Lesson: Paul Chan: Alternumeric Fonts

  • Grade Level: High School (9-12 grade)
  • Subject Area: Art, Global Studies, New Media Studies, English, Graphic Design
  • "2nd -Light-," 2006."2nd -Light-," 2006.

Introduction

Written by Detroit poet, Angela Jones.
In this lesson students will review modes of representation, analyze and write concrete and visual poems. Students will attempt to decipher and experiment with two or more of Paul Chan’s original Fonts. Students will discuss the possible motivations behind this particular artwork, as well as articulate their own ideas surrounding symbols, codes, and the origin of language. Finally students will create original “fonts” which will reflect their own beliefs and experiences.

Objectives

  • Discussion of modes of representation
  • Analyze and write concrete and visual poems
  • Students will attempt to decipher and experiment with two or more of Paul Chan’s original Fonts.
  • Students will discuss the possible motivations behind this particular artwork, as well as articulate their own ideas surrounding symbols, codes, and the origin of language.
  • Students will create original “fonts” which will reflect their own beliefs and experiences.

Vocabulary

Alternumerics explores the relationship between language and interactivity by transforming the simple computer font into an art form that explores the fissure between what we write and what we mean. By replacing individual letters and numbers (known as alphanumerics) with textual and graphic fragments that signify what is typed in radically different ways. Alternumerics transforms any computer connected to a standard printer into an interactive artmaking installation.[1]
Vernacular refers to the native language or dialect of a country or a regional area. In contrast to linguae francae which is the official standard language, vernacular shifts standards of grammar and meaning according to its particular use in its region.
Dialect are languages that are developed by specific groups or by a particular region.
Interjection is a part of speech that is used to make an abrupt remark to express an emotion, for example: uh, er, um.

Materials

Collection of Paul Chan’s Fonts online
Computers/Digital Projector
Video recording of Taylor Mali’s Totally Like Whatever
Dry Erase Board/ Chart Paper

Lesson Strategy

Facilitator will ask the class how many students are able to understand and communicate using text messaging. Facilitator will ask for a volunteer to translate a simple sentence using text messaging. Example sentences:

Greetings Andrea, please meet me at the museum at five o’clock.
Peter, how are you? Do you know what we were assigned for homework?
Wow, that concert last weekend was amazing!

After sentences have been translated, the facilitator will ask students what form of communication they think text messaging falls under. Is it a language?
A vernacular? Can it be spoken communication or should it just be written? Who decides? Address any disagreements about the translation of the sentences by asking students whether or not the same language could have multiple manifestations.

Discussion I
Students will view a photo of Paul Chan’s poster project in Manhattan and Brooklyn and the facilitator will ask students to share their thoughts.

  • What immediately grabs your attention about the poster project?
  • Similar to Chan’s 7 Lights exhibit, the artist chose to put a slash through several words.
  • What kind of effect do you think the slashes have on the meaning of the text?
  • What do you think the slashes symbolize?
  • Try reading only the slashed words, then try reading only the words without slashes.
  • Do you notice any differences in the messages? In their tone?
  • In what ways does the artist play with mainstream ideas of written language?
  • How do our preconceptions of language affect our ability to see hidden messages?

Discussion II
Students will view several different examples of Paul Chan’s Fonts piece, including but not limited to Politics To Come, Time To Come, Self-Portrait, The Future Must Be Sweet, and Black Panther Omega. The facilitator might ask students to respond to the pieces using some of the following prompts:

  • Which of the Fonts stood out to you and why?
  • In Politics to Come, what do you think Chan is saying about the language of politicians?
  • In Time to Come, what do you think Chan is saying about being incarcerated?
  • In some of Chan’s Fonts: Self Portrait and Black Panther Omega, for instance, why do you think he created such a distinction between capital and lowercase letters?
  • What about the distinction between numbers and letters?
  • What do you think are some of the differences between Chan’s Fonts and a font you might find on a regular computer?

Reading
Facilitator will introduce a video of Taylor Mali’s spoken word piece Totally Like Whatever. After watching the performance, the facilitator will ask students their thoughts.

  • How does Taylor Mali use vernacular or speech patterns?
  • Do you agree that modern language has become indecisive?
  • Is how we communicate a reflection of how our society is functioning? If so, in what ways?

Totally like whatever, you know?

Activity
Students will find a partner to work with. Choosing one example of Paul Chan’s Fonts, students will attempt to write a message to their partner. Students will record the translation of that message on a separate sheet of paper that their partner is not allowed to see. After reading the messages, partners will develop their own interpretations of them. The facilitator might spark discussions with students about the nature of language.

  • Where do you think language comes from? How is it created, and by whom?
  • What is it about our society which incites us to create new ways of communicating?
  • How is language used and shaped, either positively or negatively?
  • Have we seen examples in the media of language being used to confuse people, harm people, or empower people?
  • What are some of the effects of miscommunication or misunderstanding?
  • What do you think is unique about written language?
  • Can you name examples of how symbols are used in the media?

(ex. The golden arches, Prince, etc.)

Homework

Facilitator will ask students what their Font would look like if they were to create one for themselves. What would the letters represent? For example, perhaps a student speaking to his/her friends uses different words, phrases or inflections in tone than s/he would if s/he were talking to a parent or a teacher. If a student is particularly sensitive to issues of power between youth and adults, that student could use his/her communication with adults for capital letters and communication with friends for lowercase. Numbers could translate to the rhythmic interjections in our speech.

Students will be asked to create a twenty-six letter alphabet using symbols, words, or phrases of their own design. They will be creating their own Fonts, based on their own life experiences and their own unique aspects of communicating.

Assessment

Students will be asked to share their work.

Additional Resources

www.nationalphilistine.com