Risa Horowitz


About My Work


Anderson - Work Points to Social Impact of Word Usage

exhibition review, Neutral Ground. Regina Leader Post, July 4, 2002.


"In what was surely an exhausting enterprise, sound-installation artist Risa Horowitz virtually exhausted the English language by systematically recording on digital audio one by one from beginning to end every word entry in the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Fed through a sound system into the gallery space of her exhibition, melitzah, these 65,835 words, spoken almost mechanically and without any definition attached to them, linger in the air as autonomous sounds. Outside of any connective sequence, such as a sentence, that would provide them with a context and hence a meaning, they are mere vocal utterances.


Not content to let her psychologically obsessive and even ritualistic impulses rest there, Horowitz further fed these sounds into a computerized digital oscilloscope, which transfomed them from sounds into wave patterns. Printing them out afterwards one by one, page by page, on her desktop printer, these words - once sounds but now abstract wavy black lines on white pages - have become visual utterances.


Horowitz then re-collected these individual pages into book form that structurally resembles the dictionary of textual words she started with. Bound into heavy tomes, each representing separate letters of the alphabet, she in effect created a visual lexicon which, while indicating the same words found in the written dictionary that was her source, is far different in form from it.


Working from various platforms, Horowitz interrogates here the nature of words - and their limitations. Whether employing individual ephemeral sounds or an abstract translation of them into visual form, her work is clearly grounded in semiology, a branch of linguistics that examines "signs" (be they words or images), how they represent the things or notions to which they refer, how they contain meaning, how we interpret or decode them, and how we use them.


By strategically extracting the words contained in text form in the dictionary - thus removing them from any authoritative cultural definition - as well as by manipulating their appearance, Horowitz frustrates interpretation and meaning here, exposing thus not only the limitations of these signs but our ability to make sense of them.


While these kinds of questions about communication and miscommunication have always been of concern to writers and artists, they are particularly germance at this point in time, given the growing "wired-ness" of the global community and the proliferation of technologies that claim to assist comunication. Using electronic and digital processes in her work in order to engage questions pertaining to the methodologies and technologies of communication, Horowitz, among other things, suggests that contemporary cybernetic culture with its multitude of voices and corresponding multitude of interpretations has as much created a virtual Tower of Babel that defeats communication and social cohesion as it has created a forum that facilitates it.


Indeed, Horowitz' work points to the social impace of how words and language are used. Cognizant that words and their meanings are culturally derived, she engages here not only the politics of language, but also the identity-politics inherent in language. In this regard, it is no accident aht her work is titled melitzah, a Hebrew word with a long and specific history. In addition to meaning "utterance," it is the name applied to the original Biblical Hebrew that resurfaced to supplant rabbinical Yiddish during the 19th century Jewish Enlightenment in Europe, which itself was a rationalist secular intellectual movement that ultimately gave rise to Zionism and the foundation of the state of Israel.

Clearly, Horowitz indicate there is no community without communication. As if to make the point, she intends to extend the life and range of her smart and provocative work by taking it into the digital arena of cyberspace, which itself has its own unique if not hermetic language. In the near future she will create an interactive database that will permit visitors to encounter her liexicon of "melitzah.""


Updated August 2022 | Acknowledgements | Copyright ©1998-2022 Risa Horowitz