L.L. Zamenhoff started out with a grand plan and a singular idea: if everyone simply spoke the same language, he reasoned, conflict could be avoided.
So he decided to create a universal language that would be easy for anyone to learn, and would break down barriers of communication. This language, Esperanto, experienced brief popularity at the turn of the 20th century, before fading after World War II, leaving no official universal language.
This history inspired Sukha Worob, a Bozeman-based printmaker, who started a series of work called “Zamenhoff’s Trials” around four years ago, based on ideas of communication, language and conversation.
The central piece of this series is “Zamenhoff’s Table,” a physical representation of conversation, negotiation, miscommunication and lost meanings.
“When you get together with another person, big things can come from that, or nothing can come from that,” Worob said. He’s intrigued by the potential of communication, instead of the end point.
To represent that, Worob broke out the English alphabet into six bits of “lines and C's” that, when randomly combined, would theoretically make up letters. He put those marks on an ink roller, which is rolled across the blank white table over and over to create a cloud of bits and pieces, to either coalesce into something or not.
“So you set out with the roller to do something meaningful, but this abstract nothing comes from it,” Worob said.
Worob brought the table, along with accompanying wall prints, to the Missoula Art Museum. It was blank on arrival, and he gave senior curator Brandon Reintjes some bare guidelines on how to roll out the stamp.
Reintjes, along with some other museum employees, got the stamp and some ink and started rolling the marks out along the table until it looked “finished,” although that’s subjective.
Their version looks like a physical representation of conversation, with two people talking from across the table, spewing words that fly at each other, sometimes connecting, sometimes bouncing away, sometimes thick with meaning and sometimes left alone, unreplied.
“If you look long enough you can see there’s an S, there’s an R,” Reintjes said. “Certainly you don’t get those alphabetical constructs arranged in any meaning.”
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If one looks long enough at the table, and maybe unfocuses their gaze a bit, it gives an effect that there are words written, they’re just buried beneath ink. But peer closer and the “words” become random lines and C's once again.
“They’re close enough to our visual dialogue ... our brain really wants to have that meaning,” Worob said. “There’s kind of a constant interpretation.”
It also echoes a crowd of people, that, when taken as a whole, have a collective meaning and pattern, but zoomed in on, are individual and random, Worob said.
Accompanying the table are prints made up of pieces of the “conversation,” where Worob would excerpt slices of the mashed up lines and C's and overlay them on top of photographs.
He also used parts of the stamp that were cut away from the shapes to make “Leftover Thoughts,” a set of prints made up of the byproduct of language.
These pieces create a cyclical show, where every part of the process is used to make its own piece of art.
“Zamenhoff’s Table” will be whitewashed and reprinted at least one more time in Missoula, Worob said, during the Aug. 3 First Friday, when the public will have a chance to help roll out the letters.
Worob’s leaned toward more unguided, collaborative printing in recent years, to test his need for control over the art. Allowing people to put the art together themselves encourages an interaction that also ups the conversational metaphor – the finished table will be the result of dozens of individual’s words splayed out across the white surface, connecting or not.
It’s not always easy for Worob to let the prints go by without any direction – he’s done more guided pieces, and less guided pieces, but generally will add when he sees a need. He’ll be on hand for the First Friday event.
“It’s been a play over the last couple of years to see how much direction is needed,” Worob said. “Sometimes the outcome is going to look good, sometimes it’s going to look bad.
“It’s the same visual language, but it’s completely different (every time).”