French artist Antoine Catala returns to the written word with his latest exhibition, “Alphabet,” on view at 47 Canal. The catch is, nothing about the work is actually written. Instead, ballooning forms of letters swell and shrink, almost seeming to breathe.
Constructed from TPU-Polyester—the same material used to make inflatable bedding— each letter is attached to a ventilator pump that alternately inflates and deflates the sculpture. As they deflate, becoming increasingly abstract, the letters lose their linguistic function. Inflation heralds a kind of rebirth, both in form and meaning.
Long interested in the ways technological tools mediate communication, “Alphabet” is Catala’s latest venture into the structures that predicate meaning-making on the basis of language. In a literal visualization of the fabrication of linguistic form, Catala’s sculptures lay bare the economies of communication that arise from the construction of language. Notably, the typeface of Catala’s letters is a font owned and licensed by Google, a further expression of the commodified technologies of meaning-making. The sculptures’ ventilator-powered expansions and contractions are mirrored in market terms—or perhaps it’s the other way around.
Antoine Catala, alphabet (detail), 2020. TPU-Polyester, vinyl tubing and ventilator pumps, Dimensions variable. Images courtesy of the artist and 47 Canal, New York. Photo: Joerg Lohse.