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Words and Pictures
Words and Pictures
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How does language work as an image, rather than as a spoken word?

Many film and video artists have explored the connection between words and pictures. Their investigations into the interplay between them reveal new meanings and subvert old ones. Preconceived notions of how a word describes an image are challenged as artists re-present the image and the word in unexpected configurations.

Light Reading doubts the power of language at a fundamental level. Words appear as a jumble of letters and questions are echoed by a disembodied voice. Lis Rhodes reasserts unheard voices and questions, challenging the role of language as a tool of patriarchy and oppression. Stefan and Franciszka Themerson were fascinated by the relationship between the word and the image, and eventually gave up their film practice to form the highly original Gaberbocchus Press, which published collaborative projects with artists and thinkers of the post war intelligentsia, such as Kurt Schwitters and Bertrand Russell, as well as themselves. The seed of their interest in word and image can be seen in Europa, an early film now lost to the German occupation of Poland, which made an visual interpretation of Anatol Stern's 1929 poem of the same name, describing a ' vision of Europe gone mad, blindly racing to it's own destruction.'

In Messages Guy Sherwin returns to the very formation of words and meaning through the eyes of his daughter as she learns to read and write. The film-maker Margaret Tait was also a talented poet and the words and rhythms of her poems infuse many of her films. Colour Poems plays with the associations between spoken word and expected image, and uses the forms of poetry, breaking the image sequences into stanzas. Words appear within the image, perhaps chalked onto the ground or scratched into the film itself. In Peter Gidal's Assumption, a homage to Britain's independent film culture of the 1970s and 80s, words scroll so quickly across the image that it is difficult to catch their meaning before they are gone. Like the soundtrack, they act like snatches of overheard conversations, diary entries and thoughts which epitomised an era.

Catherine Meynell's performance A Book for a Performance also has a strong autobiographical theme. Reminiscences about her hair take the multiple forms of a book, a performance and installation at the Air Gallery in 1986. All of these forms document the ritual cutting of her long hair, evoking the myths, familial, biblical and cultural, that surround it. John Smith uses characteristic wit and a simple word association game to displace expected meanings between visual and spoken language. His quick-fire play between word and image in Associations undermine our assumptions about how words describe pictures to great comic effect.

Light Reading

Light Reading

She refused to be framed. She raised her hand stopped the action she began to read she began to reread aloud.



A response to my young daughter's discovery of language and to her questions about the word.

Still from Colour Poems

Colour Poems

"Well, yes, I do remember the young men going off to fight in Spain."

Still from Associations


Images from magazines accompany a spoken text taken from Word Associations and Linguistic Theory.

Still from Europa


A visual interpretation of Anatol Stern's 1929 poem 'Europa'.

Still from Assumption


A densely-plotted celebration of independent film culture at the end of the 1990s. .

Still from A Book For a Performance

A Book For a Performance

Both a part of Meynell’s performance and a record of it.

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