Michael Maranda




“Gallery Going: Alpha Beta Data is a big exhibition masquerading as a little one.”
The Globe and Mail (Toronto Edition), 12 August 2006, R11
Gary Michael Dault

Alpha Beta Data at Akau Inc.

Although it fits into a tiny gallery space, its ambitions and implications are large: It’s about writing, about the construction of writing (letters, alphabets, graphic utterances) and about the ways in which the meanings generated by writing are invariably distorted, modified, and, more often than not, defeated by the very medium to which they are inextricably entrusted.

The show is full of fine, challenging things, some of which are taxingly complex. Carol Laing’s The Claudian Letters, for example, is an investigation of three glyphs devised by the Emperor Claudius “to represent missing sounds,” dropped from the alphabet after his death and, as Laing points out in her gallery statement, “typographically unavailable in all computer font systems since they are not included in Unicode — the industry standard designed to represent text and symbols from all world writing systems.” Laing, however, has brought them back.

Ya Lau’s exquisite In the River, North of the Future is a glass bottle made in commemoration of the Romanian poet Paul Celan, who, as Lau points out, characterized his poems as “a message in the bottle,” and who drowned himself in the Seine in 1970.

Celan’s last poem, Rebleute Graben, is etched on the bottle in recerse, so that, according to Lau, “the etched text is projected within the water of the bottle.” I couldn't actually make it out at all, but it’s still a nice idea.

It’s not possible with a group show to mention everything that’s deserving — and especially with this one. Suffice it to say, there are excellent pieces here by Stephen Andrews, Lorna Mills, Cheryl Sourkes (who, I assume, curated the show), Robert Bean, Michelle Gay and Colin Gay. Michael M[a]randa’s The Three Critiques of Immanuel Kant, while exceedingly handsome (large golden volumes of Kant’s writings eviscerated into dumb conceptual tropes: “all the letters used in the three texts, arranged in alphabetical order,” etc.) seemed progoundly and disrespectfully pointless, while Vid Ingelevic’s wall-mounted text piece, Common Birds of Southern Ontario, is simply a holdover from a previous show — a moment of curatorial inertia.