A new co-commission was created by artist Nathan Jones with school pupils Jamie Akrigg, Jonny Bennett, Oscar Bradshaw, Can Demir, Courtney Docherty, Ciaran Dono, Josh Dunn, Kelly Evans, Albert Ewing, Scott Henders, Isaac Heneghan, Daniel Jones, Max Jones, Samuel Robinson-Mills, Harry Rogers, George Smith, Ethan Suku, and Halle Thompson as part of Curious Mind's Specialist Leaders in Cultural Education (SLiCE) fellowship programme, between Liverpool Biennial and The Studio, Liverpool. Influenced by the conceptual frameworks of Liverpool Biennial 2018: Beautiful world, where are you? the artwork is called Unicode Class Vernacular.
An introduction to Unicode Class Vernacular by Alex Brewster, Curriculum Leader for Creativity at The Studio, Liverpool and SLiCE Fellow:
Working as a Specialist Leader in Cultural Education through Curious Minds has allowed me to think about how artists and cultural organisations can contribute to the educational landscape beyond the art classroom. In this project I was engaged with the British Values Agenda and how much of the key learning is driven by a young persons engagement with themselves and others. I am also interested in how the arts can support school-wide oracy and literacy strategies that are built to engage learners in improving the quality and impact of their communication.
The way we use language, visual, spoken and written, helps communicate our identity. Young people are often striving to place themselves and their purpose within the "grand scheme of things" and one of the crucial components of this discovery is informed by the way we speak. The north-west has some of the most recognisable, lyrical, British accents you are likely to hear and whilst there a commonalities that thread through the generations, certain slang elements are clearly influenced by the popular culture of the time. The emergence and recent success of British grime and rap music has created a young Liverpudlian vernacular that weaves traditional ways of pronouncing words alongside London inner-city slang words and localised evolutions of such.
Identity is such an important aspect of a young person finding self-esteem and a feeling of connectivity is a crucial component of anyone's' wellbeing. I wanted this project to allow 14-16 year olds to feel connected to their home-community, local-community and the Liverpool-community so sharing was a continual part of the process. By asking the students to interview their parents or guardians about their thoughts about the project as well as their experiences of being young I was interested in the learners linking their own experiences to that of another generation, providing a sense of belonging and pride in their upbringing. By sharing their 'voice' through this project I am hopeful that learners will feel a sense of connection to the people who view the posters and engage with the website.
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Unicode Class Vernacular is a project by artist Nathan Jones in collaboration with pupils from The Studio, Liverpool
Unicode is a database of over 100,000 symbols. It is a standard for registering all known alphabetical and symbolic characters used anywhere in the world.
Class is a broad term for a group with shared qualities or history. Unicode for example, has classes such as "Latin Alphabet", "mathematical symbols" and "Emoticons", but might also contain classes such as looks like "a face", "is a circle", or "symmetrical". Class distinctions have been a powerful means for articulating and engaging in social relations.
Vernacular is a way of speaking that is specific to a particular social class. Accents and slangs become informally standardised into vernaculars over time through dialogue among and across communities. When written, vernacular is cut away from the complexities of verbal accent, rhythm and context, appearing in the withered form of a spelling error.
This website is a record of a game reflecting on the potential for a new connectivity between vernacular and class, using unicode as a device to return the complexity of the spoken language to the written word.
This is a SLICE funded project, in partnership between Liverpool Biennial and The Studio, exploring these topics with 20 school pupils.
For more information about the UCV cards and background research you can read my article in the inaugural LUNE journal: lunejournal.org
This website was designed by Mark Simmonds and coded by Ralph Mackenzie.
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Written by Nathan Jones
The Liverpool Biennial 2018 title, Beautiful World, Where Are You , taps into the vein of thought that connects the ruptures, cultures and technics of Ancient Greece to today's – and the sense of techno-optimism and social despair to the contemporary situation also.
In Musik und Mathematik I (2009), Friedrich Kittler suggests that the Grecian alphabet's importance is not limited to its use as the first written phonetic alphabet, but also its function as a currency between sound, language and number. This original set of 27 glyphs, Kittler suggests, gave birth to the first decimal numbering system, and also the first standardised notation of musical tones (the first nine letters were equated to the numbers 1-9, the second nine letters were tens and the third were hundreds, which in turn could be mapped onto the notches on classical-age instruments).
As such, the Greek alphabet, which Kittler convincingly argues is the ‘muse' of Homer's epics, was a universal communication system of maths, music and language, calculation, storage and execution, one in which we can truly say we hear and do the voices and music of the ancient past. This notion of a unified code for expressing numbers, words and music is reprised in contemporary culture in the form of binary, and the higher level Unicode alphabet that is used to translate binary transmissions into human readable codes.
An art project using digitally printed cards, UCV engages with the reprised unity and flow of Grecian language, maths and music, but also the notion of lost "song" Schiller refers to in his poem. In this project, we propose the vast character set of unicode as a speculative tool to record and re-perform the lost diversity and sonorousness, of regional and political voices, in a new expanded textual form.
The loss of innocence, anonymity and individuality in a globalised, interconnected world, emblematised by unicode's radically undifferentiated table of letters, is recast as an opportunity for class and difference to be reinscribed in language.
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DAY 1: "Is there such a thing as a working class handwriting?"
Pupils conducted interviews with their parents and friends and from this I developed a script. Striking phrases from these interviews were combined with historical material concerning class, vernacular and writing. The script was then performed for pupils by the actor Trevor Fleming as a dicté. This form is based on a strict French teaching and testing method. In dicté, a teacher reads aloud while pupils write what she says. They then hand their sheets in for marking. In a tweak of this standard, conservative form Trevor read the script in a variety of British accents and vernaculars, and we encouraged pupils to render this non-standard speech in non-standard handwriting -- warping their handwriting to accommodate the emphasis and shape of accents.
In the second half of this workshop, the pupils chose detail from their handwriting, and painted them into class-vernacular posters, which recomposed into a collaborative poem, itself re-performed by the actor. A notion of class had fed into handwriting through voice, and was subsequently was fed back into voice through handwriting.
DAY 2: "Making a writing tool"
Disconnecting unicode from its form as a digital database, we used the glyph-cards to formulate a classification problem and a speculative writing tool.
The pupils were introduced to the UCV material, a box of 10,000 unique cards, each with a different symbol on them. They were asked to classify the cards, producing a usable visual system with them.
Like this, we explored how a massively expanded alphabet might open up thinking towards how class has been written out of history, the massively expanded sense of how it might be written back in.
DAY 3: "reconstructing Schiller"
Using a wheel of unicode cards arranged in a circular fashion on the floor of the school hall, with each slice resembling a letter from the latin alphabet, the pupils were invited to rewrite a verse of Schiller’s poetry, in various English translations:
Beautiful world, where are you? Return again
The flower age of nature!
Oh, only in the fairyland of songs
Still live your fabulous track
Extinct mourns the field,
No deity shows up to my gaze,
Oh, from that life-warm picture
The shadow just stayed behind.
The corruptions inherent in the attempt to write with a system consisting of only one of each character, render the loss that is narrated in Schiller's poem, magically bringing it up to date, as a comment on current environmental and political conditions.
The pupils' visual poetry works will be composed into posters for the public realm across Liverpool.
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