
Character is a sound and image installation about language, made by Anika van de Wijngaard and Jos Agasi.
The University Library is a repository for literature, manuscripts, intellectual and creative ideas. It is a place that stores texts in many languages. Language can be visual: a script. Language is also an auditory sensation: sounds form words and meaning. With Character writer Anika van de Wijngaard and visual artist Jos Agasi explore what language means to them. Jos develops a language of images, shaping his emotions and his view of the world. As a writer Anika uses language as an instrument to create her work, but she sometimes experiences the limits of what can be put into words. In the library they both went in search of stories and sources about language and writing.
At nightfall, the audiovisual installation Character takes you into an ancient forest, full of sounds and meaningful characters. You can discover old, existing and new signs in language and listen to a mix of storytelling and sound art.
T R A N S C R I P T S
Part 1 (Anika van de Wijngaard)
Iím in another place in another time.
Iím sitting at a table.
Only language provides the opportunity to share something of meaning with you.
My words travel through time and have now reached you.
The dept of our connection depends on my ability to describe.
We meet through language.
I sit at the table. This image forms in your mind.
Perhaps you don't see my table in your imagination, but the table you have at home.
Or the one that stood in the house where you grew up in.
Whatever you see, whatever you remember.
It is probably a flat surface suspended in the air and held up by table legs.
Do you see me in front of you, as I sit here?
Your image of me is a reality.
You probably don't know what I look like in reality.
Even if you know me, you won't quite see me as I really am.
But for now, let's assume that you don't know me at all and that I exist only in your mind.
You have an image of me that is only yours.
Can I sit at the truth? Can I sit at the truth, suspended in the air, and held up by four legs?
I sometimes wonder why I canít refer to an object with a completely different word. The word Ďtruthí for example?
There seems to be an understanding of what each word means.
It is not in my power to change anything about the combination of word and meaning.
Language is a special property.
It is the source of our thinking and creativity.
Each language sorts the world in its own way.
A language that becomes extinct takes with it a unique perspective of the world. It disappears. The bond between people who once spoke this language.
Talking in my native language feels natural.
Using that language is as natural and intuitive to me as moving my body parts.
Therefore, I canít imagine that this language could become extinct.
Language connects me to others, to you, but I also need it for my own thoughts; words resonate in my mind without me uttering them. Without language itís impossible to have clear and constant ideas.
The connection between a word and the object it refers to doesnít seem random, because I have used the same words all my life to describe the things around me. But language has an arbitrary nature.
The meaning seems logical, but thereís no connection between the word and that to which it refers.
Part 2 (Anika van de Wijngaard)
You are here. You are in a place, where you are surrounded by thoughts, findings, knowledge, explanation, stories. Documented, written down, chronicled.
In other times, in other places.
You are here. Language is the time capsule for the message. For knowledge, explanation, stories. It builds a bridge between past and present, here and there. Direct your attention to your feet. You stand firmly on the ground, with both feet. Contemplate about what lies here. In the woods, this place is like a dense forest. Did you know that beeches can grow in each other's shade, and that dying trees are sometimes kept alive by the rest of the forest. I imagine this is also the case here. Everything that is old lies waiting quietly. Seemingly calm, never completely still. Sometimes it will disappear, but more often it provides nourishment for something new.
What is stored here sometimes comes from afar. Thousands of handwritten manuscripts were collected. Over the centuries. Unique texts that were entrusted to paper only once. The rare copies are stored here. They are preserved here. It remains a secret how many languages can be found here. Perhaps there are nearly seven thousand? All the languages of the world plus extinct languages. Their sounds faded away into silence. Only shadows of ink are left on paper. How do you learn a language from the paper? How do you hear the sounds in your head when you have never heard them in real life?.
Bring your attention to your feet and realize that you stand firmly on the ground, with both feet. There is an upper and a lower world here. Below us is a basement. The average visitor doesnít come here. You have to go down a staircase, through a door. The door locks behind you. Don't worry, that happens all the time, because not everybody needs access to this space. You enter an underground corridor, keep walking. You pass endless bookcases. There is no decoration or embellishment, this long corridor radiates absolute functionality. There are glass partitions; daylight canít hardly enter. There is a door to a storage room. Open the door. To the left of the door is a small cabinet against the wall. It is a simple wooden cabinet, amidst everything gathered and stored here. Itís inconspicuous. This cabinet has been forgotten for several years. It's not that old. What is inside, is.
The door of the cabinet can be opened. The cabinet contains fifteen drawers. No wait, three drawers are missing. The drawers contain small copper moulds. The characters on the moulds were hammered in with iron. Then the moulds could be used to make printing letters by filling them with lead. Hebrew, Syriac, Coptic, Japanese. Javanese. Hieratic and Hieroglyphics are also included in the cabinet. This cabinet contains various scripts, languages that are thousands of years old. Everything is categorised: the first language is numbered 1 to 15 and 126 to 247. The following language is numbered 1 to 104 and 105 to 235. Characters that can be used in infinite combinations.
With these characters you can communicate new messages, reproduce anything handwritten and then distribute it. It provides you with the possibility of continuing to produce in languages that have not been spoken for a long time. You can print dictionaries. And then it's a matter of studying. But wait a minute! Which sound is connected to this sign? And how does this sign sound? And this one?
On one of the moulds a question mark is added, it was written on it with ink. Who wanted to pose a question? Was it the man who casted the characters, 150 years ago? A word is also written on this mould, that narrow piece of copper. The letters offer a challenge, but there is word recognition. It takes a second, but suddenly you recognise the word Ďneededí. The word and question mark are written under a short dash that is carved in the mould. Is this character necessary or not? That seems to be the question. There is no answer. How can you know this if you don't know the language? If no one knows what the language sign is for, what it means, then in a sense it has indeed become redundant.
At night I dream about the cabinet. The signs light up, sending messages from the deep. I hear their sounds. Their meaning almost reveals itself to me, but then I wake up and the gateway to the worlds of these languages immediately closes before me.
Sound art (Jos Agasi)
1. Sentences generated by ChatGPT, based on the input 'Make nonsense sentences with random non-existent words that sound Dutch', spoken by various AI generated voices.
2. Through intonation various AI generated voices try to make sense of given text 'u u u u u www.www v v v v v v v t g h jyyyyyyy y v v vb b .b b s s w wqqa. a a xxx x x x x xx ktk.ktktktk.tkt jhjhjhj jh jh j.h h hhj jh jhjhjhjh gygyg gygyg ygyg.ygyg ed ese es vb n nm n mmm nmnmnm mnmnm. pp pp ppbpbppbpb p pbpbb bb vb. bvbvb.vbv.bvbv'
3. Alphabet spoken by an English teacher, with variations for the vowels.
4. Randomly recorded English statements.
Video art (Jos Agasi)
The video animations are made with characters designed to refer to existing language signs from various scripts, including ancient Hieratic. Also you can see characters generated by AI image and video generators, specifically using the inability of these generators to produce proper letters, leading to the strange and illegible characters we were looking for.
Installation (Anika & Jos)
With roots in the past and branches reaching to the future, this tree is the living representation of language, which is always evolving. Rotting remains of lost language signs under the tree provide nourishment to growing languages that we do not yet speak.