TXT (Engine of Wandering Words)

Ana Torfs

Mortsel, Antwerp, Belgium, 1963
  • Date: 
    2013
  • Material: 
    Cotton, wool and aluminium flat bar
  • Technique: 
    Jacquard loom
  • Dimensions: 
    Variable dimensions
  • Edition/serial number: 
    1/5 (5 + A. E.)
  • Category: 
    Installation
  • Entry date: 
    2019
  • Register number: 
    AD08625
  • Work commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation – SB11- 2013

Six Jacquard tapestries show a strange mechanical device with handles along the edges and twenty-five squares showing different images. We see compasses, sailing ships, trade and labour, among other things, fragments taken from existing photographs, engravings, oil paintings, maps, pamphlets, and book pages, from various time periods. The machine is inspired by a wood engraving that Jean-Jacques Grandville made in 1838 for Jonathan Swift’s novel Gulliver’s Travels (1726), a book that is both a parody of travel writing and a satirical exploration of politics, colonialism and human nature. The sentences that figure on the bottom of the tapestry are taken from the book in question.

The ‘wandering words’ – a literal English translation of the poetic German noun ‘Wanderwort’ – are a special type of loanword, one that is widely spread among numerous languages and cultures across a significant geographical area. The six ‘wandering words’ the artist chose as a starting point for this work are ginger, saffron, sugar, coffee, tobacco and chocolate, which reached our shores and entered our languages along the trade routes.

Text, texture and textile all derive from the same Latin term, ‘texere’, meaning ‘to weave’. The tapestries were woven on a jacquard loom, the first programmable machine: punch cards that stored complex weaving patterns in binary format were used to control them, making it possible to weave any design imaginable. Much like the fictional machine in Gulliver's Travels, the loom is a precursor to our modern-day computer.

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