Beer-Sheva-Ufer, Wuppertal/D

Dixon Lane, Sheffield/UK

Foot-bridge over M8/Clydeside Expressway Junction, Glasgow/UK

Avenue de Gravelle, Bois de Vincennes, Paris/F

The Network / Le Reseau / Das Netz
Series of 78 interventions in public spaces in France, Germany and the UK, unrealized book, 1992-97


"To have a system this is fatal for the mind ;
not to have one, this too is fatal.
Whence the necessity to observe, while abandoning,
the two requirements at once".

Friedrich Schlegel quoted by Maurice Blanchot in The Writing of Disaster

They can be found in the statement that acronyms proliferate in contemporary language, encouraged by a personal interest in every manifestation of conciseness. Principally found, in the outset, in the administration, acronyms quickly extended to press and advertising, so far that the fullstops that showed the shortening are disappearing. Acronyms became words, with the share of chance that such a slipping infers : who wanted to give, for instance, the Banque Nationale de Paris and the British National Party (BNP), or the Royal Air Force and the German Rote Armee Fraktion (RAF) the same identity ? Functional, easy, memorable, acronyms are the witnesses of the simplifying trend of the 20th century towards language.

Language - basically considered as a network of signs - can be integrated to the whole of urban networks - at least those that are visible.

In each one of the three selected countries (France, Germany, Great Britain), 26 cities, whose names begin with the 26 letters of the alphabet, are selected :
Aachen - Aberdeen - Amiens
Berlin - Birmingham - Bordeaux
Cardiff - Charleville-Mézières - Cuxhaven
Dresden - Dundee - Dunkerque
Edinburgh - Essen - Etampes
Feyzin - Folkestone - Frankfurt a. Main
Glasgow - St-Goar - Grenoble
Hamburg - Hastings - Le Havre
Ambleside - Hannover - Limoges
Jena - John O' Groats - Joinville-le-Pont
Le Kremlin-Bicêtre - Kingston-upon-Hull - Köln
Lille - Lindau - London
Manchester - Marseille - München
Nantes - Norwich - Nürnberg
Orléans - Osnabrück - Oxford
Paris - Plymouth - Potsdam
Queensferry - Quickborn - Quimper
Reading - Revon - Rodez
Sheffield - Strasbourg - Stuttgart
Taunton - Toulouse - Trier
Ulm - Ulverston - Uzès
Ventnor - Vincennes - Vlotho
Winchester - Wissous - Wuppertal
Xaintray - Xanten - X
Cergy - York - Y
Zennor - Zouafques - Zwickau

In each one of those cities, a site is chosen. On its ground, a line, that is made of a combined succession of acronyms, is painted with stencils and ordinary white paint, in order to be integrated to the cityscape. Those acronyms are always in the local language and each one includes the initial letter of the city where it appears. Afterwards, a photograph bears witness to the line's insertion in the cityscape.

It was, in the beginning, a universal project, but it was necessary to set bounds to it. The three countries, although they form a european and rather homogeneous core, were chosen for different and specific reasons : France, because I live there, provides a privileged investigation field ; Germany, because of its most developed geographical networking and the UK, because English is the international language. Moreover, the situation of the three countries allows to obtain a wide range of triangles, from the nearly equilateral one (Berlin - Birmingham - Bordeaux) to the straight line, considered as an extreme triangle (London, Lille, Lindau).
As for the other choices, they are made under constraint by language. The more unusual a letter is in a language, the shorter the acronyms' line and the smaller the city (or even village) in which it appears. Moreover, there is no city (or village) in Germany whose name begins with a Y, and none in the UK with X. Here as well, the language sets limits to the alphabet - and the alphabet to the Network.

There are many but always justified. They do not represent a weakness of the system but a selective flexibility whose aim is to favour the spirit over the word. For instance, choosing for I three cities whose names do not begin with I, but have a strong relation to this letter (through Kurt Schwitters' life and work).

The 78 color photographs (3 x 26) will be gathered in a book where they will appear in alphabetical order. In addtion, the book will contain, in the beginning of each letterchapter, a drawing representing the triangle formed by the three cities and, at the end, an index of all the acronyms used with their meaning (about 1000). The pictures will appear on the right-hand pages, the captions will indicate the street and the city but not the date (networks only deal with simultaneousness). The title and the little text will be trilingual ; and the book will be available in each of the three countries.

The exhibition will gather all kinds of objects and documents relative to the Network, except the pictures published in the book. It will be a documentary exhibition and, at the same time, a critique of the very notion of documentation, somewhere in-between the unshakeable faith of the 19th century in the value of the document and the mistrust of the 20th. With an ironic distance, it will show how much bitty, ill-assorted and pathetic these documents are. The exhibition will be developed around three major themes : money, travel, work.

Michael Blum, September 1997