“A letter is two shapes: one dark, one white.”
Gerrit Noordzij, ‘The Stroke’
Writing about the conditions of legibility in writing, the typographer Gerrit Noordzij places all responsibility on the manifest relationship between the white and the black of words (1).
The work of Zin Taylor proposes visual language as a form of storytelling where shapes and patterns substitute words and legibility takes place on the surface of things. The graphic language of monochrome geometric pattern is Zin Taylor’s mainstay and affords him a necessary structure - the abstract system of a line and a dot - from which manifold possibilities of meaning can proliferate.
For Taylor each exhibition is the condensed accumulation of thoughts, settled into forms, manifested as gestures and each work is a proposition, an abbreviated version of a story yet to be told. The tale is The Story of Stripes and Dots (2012–2014), his ongoing body of work which at present numbers seven chapters, each of which sees the two protagonists – the stripe and the dot – take the guise of a number of other things: wooden structures, clay fingers, pencil drawings, music albums or even people. The story traces the artist’s development while at the same time reading like a riddle on the possibilities of abstract forms to convey meaning.
Seen within his ever growing saga of stripes and dots, Zin Taylor’s most recent exhibition, The Tangental Zigzag, his first solo show in the UK, continues the logic of the exhibition as chronicle, but this time the story takes a turn and introduces a new protagonist within his repertory of pattern-characters. His newfound impersonator is none other than the character of its title: the zigzag - perhaps an offspring of the stripe and the dot.
But what is the zigzag and what language does it speak? Zigzag is a familiar word but one that does not have a synonym, nor an equivalent in another language. It is not even confined to the English language. It is pure image, nothing else but itself, the concrete abstraction of a simple shape. Perhaps prone to mood swings or indecisiveness, the zigzag is nevertheless a trajectory, the outline of a thought, but also the shape of a sound wave.
The first work one encounters on entering the exhibition space, The hiss of a snake, the sound of a form (2014), points to the capacious disposition of the zigzag when used to signpost a snake, accommodating both its image and its sound. A single framed collage holds together a number of different zigzag shapes: a small pencil drawing of a hissing snake carrying a zigzag along its body is rested atop a background of thick black zigzag marks, inked in on white card overlaid with a shiny zigzagging piece of snakeskin. It is the snake’s ability to shed its skin that has secured its place in the mythology of renewal and transformation. Taylor is alive to the peculiarities of this multifarious undulating shape. Unfolding vertically, the snake’s hiss, is depicted at once as a strung together row of S’s and a zigzag shape spiralling downwards into a row of words before settling at the edge of the page into the three building blocks of Taylor’s vocabulary to date: a dot, a line and an angle. Rendered in black ink they sit patiently like letters or units waiting to be used.
Zin Taylor’s currency is the unit – a material element, a building block, that makes up a system and provides a container for handling information - but also each unit is itself made up of other units or as Taylor puts it, “the insinuation is that a thing, like a narrative, is made of many units – like how letters are used to produce words, words are used to produce a sentence, and then a statement.” (2)
The Tangental Zigzag as a unit of enunciation is best exemplified through a sequence of collages into whose surfaces are compressed a number of elliptical micro-narratives. With titles such as The Mystic, Bar of the Lavender Hand, or Bzzzz, said Zig Zag, in the presence of Solid Foam (all works 2014), they read like chapters or characters of an inferential story that denies any attempt at a holistic analysis. Their formal echoes and repetitions are the product of the work’s process which begins with the application of heavy black ink lines on paper, proceeds with square and rectangular segments being cut out and re-distributed, converging and overlapping in new kaleidoscopic concatenations, punctuated with fragments of snakeskin and photographs - here a nose poking out of a beard-face, there a chameleon supporting miniature slices of watermelon on its head.
Like a story in a language one does not speak, Zin Taylor’s work is nevertheless never dry or hermetic but like the Russian Futurist’s invented language of birds and gods, Zaum, it communicates along more mystical and affective routes. Much like the mind itself, it retains whimsical detours, false starts, holes and leaks - an inarticulate vitality unconstrained by the authority of signification - and seduces its viewer with intuitive flashes of intelligibility. And we shouldn’t forget that, as Graham Harman reminds us, when dealing with things and surfaces, one only has access to appearances rather than essences (3).
With each new work, the exhibition proceeds through the structure of a tangential movement, just like an idea released into the world that bounces and ricochets off the things it meets. Bounce by bounce, the tangential zigzag extends into space by means of two desk-like constructions whose tabletops, bearing the imprint of the ubiquitous zigzag, rest on further zigzagging plywood panels. The desks act like props or display units for a group of sinuous lamps elegantly perched like charmed snakes. One desk is used as the gallery attendant’s workspace, in whose vicinity can be seen The Brain (2014), a collage of symmetric compositions with zigzagging lines travelling from one ear and into another. According to Taylor, the exhibition has been developed in close dialogue with its curator, Thomas Cuckle, and he wanted this process of negotiation to be embedded within the exhibition. The Brain then could be read as a metaphor for the creative act of call and response, but also, as in Heinrich von Kleist’s essay of the same name (4), as the gradual production of a thought through speaking and the opacity of its language as a form of abbreviated communication between two close friends, the idea and its form.
Here then, a tangent is not seen as something inconsequential or as diversion but as a fundamentally creative process. Acting like glyphs, Zin Taylor’s works transfer the immediacy of the original thought splintered into actions. And despite its gradual metamorphosis, there is nonetheless the resilience of the original gesture.
(1) Gerrit Noordzij, The Stroke: theory of writing. (Hyphen Press, 2008)
(2) Graham Harman, Tool-Being: Heidegger and the Metaphysics of Objects. (Open Court, 2002)
(3) Conversation with the artist, June 26, 2014
(4) Heinrich von Kleist, 'On the gradual production of thoughts whilst speaking', in: Heinrich von Kleist and David Constantine (Ed). Selected Writings. (Hackett, 2004)