Sacred Texts

Sacred Texts is an installation contemplating repetition in mass communication and the effect of echoed statements seeping into our everyday experience and casual dialogue. Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been a shift in the vocabulary that we absorb, process, and speak back into the world. The term “social distancing” and the parting words “stay safe,” among countless other idioms, quickly became familiar additions to our communal vocabulary to convey our lived experience. Inspired by the language and directives of the Covid-19 pandemic, the installation and prints pair slogans such as “We’ll get through this,” “Out of an abundance of caution,” and “Unprecedented,” with designs from illuminated manuscripts to explore the way in which repetition can participate in both the generation and destruction of meaning.

Using a custom writing machine built from the frame of a vinyl cutter and an Arduino, phrases that have become all too familiar are written repeatedly on separate sheets of paper hung within the installation. Over the length of each sheet, the letterforms are programmed to procedurally break down and dissolve, transforming the phrase from a seemingly simple sentiment into a field of asemic markings devoid of legible meaning or intent. These dissolving characters prompt viewers to consider repetition itself as a medium and how this medium navigates the complexities of semantic satiation, in which repeated words lose their meaning, and the illusory truth effect, in which repeated statements construct and reinforce meaning.

The designs that surround and connect the bodies of text draw from the artists’ backgrounds, combining patterns and imagery from Persian and Irish illuminated manuscripts. While the decorative elements in the Sacred Texts installation strive to elevate the text’s self-importance with sacred cloaking, they simultaneously undermine its value with cheap digital materiality and the overt absence of a painstaking handmade process. Creating the text using a programmed drawing machine, as opposed to handwriting each phrase, further reinforces this paradox.

Brian Franklin
Ladan Bahmani