Produced with the support of the New York Public Library, Abecedarium:NYC is an interactive online exhibition that reflects on the history, geography, and culture – both above and below ground – of New York City through 26 unusual words. Using original video, animation, photography and sound, Abecedarium:NYC constructs visual relationships between these select words and specific locations in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island.
Each word – whether it’s A for audile or Z for zenana – leads to a different short video and a location in the city that you may never have experienced before. In selenography (the study of the moon), amateur astronomers celebrate the wonders of the night sky at Staten Island’s Great Kills State Park. In open city (a metropolis without defense), the ruins of military installations throughout the five boroughs decay with time. Chatty teenagers in a Flushing, Queens cafe drink bubble tea in xenogenesis (the phenomenon of children markedly different from their parents). In diglot (a bilingual person), a Chinese accountant, Albanian baker, Palestinian falafel maker, Argentine film archivist and Cuban cigar maker speak candidly about their daily routines. In mofette (an opening in the earth from which carbon monoxide escapes) mysterious gases flow from gaps in the streets of Manhattan.
A group of moving-image artists was invited to contribute their own visual interpretations of selected words, thus sharing their own unique perspective on the nature of language and urban life. In addition to creating a video, these artists reflect on their own work in the project blog and intimately share their perceptions and interpretations of the city in which they live. From listening to ringing church bells on a Sunday morning in Astoria, Queens to investigating the repercussions of the 1950 Standard Oil spill in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, each artist provides a unique vision that enriches the collective knowledge.
Artists (in alphabetical order): Susan Agliata, Alisa Besher, Beth Botshon, Janine Fleri, David Gatten, Barbara Hammer, Heather Kramer, George Kuchar, Ethan Mass, Scott Nyerges, Lynne Sachs, Erik Schurink, Erika Yeomans.
The interactive content is also contextualized by a brief history of the artist abecedarium – from the Italian Futurist’s edible alphabet to essayist Susan Sontag’s alphabet of dance to avant-garde composer John Cage’s alphabet radio poem. This narrative traces the rich history of the abecedarium as artistic outlet from the first seeds of language to the digital age, from physical objects to virtual worlds.
The experience of visiting Abecedarium:NYC is more than watching, listening and learning. Visitors to the project are invited to respond to existing content as well as to share their own experience of New York City by contributing original videos, soundscapes, photos or texts to the project blog. As more users contribute, the project grows in size, scope and experience, and transforms into a destination for sharing and learning about every facet of the city.
Co-directors: Lynne Sachs + Susan Agliata
Programming and Tech Innovation: In Choi with the assistance of Joe Tekippe