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Work / Graphic Design

Asel Tambay on translating words into “objects, performers and places” in her graphic design practice

Asel Tambay’s design practice is rooted in her interest in language; in the context of the written word, as a visual medium and performative material. “In my work, I explore the possibilities and boundaries of language, both contextually and visually. I’m interested in repurposing, re-appropriating, and repositioning [it] in different settings, creating new meanings through exploring its multifarious layers. Words become objects, performers, meanings, places and characters in my work”, she tells It’s Nice That.

Born in Adana, Turkey, Asel graduated from Central Saint Martins earlier this year, and has since been working with Zak Group. She cites artists Fiona Banner, Cerith Wyn Evans, Jonathon Monk and Joseph Kosuth as important references, as well as writers Kenneth Goldsmith and Douglas Coupland: “I’m inspired by artists, writers and poets who integrate language as an experimental medium, who explore different mediums, settings, scales and platforms”, she says. Asel’s work is certainly experimental – from printing off the internet, to funnelling Romeo + Juliet through Google Translate and programming neon lights to respond to the rhythms and intonations of E. E. cummings’ HUSH – and it’s backed up by a formal and thematic rigour that conveys the depth of her interest in fine art practice. “My thinking process is definitely more complex than my visual language,” says Asel. “Everything is in black and white, not letting anything interrupt the interaction between the words and the viewer. There’s definitely a pattern of concepts that runs through my work: experimenting with contemporary forms of writing; using or misusing tools to generate, distort and expand language; dissecting language and breaking down layers of meaning and construction; and exploring various forms of translation.”

In Romeo + Translate, Asel was particularly interested in the contrasts between human and digital language; focusing on the scene where Romeo and Juliet first met, she translated the text into 19 different languages and then back to English using Google Translate, and had two laptops perform the animated verse. “Words such as ‘sin’ or ‘despair’ became words like ‘proxy’ or ‘account’. The romance in the verse disappeared, and a digital coldness took its place.”

In another project, Free Fall, she explored “the corners, limits and identity of the internet, gathering pieces of text as either single statements or juxtapositions, and seeing how the internet bent and changed according to the way [she] used it”. For the final expression of her research, Asel mounted a printer at the top of her studio wall and let the 500 sheets of paper fall freely to the ground, in a performative installation that animated both the technology and internal process of navigating online worlds. And in HUSH, she built a flexible structure of neon lights, which responded to the rhythm of a reading of HUSH, by E. E. cummings. “The sculpture is a translation of the poem into light” says Asel. “It explores what is left behind when you take the words out of a poem and strip it down to its intonations, breaks and rhythms.”

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