The Language of Things

Manuel Franquelo, 2001

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Published by La Estampa Digital, Calcografía Nacional
Printed at Stoneman Graphics and Calcografía Nacional
50 x 50 cm
Box made by Factum Arte
Edition of 25 and 5 AP
Text by Bruno Latour

The Language of Things

A set of fourteen multiple-plate dust grain gravure and drypoint prints housed in a solander box. Produced in an edition of twenty five sets, signed and numbered 1 to 25 by the artist, with an additional five proof sets numbered AP1 to AP5. With a commissioned text by Bruno Latour.

These fourteen images have evolved from a series of photographs taken by Manuel Franquelo of his studio on a 9x12cm Kodak camera using Polaroid film. Each image is printed chine collé, using Japanese paper and 400gsm Velin Arches, from two plates and in two different blacks. The original photographs were scanned and then manipulated by the artist. The resulting digital images were etched onto copper plates as dust grain gravures by Hugh Stoneman at Stoneman Graphics, Cornwall. A second set of plates were marked directly by the artist using drypoint and a variety of abrasive techniques. The seven cropped images were printed from the same sets of plates with areas masked off as directed by the artist. The proofing was carried out by Hugh Stoneman and Carmen Coral at the Calcografia Nacional, Madrid. The edition was printed at Stoneman Graphics by Hugh Stoneman and Mike Ward.

Published in 2002 by Estampa Digital, C/Hilarión Eslava, Madrid
Typography and boxmaking by Jess Ahmon at Factum Arte, London
Letterpress printing by Rob Hadrill at Book Works, London

Il Ritratto by Bruno Latour
The Language of Things. This is what is written on the cover. Things may have a language, but the author is a man of very few words. This is one of his trademarks; not many words about mute things, but a silent artist letting things talk a lot - provided the viewers let themselves be addressed and talked to. Yes, a rare combination. But which things and in which language?

Those broken machines, odd books, crumpled magazines, plugs, balls suspended in mid air, rosaries and even a stuffed bird on top of some nondescript boxes appear mundane enough. Although they might have been assembled haphazardly their arrangement has become necessary. Why? Because they are not placed as a mere context for virtuosity, as if the artist - the photographer, the engraver, the printer - was doing all the talking. They have become necessary because, whatever the odd reasons that have brought them together in the studio, they are offering something else than their shape, a substance so rare in art that the viewer does not know what to call it: texture might be a word. We are used to listen to the superficial language of things - that is shape - but how do we learn to slowly become sensitive to what they have to say in the language of texture? Shape is the obvious; texture is the invisible. A shape is either sharp or fuzzy, crisp or blurred, revealed or hidden. Not a texture.

Look here, if you are privileged enough to leaf leisurely through these fourteen prints. The image is so sharp that you can make out the faces of adolescents through the barbed wire of some camp in a page of ABC or that of Lindberg from a crumpled issue of El Pais. And yet clarity is not the goal. Sharp edges might be needed as an added bonus but not as a goal. Texture is different. Scratches, marks, stains are necessary to achieve the full deployment of the thing which is no longer focused nor out of focus. There is a word for focus and out of focus, but none for texture and out of texture. Shape is vertical, texture, so to speak, is internal. A whole new pictorial and material vocabulary is at work here to translate the language of shape into that of texture. For instance the seven larger prints are stained by the explicit marks used to reframe the seven smaller ones. How could you better show that shape is not the goal but that another node of expression is at work here - to demonstrate the ways things reach at us? As if shape was only a slice, a vertical cut, in the lateral, transversal deployment of things. What Einstein might have called “the mollusk of reference”. Showing not a shape with edges but rather the deployment of matters being transformed.
Yes, for sure, another way to make things speak.

What is more telling than the wavelets produced by the little defects in the chine collé process? As if you were capturing not only the shape but also the movement of things from one medium to the next. This is what is so odd in the use of photography. The prints look like Franquelo’s paintings, not because they are both interested in the shape, but because through a technical feat even photography can be made to express the language of texture. Scientists, through their laboratories, have found many ways to make things have a language. Technicians and engineers, too, have found many ways to have things deploy their material transformations. But artists, too often obsessed by the language of shape - images for them have to be erased, denied, veiled, crucified, destroyed - have fallen a bit behind the scientists and the engineers. In this stunning set of prints, as in the work done on digital images, Manuel Franquelo and his friends are catching up: they too are concocting, in the studio, mediums, devices, instruments, a quasi-laboratory where the full texture of things can again be allowed to deploy itself through the material transformations of print.

The language of texture can be heard again over the superficial language of shape. Are we able to hear it? There has been an odd and now boring dispute between iconophiles and iconoclasts. But what sort of art can we expect if we begin to explore the opposition between the lovers of textures in images and those who cannot see its importance?

Go to artist editions.

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