Bojana Pejic

In the Beginning Was the Protonym

In the Beginning was the Protonym
In the beginning was the Word, and since then there’s been a quote.
Thomas McEvilley, 1984


Adib Fricke started to build up his Gesamtwortwerk with a full awareness that he, as a (visual) artist involved in wording, operates on a risky—and therefore exciting—bridge between life and art: between a realm of the Symbolic, the place where we are in language, and art, the terrain essentially populated with pictures and governed by the order of the visual. In every day life we share language as a major tool for initiating and developing an exchange of the most precious good in our culture—words that convey information. In life we use language hoping that we will meet each other on a slippery ground called communication. We thus willy-nilly share and permanently re-establish a common contract regulated and censored by His Majesty Meaning.

Since 1986, when he officially became an artist (in the art system the moment of registration corresponds to the date of the artist’s first exhibition), Adib Fricke has produced mainly language-based works. It goes almost without saying to state that Adib Fricke, like his colleagues who don’t share a »hunger for pictures« but rather feel a will to wording, is faithful to words. Can in their case language be considered as their medium or their material (like paint in painting, newspaper clips in a collage, or an artist’s body in a performance)? Richard Wollheim, although discussing object art and painting, proposes the following solution to the medium/material dilemma: »A medium may embrace a material, though it may not, but, if it does, a medium is a material worked in a characteristic way, and the characteristics of the way can be understood only in the context of the art within which the medium arises. – Bernini and Rodin were not faithful to marble, though they may have been faithful to marble as a material of sculpture.«1

Given this distinction, we can consider that a word medium did not arise until the 1960s. The words, fragmented texts, segments of newspaper ads and verbal references to the »mass culture« were incepted into visual arts early in our century by cubists. Since that time the visual arts have been subjected to a great extent to a process of »linguisation«2 Semiotically oriented art theory however points out that the bridging of the »high« (art) and »low« (popular culture) resulted in an image that can be decoded as an iconic sign: »An image with high degree of illusionistic likeness to, or identity with, the world of ’things’ is often referred to as iconic.«3 Cubists’ collages with their allusions to »reality« or the »world«, futurists’ and revolutionary work in »new« typography, dadaists’ criticality towards the world of goods and their occasional avoidance of the picture-text intersection, and the trend in visual poetry where the text is organised as a »figure« all also mimic the world and can thus be deciphered as iconic, for they are still tied up to the world of »things«.

In the sixties, close to the end of domination of »perceptual modernism«, artists started to use words without crossing them with either the iconic or the pictorial. Minimalists dismantled the role of art-critic-as-demiurge and started to write, in Joseph Kosuth terms, »primary criticism«, which he opposed to the »secondary criticism« written by art historians and critics. Conceptual artists, like the Art & Language at that time, directed themselves entirely towards theory-as-art and necessarily stayed within the borders of the »Cartesian tradition.«4 Robert Smithson and Lawrence Weiner, for instance, went in another direction. They undertook the exploration of the »labyrinthine, abyssal nature of language« and, contributed to the »eruption of language into the field of the visual arts, and subsequent decentering of that field.«5

With The Word Company, which he founded in 1994, Adib Fricke proceeds to subversively decenter the field of visual art, but employing artistic strategies that correspond to his own time, the nineties. The Word Company, as its name clearly indicates, specializes in words. Its major, but not only field of activity is the making of protonyms, or new words, such as EXPLOM, METHOS, or FLOGO, and the phrasing of units consisting of words. The utilisation and exploitation of the words and verbal units are regulated by a text, Fricke’s primary theory, written in the dry and matter-of-fact manner of corporate language and entitled accordingly: General Terms and Conditions of Business of TWC.

TWC has licensed my exploitation of its products in this text. Fricke’s units are quoted and temporarily appropriated as the title and subtitles of this text. The text running in-between TWC’s units can be understood as a commentary—not decisive, not final—that I’ve written with an attempt to bypass the critic’s diabolic hunger for interpretation, but nevertheless secretly sharing Donald Kuspit’s conviction concerning the art critic’s job: »The work of art is like a Schwarzenegger, it’s all about how much theory it can lift.«6

Millions of words have changed

Millions of words have changed
Running up against the limits of language?
Language is, after all, not a cage.
Ludwig Wittgenstein, 17. December 1939.
We lack words, and we have too many of them.
Susan Sontag, The Aesthetics of Silence, 1967.


In TWC Fricke opposes the visualist conception of language in which »words are, and are only, the images of things.«7 Protonyms are words, as Fricke regards them, that are still innocent: it is not clear whether they are nouns, verbs, or adjectives. They are visible and hearable entities that are not an evidence of the existence of invisible »essences« such as God or Truth; they neither indicate anything from visible reality nor do they refer to something already existing. In other words, Fricke’s words are not representations of a reality, or of a thought: they are not signs. For a verbal sign, as any representation for that matter, is constituted only when an interplay of signifier (a word or a visual form) and signified (what the signifier stands for) takes place. The two act together, and together form the sign as a whole, a word that has a particular meaning for an audience or community.

Protonym, itself one of Fricke’s neologisms, is a pre-name (proto—Gr. protos, first: earliest, first in time, first formed; and onyma, name). As such protonyms are signs-in-waiting: they may become a proper name, a name of a person, a country, or a name of a beauty product or an industrial company—but only in the future. This state of being of protonyms, their futureness, their not-yet but will-be, is the basis of Fricke’s subversive ploy: he makes the words, and he sells them, but refuses to be involved in a representational business. The protonym therefore does not enter the realm of the Symbolic whose threatening »nature« Roland Barthes, reflecting upon the French Revolution, summarises as: »[W]ords, whether discarded or promoted, are linked almost magically to a real effectiveness: by abolishing the word, one believes one is abolishing the referent; with the banning of the word noblesse, it is apparently the nobility which is being banned.«8

Fricke’s work with words does only seemingly fit into post-structuralist theories which treat the emergence of the signifier: »reference without a referent«, »simulacrum«, and the »loss of the real.« According Lacan’s theory »the word does not say anything except that it is a word.« Words have to forget that they have referents. This was also Duchamp’s intention when he worked on the »degree zero« of the words which he wanted to bring into the realm of non-language. Marcel Duchamp, however, had in mind real words of language (cheek, amyl, phoedra) and applied the following procedure: »the grouping of several words without significance, reduced to literal nominalism is independent of the interpretation.«9 In making new words Adib Fricke goes in the opposite direction: a protonym is a word, without memory about its referent (thing, reality or concept), not because it has lost it, but because it has never had it.

Words like ONOMONO, RITOB, or SMORP, are single units composed, like any words in our culture, of letters. The final orchestration of syllables comes in a moment of high concentration. The formulation of words constitutes, to borrow Santayana’s phrase, »realisations of thought moving previously in a limbo of verbal abstractions.«10 In making protonyms, Adib Fricke engaged himself in a nominalistic procedure, but without an intention to create names. Giving a name somehow always implies assertiveness and intimidation of the world-making utterance—»And God called light ’day’, and darkness ’night’.« (Genesis, I,5) For Claude Lévi-Strauss the act of naming (natural sites) was the first act of mankind’s culturalisation i.e., de-naturalisation. In their later history, humans many times entered »linguistic wars« or battles of proper names. When he discovered the »new world«, Columbus immediately became a »nominophiliac«. In a state of »baptismal frenzy«, he undertook a work of naming places of the »new land«, and besides physically occupying it, and imposing upon it the »proper« religion of Christianity, he simultaneously violated its symbolic system. Discussing Columbus’ nominalism, Tzvetan Todorov argues: »(de)nomination is equivalent to taking possession.«11 The »linguistic war« constituted the obliteration of the already existing Indian name and the institution in its place of a proper (i.e., Spanish) name. Just as Columbus called the people he saw »Indians« because he thought he had reached India, Amerigo Vespucci (the American continent bears his name) was also involved in visualist nominalism; he gave the name »Venezuela« to the landscape of the »new land« only because it reminded him of Venezia.

There is, however, one trait that protonyms share with proper names, or words like Schwitters’ Merz, or a logo of a company (TWC, IBM or Coca-Cola): they are all untranslatable words. Contrary to units that often need translation, protonyms can be displaced in many languages as an »original« that cannot be interpreted. Translation, which Fricke understands as »transportation« of words from one language to another, always brings into question the »origin«, i.e., the Prime Word: »In the beginning was the Word (Logos).« The biblical confusio linguarum that occurred at the Tower of Babel is the moment when translation occurred, and at the same time the »search for perfect language« started.12 The event of the Tower is in Genesis described as the collapse of the Created Order and the beginning of the chaos of language; it was a moment in which a deviation from and division of God’s Word took place. What »really« happened in the (story of the) Tower is that people simply adopted God’s own working procedure. When God undertook the job of creating the world—and He did it, as Leszek Kolakowski claims, »because he felt lonely«13—God himself performed the Creation by division and by differentiation of one from the other (heaven and earth, light and darkness). What followed after Him was a pure continuation or imitation of his act—division, multiplication of tongues and cultures. Unmasking European logocentrism Jacques Derrida takes the Tower as the paradigm for non-origin and non-center: »The ’Tower of Babel’ does not merely figure the irreducible multiplicity of tongues; it exhibits an incompletion, the impossibility of finishing, of totalising, of saturating, of completing something on the order of edification, architectural construction, system and architectonics. What the multiplicity of idioms actually limits is not only a ’true’ translation, a transparent and adequate interexpression, it is also a structural order, a coherence of construct.«14

In founding TWC and producing protonyms that function in the art context, Adib Fricke already fulfils the art world’s desire for artistic »originality«. The »originality« of the TWC project, I think, is not the invention of the word itself, which places the artist in the »tradition of the new,« but the artist’s refusal to censor the word—the word he invented—by a meaning, or by meanings. In doing so Fricke counts on the »essential nature« of language: its iterativeness. The words, old or new, are there to be used. Fricke leaves the opportunity (and responsibility) of giving a meaning to others and implicitly agrees with Wittgenstein: »Don’t look for the meaning, look for the use.« Contrary to the logic of the capitalist economy, the buyer of a word that bears non-meaning, gets, as it were, much more than a word: he or she gets the word’s meaning gratis.

In Words We Trust

In Words We Trust
»When I use a word,« Humpty Dumpty said,
in rather a scornful tone, »it means exactly
what I chose it to mean—neither more nor less.«

»The question is,« said Alice, »whether you can
make words mean so many different things.«

»The question is,« said Humpty Dumpty,
»which is to be master—that’s all.«
Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass


Looking through books where the words are pedantically listed and printed in company with their meaning(s), one finds the following definitions of the word master: »a person with the ability or power to use, control, or dispose of something; male head of a household; a victor or conqueror.« (Random House Dictionary of the English Language). Dictionaries do not yet include The Word Company’s products, like MIPSEL or QUIX, exactly because their inventor refuses the role of the Subject mastering meaning, and, without being subjected to a meaning or meanings, a protonym does not fulfil a condition to enter a wise Book of Truth. Fricke’s new words, however, need to circulate. They are there to be used, and only through the very act of usage can they acquire a meaning. But, whenever he asked people to coin a sentence with a protonym, most of them hesitated to do so. We are all so accustomed to using, or rather to quoting already-made words charged with a meaning somebody »else« formulated has for us: we are seldom, if ever, able to step outside the Symbolic.

»Langage, c’est l’État,« stated someone during French Revolution, rephrasing the famous enunciation of Louis XIV. This utterance succinctly points out the interrelationship of language and power: the »real« system of power is not only supported but is created through the system of symbolic representations. In Jacques Lacan’s theory the Symbolic is defined as the postoedipal position the subject must occupy in order to become a subject, and he opposes it to the Imaginary, or mirror stage, during which the child’s ego is formed through an identification with its own image. Only when an infant (infans, L.: non-speaking) starts to be engaged with language, can the subject be constituted. Julia Kristeva refers to the Symbolic as the organisation of the social order according to the imperatives of paternal authority. (If the Imaginary is dominated by the figure of the mother, the Symbolic is regulated by the law of the Father). The Symbolic is the order of language, in particular language considered as a rule-governed system of signification organised with reference to the »I«, the speaking subject. The symbolic is the order of representation. Given this distinction, Fricke or the person who purchases or even quotes his products, places him- or herself outside the law of the father, for the protonyms as carriers of non-meaning, are not immediately serviceable for performing a complete act of communication.

The Word Company is active in a historical moment in which communicational efficiency causes different configurations of information exchange or »wrappings of language«. Each of them, as Mark Poster contends, conditions a particular constitution of the subject: »Stages in the mode of information may tentatively be designated as follows: face-to-face—orally mediated exchange; written exchanges mediated by print—and electronically mediated exchange. If the first stage is characterised by symbolic correspondences, and the second by the representation of signs, the third is characterised by information simulation. In the first, oral stage, the self is constituted as a position of enunciation through its embeddedness in a totality of face-to-face relations. In the second, print stage, the self is constructed as an agent centered in rational/imaginary autonomy. In the third, electronic stage, the self is decentered, dispersed, and multiplied in continuous instability.«15

In TWC Adib Fricke acts as a plural or »corporate« self, preparing his products to enter the visual and verbal »traffic jam« accelerated by today’s modes of communication. His world is radically different from the one with which the pioneers of word art, the cubists, futurists, and constructivists, were confronted. And it is also different from the world which the »neo-avant garde« of the 1960s tried to oppose, raising their voice against art as a commodity. At the end of this century, which we entered equipped with the »new media« of photography and film, various electronic devices such as television, phones, computer, fax machines, video recorders, e-mail, and internet, provide us with the belief (or illusion?) that we actually live in complete interconnectivity with the »world«.

Protonyms or units licensed by TWC can function, however, even when the lights are turned off or the electricity fails. When a word or unit is sold, the buyer gets a rubber stamp with the written word or unit along with the certificate of ownership. With this object-word in his or her possession the owner can mark something he or she possesses. In case a word occupies a space in an art journal (like the 6,500 copies of neue bildende kunst, no. 3, June-August 1995, p. 33), it has to be manually stamped, not printed. This can lead us to the false conclusion that the artist is influenced by a pre-electronic or pre-industrial nostalgia, which runs through Baudrillard’s Weltanschauung, for example. Fricke, in fact, has never really been attracted to traditional artistic modes of expression (painting or sculpture), and scarcely and only occasionally has he worked with photographic pictures. He has produced several computer based works: random generators such as Leonardo da Vinci’s Smile (1990) or The Nightwatch by Rembrandt (1992), but he nevertheless does not share the fascination with the »new« electronic means, characteristic of Peter Weibel’s artistic position. After McLuhan had convinced us that »the medium is the message«, we have had time enough to learn that »the medium is the massage« as well. Fricke uses the computer during his working process almost regularly, but insists that he does not use »new« media, but contemporary media. »Working with the computer is sometimes like getting drunk. It only helps me to lose control,« he explains.

»Losing control« over his own ratio can mean a challenge to the tradition of a speaking subject whose meaning is transparent to him, and who, as a sender of the message, can control and totalize his relationship to meaning. In Cicero, for example, ratio is equal to oratio. This can also mean a leap from logocentrism on which, as Derrida demonstrates, the entire Western »metaphysics of presence« is based on. Undoing this subject and the way it was defined particularly in the Enlightenment, Derrida proposes writing-as-absence. In choosing a written word, which was condemned by Plato since »it is a shadow of the spoken one« and »cannot defend itself,« Adib Fricke opted for an act of, in Derrida’s term, »leaving a trace.«16 The Face in Cold Storage (1991) consists of a collection of what Fricke defines as text-pictures. Each is written in the parsimonious manner of a haiku, and each tells a »story« of a murder, an accident or an execution. The words give a mental picture of an event.

For instance, No. 382, III:

  • pistol
  • double bed
  • lipstick
  • opened drawer
  • flowers

This work, in its narrative character still cannot leap from a »meaningful« language. In Leonardo’s Smile, on the other hand, randomness orchestrates the meaning. The work is composed of sentences that ironically and critically refer to the art system, and, therefore, each of these fragments carries a meaning in itself, but since chance is chosen as the governing rule, the »final« meaning stays however always unstable, unfinished, and untrue. The TWC project implies also contingency which is completely outside the influence or power of the artist. The meaning of each word is arbitrary and individualised: it is, or can be, different for each person that acquires a protonym or quotes it.

Protestant Lust

Protestant Lust
A monk asked Fuketsu, »How can one express truth
without speaking or remaining silent?«

Fuketsu replied, »I always remind myself of spring in south China.
Birds sing in the midst of countless varieties of fragrant flowers.«
Mu-Mon-Koan, no. 24


At the end of the 1980s Fricke came to an iconoclastic conclusion: »I need no more pictures.« For a person who comes from a different cultural background than Fricke’s, this statement may sound as a pure manifestation of the »Protestant spirit«: the word conquers the picture. Here, it seems useful to go back to the very »beginning«—Martin Luther’s war against the Catholic cult of images. The abstinence of pictures existed and still exists within other cultural and religious traditions (Hebraic and Islamic) but also within the Catholic church itself, as was the Cistercian rejection of church ornamentation, both verbal and pictorial, in medieval times.

Luther himself also went back to the »beginning« and followed the Old Testament Mosaic prohibition of images. Luther, as it is well known, did not use his word artillery in order to target the religious pictures themselves, but the ideas behind and around pictures: the veneration of them and their lucrative proliferation. The picture (as much as the word) has been and still is used as weapon in every kind of propaganda campaign (of the Church, of politics, ideologies and the Market). Questioning the authority of the Church situated in Rome, Luther cast doubt on both the images and words radiating from a Center: Latin as the official language of the Church and the image as a major tool for implementation of Truth. One year after he had translated the Bible into one of the languages spoken in the Germanic lands (ironically, this language—the »official« language of Saxony—then became the literary language of the German-speaking world), Luther wrote in 1522: »Pictures are neither this nor that, neither good nor evil. One can take them or leave them.« Commenting this utterance, Werner Hofmann concludes: »Modernity begins with this solution.«17 For him Luther formulated a threshold of an »aesthetics of the viewer«. Duchamp with his ready-made puts it even further: what an image is, what it states, what it means, is decided by the viewer. What a protonym means, is decided by the user—the buyer, reader or viewer.

What was at stake in the iconodule and iconoclast struggle was the question of Truth: vera icona or verbum verum? Different to the Byzantines (and Christian Orthodox churches as well) who opted for images, the authority of telling the truth was in Protestant tradition attributed to language, to the Word. Fighting against tradition and authority in every possible aspect, dadaists wanted to dismantle the privileging of both the picture and the word. Hugo Ball, for instance, brings into question »word superstition«: »Protestantism is a philology, not a religion.«18 Commenting ironically on Protestant »text-fetishism«, and the »tyranny of the word« Ball, however, intended to rediscover evangelistic Logos, and understood it as a »magical complex picture«, attributing thus to the word pictorial power.

In a text entitled »A Museum of Language in the Vicinity of Art« Robert Smithson gives a description of what happens when language occupies the center: »In the illusory babels of language, an artist might advance specifically to get lost, and to intoxicate himself in dizzying syntaxes, seeking odd intersections of meaning, strange corridors of history, unexpected echoes, unknown humors, or voids of knowledge – but this quest is risky, full of bottomless fictions and endless architectures and counter-architectures – at the end, if there is an end, are perhaps only meaningless reverberations.«19

Fricke’s work in language, and his decision to minimise the presence of (photographic) pictures in his artistic practice, can be understood as a gesture that points out a crisis of pictorial representation. This crisis is being deepened today from within by those contemporary artists who are themselves involved in making representational art such as painting or photography. Within his entire involvement in art, and The Word Company in particular, Fricke questions the visual representation and its claimed verisimilitude implicitly, by making it absent. But he also introduces an explicit doubt concerning language as a system of representation, a word as a carrier of Truth or, as we say today, Information. In doing so in the art context, Fricke, I suggest, does not step outside the visual itself, but posits his works outside of the realm of the Representational: his way leads between the Scylla of the Iconic and the Charybdis of the Symbolic. Even though the products of TWC are also contextualized otherwise, Fricke presents them on the walls of a gallery or a private space. Once placed on the wall, the words MINGIS or FLOGO, bring the viewers into an ambivalent position. We try to decipher the work: for we understand that it is a word that we see on the wall, we »instinctively« try to grasp its meaning; and because there is only one small-sized word of black letters »exhibited« on the large white surface (with a certificate and the text General Terms and Condition of Business placed on the opposite or neighbouring wall), we »naturally« call it a mini wall installation.

When an artist uses the wall as a support or a surface for placing a drawing, even one line, or in TWC’s case, one word, the scale of the of the work immediately takes over the dimension of a given space and visually occupies the entire surface of the wall. Mel Bochner, for example, stated that on the wall the scale is necessarily 1/1.20 Confronted with protonyms in a situation of an actual space, the observer vacillates between seeing and reading: Fricke’s installation can function only if or when we are able to accept that the content of the work lies beside his or her »click of comprehension«. This is exactly when a viewer manages—for a moment—to defunctionalize his or her own cogito and let the meaning being formulated at the point of equidistance between non-understanding (non-meaning) and the experience of the eye, which is slowly mapping the surface of wall, risking seeing nothing, just whiteness, with a word.

Souvenir and Propaganda

Souvenir and Propaganda
»Look Ma,
no more bad pictures.«

»Yes Darling,
Daddy bought pictures by Adib Fricke.«
AdibProp, 1988


As the owner and at the same the only Geistesarbeiter in TWC, Adib Fricke employs attitudes appropriate to any company in the world existing in times when res publica has been transformed into res publicita. In the art context this, among other things, means that artists share a certain soberness concerning the »dirty fact« of the art market, a fact that the art of the late sixties idealistically opposed by refusing to produce art as object. An artist of the nineties, who has also witnessed a rather successful rappel a l’ordre in the 1980s (when painted objects of German the Neue Wilde and neo-expressionism, Italian transavanguardia, and French figuration chic caused a market boom), acts and reacts in a climate in which the market is taken for granted.

But this does not exclude, as in Fricke’s case, employment of the strategies on which the very (art) system functions upon. The work of TWC consists also of using seductive ways of advertising and promoting its word products as commodities that should successfully function in the market game. Despite the fact that these products are not objects, they submit to the rules of the game like any artwork taking part in it: they can be owned by an art fetishist or be part of a museum collection.

His engagement with self-advertising started in 1988 with the project AdibProp, comprising slogans that ironically touched upon the art system, art fetishism and the approach towards art based on seeing. The self-publicity here included a paradoxical play: Fricke printed ads for the products he actually never produced: pictures. TWC on the other hand advertises products that we usually use without being charged, but the PR of the Company intends to provoke what every salesman does: he »intends to make us feel we are lacking.«21 This feeling of lacking something, as both psychoanalysts and economists stress, is crucial for the formation of desire. The function of all advertising (TWC included) is not the fulfilment of a »natural« need, as Galbraith contends. This field has nothing to do with naturalness, but with the opposite: an ad has »to create desires – to bring into being wants that previously did not exist.«22

It is interesting to note how the words »advertising« entered our every day language. Historians of design trace the »beginning« to Shakespeare. He uses the word »advertising« in Henry IV, Part I, written around 1590: »this advertising is five days old«. Clearly, he means that this information is five days old. The word used in the same sense is also found in All’s Well That Ends Well, written a few years later.23 Already at the end of the 15th century, the first posted advertisements started to appear. These hand-written messages were made by clergymen looking for the work, and had a siquis form: »If anyone – then –« Advertising, thus, since its inception has been conceived as self-advertising, and only in the popular press of the 17th century would take on its current neutral and not personalised form.

The world of reclame entered the »fine« arts in the beginning of this century, first in cubist collages, and was later adopted by both wings of the avant-gardes of the 1920s: by the rationalist Bauhaus and by the irrationalist and anarchistic dadaland. The goal of the former was the reformation of the world, the aim of the latter was directed towards destabilizing the world, the artist’s subjectivity included. Picabia wrote in Proverbe (1920): »Francis Picabia suggests you go and see his paintings at Salon d’automne and offers you his fingers to be kissed.«24 A similar attitude was characteristic of neodada. Robert Filliou also asked: »Why we do not promote a painter in the magazines of the large press?«25

The TWC ad campaign that Fricke undertakes for popularising his new words embraces a larger variety of seduction. It can take the form of a social game, such as an ONOMONO tombola evening—Win a Word! (Hamburg 1994), or a contribution to an art journal, as it was in the project for neue bildende kunst. This kind of penetration into a field of the »extra-aesthetic« and leap from the »pure« artistic is even more obvious in Fricke’s recent project Das neue Wort. The artist has made six volumes of a magazine (consisting only of a front page), which is to be sold once a week in the newspaper shops. The phrases that he composed, like »Wording made easy« or »How to tell a word without a meaning?« follows the »poetry of slogans« with which we are confronted in our times.

In The Word Company as well as in his entire art, Adib Fricke has not let himself fall into a trap of either cynical deconstructivist procedures of quotational art or fashionable politically correct euphoria. He performs an oblique strategy of undoing two dominant traditions in our culture: the visual one, centered in pictures, and the verbal one, saturated with meaning. He has chosen a principle of parsimony, which was employed in medieval nominalism, notably by William of Ockham, who believed that »Plurality is not to be assumed without necessity.« Taking an artistic attitude in which the artist’s egomaniacal discourse is reduced to a necessary minimum, Adib Fricke persistently and even stubbornly—but discretely—calls into question not a past, or history, but our own, everyday involvement in the tricky business of representation, be it in life or art.

Trying to bypass the Representational as such, and making word-based art Adib Fricke is very careful not to create a new kind of Gesamtkunstwerk since this notion historically connotes a certain implementation of power (of the artist). A Gesamtwortwerk in his case means an invention of a language of difference, a language that is not imposed, but proposed. In making protonyms, he poses however to himself a question of Wittgenstein’s: »With how many buildings or streets does a city begin to be a city?«26


Published in The Word Company, Vol. II, Berlin 1996
© 1996 Bojana Pejic and Adib Fricke, Englisch translation (from German): Marlow Shute.



1) Richard Wollheim, »On Art and the Mind,« Cambridge, Mass., and London: Harvard University Press, 1974, p. 122.

2) cf Wolfgang Max Faust, »Bilder werden Worte,« München: Carl Hanser Verlag, 1977, and Eleonora Louis und Toni Stoos, (eds.) Die Sprache der Kunst, ex. cat., Wien: Kunsthalle, and Frankfurt: Frankfurter Kunstverein, 1993-94.

3) Francis Frascina, »Realism and Ideology: An introduction to semiotics and cubism,« in Ch. Harrison, F. Frascina and G. Perry, Primitivism, Cubism, Abstraction, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1993, p. 87.

4) Rosalind Krauss, »Sense and Sensibility,« in Artforum, Vol. XII, no. 3, November 1973, p. 45.

5) Craig Owens, »Earthwords,« 1979, reprinted in C. Owens, Beyond Recognition, Berkley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1992, p. 41.

6) Donald Kuspit, interviewed in Bojana Pejic, »Kriticar je umetnik,« in Moment, no. 6-7, Belgrade, September/December 1986, p. 42.

7) Craig Owens, »Improper Names,« in C. Owens, op. cit., p. 287.

8) Roland Barthes, »The Division of Languages,« 1973, in R. Barthes, The Rustle of Language, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1989, p. 117.

9) Marcel Duchamp quoted in Thierry de Duve, »Pictorial Nominalism,« Minneapolis: University of Minesota Press, 1991, p. 126. (Ger.: T. de Duve, Pikturaler Nominalismus, Stuttgart; Silke Schreiber Verlag, 1987, p. 175.)

10) Georges Santayana quoted in Arthur C. Danto, »The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art,« New York: Columbia University Press, 1986, p. 141.

11) Tzvetan Todorov, quoted in C. Owens, »Improper Names,« in C. Ownes, op. cit. p. 286.

12) cf. Umberto Eco, »La ricerca della lingua perfetta,« Roma & Bari: Laterza, 1993.

13) Leszek Kolakowski, »Der Himmelsschlüssel,« München: R. Piper & Co. Verlag, 1965.

14) Jacques Derrida, »Des Tours de Babel,« Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985, p. 165.

15) Mark Poster, »Words without Things: The Mode of Information,« in October, no. 53, Summer 1990, p. 66.

16) J. Derrida, »Writings and Difference,« Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1978, p. 70.

17) Werner Hofmann, »Die Geburt der Moderne aus dem Geist der Religion,« in Werner Hofmann (ed.) »Luther und die Folgen für die Kunst,« ex. cat., Hamburg: Hamburger Kunsthalle and Prestel-Verlag, 1984, p. 46.

18) Hugo Ball, »Die Folgen der Reformation,« 1924, quoted in Hofmann, op. cit., p. 69.

19) Robert Smithson, »A Museum of Language in the Vicinity of Art,« in Nancy Holt (ed.), The Writings of Robert Smithson, New York: New York University Press, 1979, p. 67.

20) Mel Bochner in »Murs,« ex. cat., Paris: Centre Georges Pompidou, 1982, p. 6.

21) Judith Williamson quoted in Malcolm Barnard, »Advertising – The rhetorical imperative,« in Chris Jenks, Visual Culture, London and New York: Routledge, 1995, p. 33.

22) J.K. Galbraith quoted in Barnard, op. cit., p. 33.

23) Barnard, op. cit., p. 27.

24) Francis Picabia, 1921, in »Art & Pub – Art and Publicité 1890–1990,« ex. cat., Paris: Centre Georges Pompidou, 1991, p. 211.

25) Robert Filiou, in Art & Pub, op. cit, p. 456.

26) Ludwig Wittgenstein, »Philosophische Untersuchungen,« in Tractatus logico-philosophicus, Band 1, Frankfurt/M.: Suhrkamp, 1984, p. 187.

The quotes of Fricke are from two conversations with the artist, June and December 1995.