Divago Festival Public Art Festival + Workshop Genova, Italy

The place where Isaac was raised gave direction to all his future struggles. In Bolzano the inhabitants were divided into three distinct elements: Germans, Italians and Ladins; each of these spoke their own language and looked on all the others as enemies. In such a town a sensitive nature feels more acutely than elsewhere the misery caused by language division and sees at every step that the diversity of languages is the first, or at least the most influential, basis for the separation of the human family into groups. Isaac was brought up as an idealist; he was taught that all people were brothers, while outside in the street at every step he felt that there were no people, only Germans, Italians and Ladins. This was always a great torment to his infant mind. He often said to himself that when he grew up he would commit to fixing this somehow, and so he did.

Why language?


Politically, language is always bound to a place and a people. When de-territoralised, languages become expressions of unfulfillment and longing. Semantically, language draws from a close observation of and engagement with the world. By definition, language is an exercise in translation which always leaves something behind. Semiotically, language operates through conventional signs and symbols. It is rooted in repetition. It is not an expression of truth, but of habit. It is the sum total of its uses. It is liquid. It simplifies by way of accumulation.


Language is not words alone, but meaning, which allows for images to play an active part in how we translate our experience of and in the world visually. Shibboleth’s engagement with language moves from an interest in images as potential substitutes for written words in the attempt to dissolve separations of the human family into groups.

Why images?


In terms of content, images allow for greater meaning than words. However, they are looser and less precise in terms of scope and allow for greater manipulation and distortion. In terms of context, images can convey meaning on their own, and do not necessarily need to be part of a longer sequence as in verbal and oral communication. This suggests using images to find new ways of carrying meaning among speakers who do not share a system of signs for geographical, cognitive or educational reasons. Shibboleth is especially interested in using existing images in its research, as it is fruitful to first use up all available stocks before producing new ones, while at the same time opening new avenues for reflection.


Shibboleth’s catalogue makes visible its primary research question: whether an image can really work as text, or whether it is impossible and if so why. Possible obstacles include a lack of codification or the open nature of the image itself.


The first publications are a test to see how a word can be represented. The link to written language is still very close and explicit. With every publication the link will become less evident to test how much an idea can be stretched visually before it breaks: before it makes no sense visually because it is too “personal”, too much like an inside joke, a mere language game. Ambiguity is preserved in the publications, which recognise that visual images cannot completely represent an idea as words can, yet photographs can provoke language and ideas, resulting in new languages with new meanings. This endevour is fruitful from both a semiotic and an artistic viewpoint.

Why the book?


As a practice-based research platform, Shibboleth holds a materialist conception of culture. We believe that changes in the modes of production and exchange influence the very structure of thought. How a product is made available determines its reception (in terms of quantity: how many readers, copies, resellers?) and perception (in terms of quality: how well does form convey content?). Seen in this way, materiality is the foundation of all imagination.


As it is impossible to separate thought from matter, our activity as social publishers rests on books as tools that invite learning as much as reflection. Shibboleth’s catalogue is non-prescriptively conceived as an imagined curriculum for an alternative education leading from image to action. Each book is a free-standing exercise book, an intuition fixed on paper as part of an ever-developing research project on the convention-invention duality in the broader context of meaning-making. We have a special interest in the development of non-verbal communication strategies to overcome the political and economic inequalities that lead to illiteracy and cultural disparity.


To this end, Shibboleth works to produce and promote artists’ books to bring an new dimension to the field of social publishing. Our emphasis on the image as a means to expand the quantity of information within our literal and metaphorical field of vision is a challenge to cultural chauvinism and questions national curricula, inviting new ways of seeing and sharing knowledge. This is also why our projects for the page are generally inexpensive, often produced in large print runs, are democratically available, and are distributed independently.


A book is a physical experience that allows a connection with a medium that – while social in its implications – is individual and personal. The inherent tension between one and many and artistic and available, implies notions of sequence, repetition, juxtaposition, and duration which turn the page into a space wherein the twain come to mean rather than merely meet.


And they do so in a new way every time a new reader comes along.