Sarah Hulsey, “A Universal Lexicon”

Sarah Hulsey
Somerville, Massachusetts

A Universal Lexicon
letterpress, metal relief plates
Closed: 7.25 x 5″ x 0.5″; Open: 14 x 17.25″

Artist Statement

My work is concerned with the hidden, structural beauty of language. Language is a deeply human trait that we use in every aspect of our lives, though its workings are largely mysterious to us as speakers. My work draws attention to those patterns deep in our minds and the rich, varied beauty they contain. I explore the systems of language that we use so effortlessly—phonetics, syntax, semantics, etc.—through prints, artist’s books, and print-based installations. Each piece isolates an aspect of a language or a text and creates a visual correlate of its structure, generating imagery from the linguistics of the text itself.

I am drawn to printmaking because its iterative, serial processes are conceptually related to the content of my work. Throughout all areas of language, the notion of smaller units combined into larger structures is central: sounds into syllables, syllables into roots/affixes, roots/affixes into words, words into phrases, phrases into sentences, sentences into discourses. Iteration, recursion, combination via rules, variations on patterns—these concepts are foundational to the way our minds process language. Representing these processes through printmaking, with its inherent iteration, sequence, and serial variation, gives a tangible analogy to the complex beauty of our linguistic knowledge.

Project statement: A Universal Lexicon

In one of the most important scientific treatises of his era, Galileo compared the act of understanding the universe to reading a book in the language of mathematics. By comprehending the symbols and figures of this “grand book,” one could avoid wandering about in a dark labyrinth of confusion. This artist’s book uses the vehicle of translation—between languages, of text to image, and across domains of language—to illuminate the mathematics and science of linguistics underlying Galileo’s text. Illustrations representing the sounds, syntax, and logic alternate between Italian and English, providing a route through the arguments of the text.

Letterpress printed from hand set Merrymount Dutch (Janson) type and metal relief plates on handmade paper. Deluxe edition of 10 bound in vellum and housed in box along with three additional prints. Standard edition of 20 case-bound with slipcase. Dimensions: 7 1⁄4″ x 5″ x 1⁄2″ (closed). 14″ x 17 1⁄4″ (open). Edition of 30.

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