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Exhibition & program: ‘The New Alphabet’ at HKW Berlin

Text by CLOT Magazine

Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW) in Berlin is presenting a new exhibition and research program.  After the long-term projects The Anthropocene Project (2013–2015) and 100 Years of Now (2015–2019), the project The New Alphabet (2019–2021) will close the circle of the trilogy of present-day analysis following the main aim of the cultural institution on creating a forum for the contemporary arts and critical debates. In the midst of profound global and planetary transformation processes, HKW re-explores artistic positions, scientific concepts, and spheres of political activity.

Alphabets are specific kinds of phonographic sign systems built on a finite number of discrete symbols. The letters of an alphabet can be combined, creating seemingly endless possibilities for semantic and operational codings. But they are also a visual representation of ideas. As a universalistic matrix, subsuming any linguistic expression into one abstract system, alphabets are also imperialist infrastructures. But alphabets, as language and the human mind, constantly evolve. And we question: are algorithms, the binary code, and the information stored in DNA the alphabets of today?

The current explosion of knowledge is accompanied by segmenting the world into the smallest units. The binary code – with only two elements, the greatest abstraction of the alphabetical principle – reduces the polymorphism of the analogue and makes it calculable. From 2019 until 2021, The New Alphabet will spell out utopias and dystopias. In performances, concerts, talks, films and installations, the Opening Days from January 10 to 13, 2019, will explore moments of alphabetization from the Baroque era to the present day.

The Opening Days, curated by Berd Scherer (also director of HKW), will begin with an evening about the willfulness of human expression and the poetic power of theory. In a walk-in theatre with five panels, Alexander Kluge presents conversations on the invention of writing, DNA and molecular coding. Is linguistic diversity possible in the age of digitization? How diversified are today’s technological developments?

Emily Apter, Kate Crawford, Yuk Hui, Luc Steels, Hito Steyerl and many others will question what is untranslatable and what is suppressed or rationalized away. What does it mean to be multilingual in a digitized world? Is there one language of art, poetry, music or law? And what writing systems can still be discovered aside from discrete characters?

From Sandeep Bhagwati’s two-day musical composition, from resistant acts of weaving to countering virtual dispossession, Ivonne González and the Black Guiris Collective, Diana McCarty, and others will probe examples of subversive alphabet production in anticolonial contexts.

(Photo credit:  Image Operations. Op.10 Video Still, Trevor Paglen (2018))
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