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By Alan Gilbert

For the past decade, visual artist Paul Chan has created a series of customized fonts based on the texts of various poets, writers, social philosophers, artists, and political movements: Stéphane Mallarmé, Charles Fourier, Agnes Martin, ACT UP, etc. Chan uses excerpts from these texts to make fonts that transfigure and disfigure words typed into a computer. Installed fonts can be selected just like Arial or Times New Roman and used to input any text.

From 2007–2009, Chan worked on a multi-component project that engaged with the writings of the Marquis de Sade. Along with a large-scale digital projection, drawings, ink-on-paper installation works, and a small sculpture, it included a set of twenty-one fonts that use language appropriated from sources as various as Sade, Friedrich Hölderlin, gay porn, St. Augustine, Gertrude Stein, George W. Bush, Monica Lewinsky, and more. In keeping with the spirit of Sade, nearly all the fonts border on the pornographic. He calls the set Sade for Fonts Sake, and they can be purchased on a DVD that contains various bonus features related to his Sade project. Or eighteen of the fonts can be downloaded for free from his National Philistine website.

(Since I can’t upload Chan’s fonts to Harriet’s WordPress admin tool, I can’t show how they work. Interested readers are encouraged to visit his website.)

Last week, Chan posted to his website “Goldman Sachs annual letter to shareholders” typed with a Sade for Fonts Sake font that utilizes Biblical text describing Mary Magdalene’s encounters with men. It can be found here. It’s an unrelenting, 133-page withering blast at the moral and economic hypocrisies of the financial industry.

Chan also produces prints that map, or decode, each font. In fact, I first encountered Chan’s work in a small yet memorable group show entitled Lean that Eungie Joo curated at the Ise Cultural Foundation in New York in 2003 (a show that also served as one of the earlier exhibitions of Kehinde Wiley’s work). Here, Chan exhibited exquisite prints derived from his Fourier fonts. They looked like this, although a pdf is obviously no match for the real thing.


Posted in Uncategorized on Saturday, April 24th, 2010 by Alan Gilbert.