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Transcriptions (2014)

Frank van der Ploeg

Letters joined form words, sentences, texts and stories. When enough letters have been assembled, they can be bound into book form. Pablo Lehmann breaks with this tradition of binding and booking letters. He reinterprets and allows new words and letters to pictorialize. Paper as a carrier of letters is wholly suited to his compulsion to remodel.


A labyrinth of letters

Most languages can suffice with little more than two dozen letters. ‘Knotting’ together letters restrung into diverse compositions and lengths provides infinite opportunities. Pablo Lehmann (1974, Buenos Aires, Argentina) transcribes texts – not with a pen, but with an exacto knife. He ‘rewrites’ books or photographs of them by incising and in doing so generates new relationships. His wordwebs invite readers to compose their own connections.

Lehmann’s love of letters, text and books finds expression is a variety of forms. Through open, three-dimensional constructions he often portrays the shape of books themselves. A web of floating letters outlines the main physical characteristics of a book: the hard-backed envelope, the cover and binding or the suggestion of pages – features that define the works The Naked Book (2006) and The Curved Book (2011). Using the same technique, which from afar imparts all the works with a kind of Meccano quality, Lehmann created a Sun Clock (2011) and a homage to the letter A – still under construction – entitled Capital A (2011).

For some installations, the photograph is the end result. Solely through his use of paper, Lehmann evokes a writer’s house. Built in a sea of book pages he manages to convey a desk (the open page is a complete alphabet) and a living room with bed in The Scribe's House (the room, 2010) / (the room, 2011).

In his photo-cut-outs Lehmann works in multiple layers. Dialogue (2009) is an honourable testament to his method. The 'underpainting' is a large photograph of six opened books. A latticework of letters, cut from the same photographic image, is placed overtop though fractionally skewed from the picture underneath, making the image seem to vibrate. While the opened books already work in collusion, this extra layer forces an extra focus though its readability does not become any easier for the effort. And then there is still the text behind the latticework.

A similar profusion is expressed in the twisting vines that form an entire alphabet in Baroque Alphabet (2010) or even a kind of historiated initial in Baroque Vowel (2010). A lacy curtain of letters is intertwined with half rolled and folded book pages that shape a new letter in relief. Lehmann creates in this way a tripartite layering of letters. These works, as well as the tellingly titled Ivy (2010), are so richly packed that they require some effort and determination to actually read. In Illegible / Invisible (2013) he stretches the boundaries. On the basis of the same concept, he takes the story further. By folding parts and criss-crossing them over each other he has half wrapped the work – much like Christo does. The plethora of letters is partially obscured, making it literally illegible.   

Pablo Lehmann is a master of language and imagery. Literacy is not a requirement to appreciate his works, but avid readers will find a wonderland of words.