“A pattern of words that turns away from direct statement or its own obvious meaning” Northrop Frye, 1957
1668. English vicar and natural philosopher John Wilkins publishes his Essay Towards a Real Character and a Philosophical Language. It contains the first creation of a punctuation mark specifically designed to indicate an ironic statement. Appropriately, he chooses an inverted exclamation mark ‘¡‘, literally turning it on its head, to re-discover the ‘i’ of ‘irony’.
1852. Jean-Jacques Rousseau complains that vocal inflections denoting spoken irony were lacking in the written word in his Essay on the Origin of Language.
1899. Marcel Bernhardt responds in The Monstrosity of Irony with an ironic mark that he describes as “taking the form of a whip”. This ‘point d’ironie’ is itself ironic as its name means both ‘mark of irony’ and ‘no irony’.
1966. Jean Pierre Marie Hervé Bazin publishes Plucking the Bird: a Diversion. It contains a section on Les points d’intonation or ‘intonation points’. In it he creates a range of new punctuation marks including the ‘love point’, the ‘conviction point’, the ‘authority point’, the ‘acclamation point’ and his own ‘irony point’.
The ‘irony point’ is an arrangement of the Greek letter psi, the 23rd letter of the Greek alphabet, with a numeric value of 700. Bazin adopts the symbol because it resembles an arrow in a bow and its ‘ps’ sounds like an arrow in the air.
Trope (n) – 1530’s, from Latin tropus “a figure of speech” from Greek tropos “turn direction, turn or figure of speech”, related to trope “a turning” and trepein “to turn” from PIE root trep– “to turn” (cf. Sanskrit trapate “is ashamed, confused”, properly “turns away in shame; “Latin trepit “he turns”). Technically, in rhetoric, a figure of speech which consists in the use of a word or phrase in a sense other than that which is proper to it.
The Apostrophe, ‘ – mark indicating omitted letter, mark indicating possession. From Late Latin apostrophus, from Greek apostrophus – turning away, from apo– “from” + strephein “to turn”.
‘ brings together work by Toby Christian and John Robertson. Using text as a starting point, both artists show a tendency towards linguistic abstraction, reconstituting language into form with physical material. Through the manipulation of the textual sources of the works, words become obliterated, reduced and obscured. The works that result are the residue of this process.
The title of the exhibition, ‘ (apostrophe), signifies both omission and possession, a related metaphor for the state of the work, whose making may be seen as both a gradual deletion and omission of the text used to form it and a concurrent possession of the work as that of the artist’s. The works are figuratively apostrophic, more like interruptive punctuation than legible everyday text.
Toby Christian’s sculptures reprocess found texts, including newspapers, personal correspondence and printed texts of the artists writing. His precarious structures present compressed fragments of information: a few letters from words, scraps of colours from images. These corporeal poles are counterpointed by Robertson’s graphic, sign-like paintings formed from the overlaying of letters. The particularity of colour and surface, ranging from traditional canvas to clear PVC, give each painting a separate identity, a language of its own.
‘ presents an exploded consideration of text, where acts of its erasure create syntactical significance.