TXT (Engine of Wandering Words)

Ana Torfs

Mortsel, Antwerp, Belgium, 1963
  • Date: 
  • Material: 
    Cotton, wool and aluminium flat bar
  • Technique: 
    Jacquard loom
  • Descriptive technique: 
    An installation with 6 jacquard tapestries
  • Dimensions: 
    Variable dimensions / Each part: 274 x 325 cm
  • Edition/serial number: 
    1/5 (5 + A. P.)
  • Category: 
  • Entry date: 
  • Register number: 
  • Commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation – SB11- 2013

Multiple artwork

This artwork belongs to a series.

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Six Jacquard tapestries show a strange mechanical device with handles along the edges and twenty-five squares showing different images. We see compasses, sailing ships, trade and labour, among other things, fragments taken from existing photographs, engravings, oil paintings, maps, pamphlets, and book pages, from various time periods. The machine (or engine) is inspired by a wood engraving that Jean-Jacques Grandville made in 1838 for Jonathan Swift’s novel Gulliver’s Travels (1726), a book that is both a parody of travel writing and a satirical exploration of politics, colonialism and human nature. The sentences that figure on the bottom of the tapestry are taken from the book in question.
The abbreviation TXT, which forms the first part of the works' title refers to the words text, texture and textile which all derive from the same Latin term, ‘texere’, meaning ‘to weave’. The tapestries were woven on a jacquard loom, the first programmable machine: punch cards that stored complex weaving patterns in binary format were used to control them, making it possible to weave any design imaginable. Much like the fictional machine in Gulliver's Travels, the loom is a precursor to our modern-day computer.
The ‘wandering words' that are also part of the work’s title– a literal English translation of the poetic German noun ‘Wanderwort’ – are a special type of loanword, one that is widely spread among numerous languages and cultures across a significant geographical area. The six ‘wandering words’ the artist chose as a starting point for this work are ginger, saffron, sugar, coffee, tobacco and chocolate, which reached our shores and entered our languages along the trade routes. As in a rebus, these words were woven upside down on the bottom of each tapestry.