Text-Image Parergon ○ Peter Benz and Nils Röller

Editorial 1

Fig. 1: “Orbis terrarum” by Isidore of Seville in his Etymologies (c. 600–625)

Larkin and Simon’s landmark essay on diagrams – Why a Diagram Is (Some-times) Worth Ten Thousand Words – starts with a doubt, a doubt about proverbs and their stated origins. “According to Bartlett’s Quotations, ‘a picture is worth 10,000 words’ is a Chinese proverb. On inquiry, we find that the Chinese seem not to have heard of it, but the proverb is certainly widely known and widely believed in our culture.” (Larkin & Simon, p. 65)

It immediately stuck out that the numerals for zero in the quote had been replaced by the capital letter “O”. This put an emphasis on the “roundness” of the number characters. The image – as result of the "O,OOO" combination – challenges one “O” (=Isidore's world) with a related series of three more interconnected "O"s.

Editorial 2

Fig. 2: Diagram taken from John O’Neill. The Night of the Gods: An Inquiry into Cosmic and Cosmogonic Mythology and Symbolism, Volume 2. London: David Nutt, 1897; p. 991.

The first “O” to respond to Isidore is a little diagram from the later sections of John O’Neill’s The Night of the Gods, a slightly obscure though at its time apparently quite popular publication in comparative mythology. This diagram is an identical, yet upside-down variation of Isidore’s world map. In O’Neill’s text it’s placed at the end of a short section in which he reflects some Chinese and Japanese creation myths and relates them – without much elaboration – to the Norse myth of the Universe’s evolution. O’Neill repeats the identical passage twice in his books – one in the first volume and a second time in Volume II – but the second time he adds this diagram next to the following short paragraph:

“I shall just note down here an amulet which seems to connect the Three Kabeiroi with the Tomoye. It was discovered at Windisch (the ancient Vindonissa) in Switzerland. Mommsen contested its authenticity, but F. Lenormant thought his objections too slender.”

There is no further explanation to this diagram or its relevance to his thoughts in this context. From this little note it may be concluded that he copied it from a Roman amulet, but neither could we find any original source, nor does O’Neill offer any further interpretation of its meaning. However, if this drawing is indeed of Roman origin, it would likely predate Isidore’s T&O map.

Editorial 3

Fig. 3: Floor plan of Chengqi Lou, Fujian, China

The second “O” to challenge Isidore is a floorplan of Chengqi Lou, a Chinese tulou – a kind of rural fortified earth building in the Fujian area – that received UNESCO heritage status in 2008. The arrangements of spaces in concentric rings as well as the position of the three entry passages seem to tangibly articulate Isidore’s map of the world in a single experienceable spatial setting.

Editorial 4

Fig. 4: “Three Magnets” diagram, published in 1898 by Ebenezer Howard in To-morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform

Finally, the last “O” is Ebenezer Howard’s famous Three Magnets diagram which he used to conceptualise his idea for Garden Cities. Again, it geometrically plays along the same lines as the other "O"s before, yet he inverts the graphics by filling the spaces of Isidore’s continents with texts, reflections on the characteristics of different forms of contemporary living.

Howard originally worked as a stenographer, and thus was used to codifying oral communication as text. Traveling to the US introduced him to the poetic works of Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson, writers that inspired him to consider pathways to a better – today we may say “more sustainable” – life. Howard saw a connection between city planning and the conception of a common worldwide language: Esperanto. To him, both were pathmakers towards a better surrounding.

Editorial 5

Fig. 5: Original Smiley as designed by Harvey Ross Ball in 1963

To Ebenezer Howard, communication by images was more accessible, as it doesn’t require a grammar and/or vocabulary that needs to develop, discussed and re-adjusted as e.g. Esperanto needs to be. Recently this notion has been proven as rather effective: see Emojis.

TEXT-IMAGE PARERGON explores potentials and challenges in the relations of scriptorial and pictorial signs. How do text and image respectively frame an artefact? Does the combination of both constitute an extended value or merely a supplementary by-product that primarily appeals to the visual and other senses? Should such parerga be considered positively as added experiential benefit, or negatively as distractive embellishment of a core? Does form extend function?

Peter Benz (Academy of Visual Arts) and Nils Röller (Zurich University of the Arts) of KOKO’s Editorial Board collaboratively edit the KOKO Space TEXT-Image Parergon.

For more information visit the Editorial Board.

TEXT-IMAGE PARERGON focuses on relations. Its lenses are tuned by the distinction between the temporal and the spatial: the ordering of one after the other, and/or of one next to the other. However, to start with one and an other, always is to begin with a difference, commonly a difference affected by the culture(s) in which it operates. At its very core, we find such difference in the notions of “text” and “image”; both are means to communicate information, content, narration, yet they do so in fundamentally different ways from which have developed distinctly different respective cultures of production, perception and/or appreciation.
The Greek word “parergon” signifies an addendum to a work, something that supports a work like a frame supports a picture, or like a title helps to identify and interpret a poem. While initially merely an add-on to the original work, the parergon has the potential to significantly impact on the perception and reception of the original. This drives our attention towards a principal question: Who defines what is central for a work, and what is mere superfluous extra? Where within this spectrum stands the parergon? More concretely, for our core media of communication, text and image, what is their relation? Which one of them – if any – is core, which one parergon? [1]
A starting point for this discourse was set at the academic symposium Abständiges – Gegenwartskunst in Wechselwirkung mit Philosophie (Distancing – Contemporary Art in Reciprocity with Philosophy) hosted on 16 May 2019 at the Kunstraum Kreuzlingen (CH) by the Zürich University of the Arts. The symposium was set to explore the iconography of philosophical texts – in particular the imagery of Lady Philosophy as first introduced into philosophical tradition by the late antique writer Boethius (477–524) in his work The Consolation of Philosophy (approx. 524). The juxtaposition of medieval thinking, its articulation in illuminations, and in return their impact as challenge for contemporary creative practices, highlighted the need to investigate the mostly unquestioned principal opposition between immaterial thoughts and materialized images.
Several of the presentations from the symposium – contributions by Ellmerer, Kaspar, Irrgang & Jahn, Neuwirth, and Zimmermann-Homeyer – were selected for this KOKO Space Text-Image Parergon.]
In parallel and overlapping with the activities in the context of Distancing, the editorial team of KOKO – The Next Generation Journal explore similar issues approaching them from the other end of the timeline: contemporary social media platforms of the early 21st century. Online applications like Instagram specifically encourage their users to communicate via images. It is undeniable that this form of communication has a profound impact on the dissemination of ideas, trends, opinions in concurrent society. Why shouldn’t Instagram or other social media carry more complex knowledge and/or philosophical thought.  
We decided to utilise one of KOKO’s distinguishing feature, a tool that automatically grabs images from Instagram that are marked by a predefined hashtag and re-posts the post incl. all its metadata on KOKO’s Fragments Wall [scroll to the bottom of the KOKO homepage to view the Fragments]. The resulting collection of visual splinters in its entirety/overview represents a visualisation of research in progress: traces. It is also evidence that tags, dates, and the algorithms that manage data and metadata are crucial elements of those posts. The textual parergon that is the aggregate hashtags, “likes”, and captions gains principal importance for the reception of the image, and therefore – for the serious user – must become subject of sincere consideration when communicating through the post.
In reviewing the gathered posts, we encountered a sense of friction between the order of images as determined through the flow of Instagram, and our interest to contribute to an academic discourse (see e.g., Peacock’s contribution). We realized the need to step back and reflect on forms of ordering of images and/or text and their combinations. In this regard, the iconography of Boethius’ Consolatio as well as e.g., Irrgang’s and Jahn’s chronotopes provided stances on considerations of spatial-temporal distances.
We do also believe that an academic discourse is an exchange of ideas between people of different backgrounds and traditions interested in sharing knowledge and methods. Whether communicated by text or images, in traditional or non-traditional formats, ideas spring from the minds of people. It does therefore feel appropriate to embed our TEXT-IMAGE PARERGON Space in a community. For this purpose, we started the webinar series KOKO-in-Dialogue in which always two scholars engage in a debate on a topic relevant to the Space. The recordings of these exchanges add additional content and detail, but also another format layer to the content of TEXT-IMAGE PARERGON.
TEXT-IMAGE PARERGON, the first KOKO Space has now been established. The eight “opening” contributions stretch out and span a virtual space of thought that is intended to attract further contributions in the future that will fill the gaps and further extend the space into directions we currently may not know. We invite all those interested to contribute to KOKO by joining our webinars, commenting on the contributions directly, or by submitting their own contributions for peer-reviewing. Your efforts are welcome and appreciated.

[1] Paul Duro, “What Is a Parergon?”, in: The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 77: 1 (Winter  (2019)), 23–33 refers to recent discussions.

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