3. “All the words beginning with A that are in the film script of Monty Python’s Life of Brian, but which are not in Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto.” Hans Riffi Timbren (D), 2020. Permanent inks on paper. 360 x 370 cm. (Produced under Coronavirus lockdown, shown posthumously). Gallery Zwinger, Berlin (W Müller, prop.)



 

This work, another, indeed necessarily the last, in the late Timbren’s “List” series, is exactly what the title says. However the huge presentation is most peculiar. Since the words appear as black on faded yellow, they are in fact formed of the absence of light. I don’t know if this is important, though the work is about absence. But how can one point to what is not there, unless referring to it, thus making it, in some sense at least, present?

'Map to Not Indicate' was one of a series of three prints created by the collective Art and Language, which played with the conventions of marking the world’s geographical boundaries. The extensive title lists all the geographic areas that the artists have removed from the map. Only Iowa and Kentucky are outlined and labelled but, floating like islands, they lose geographical relevance, metaphorically cast adrift from their cartographic moorings. Timbren’s work here, playing with lexical boundaries, consists entirely/only of all the words beginning with the letter A that ARE in the filmscript of Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian’, but are NOT in the English translation of Marx and Engel’s Communist Manifesto. In case the reader is interested, they are…

Aaaaaah, aaaaaahhhahahah-hahhahha, aaaaah, aaaaahw, aaaagh, aaaah, aaaaw, aaaaWW, aaah, aaahahahahahahaha, aaawoooooo, aah, abbreviated, abruptly, abstention, absurd, accent, account, accurate, accusative, accustomed, across, actually, acurate, add, address, addresses, addwess, addwessed, admiration, admires, ado, Adrian, affected, affection, afraid, afternoon, aged, aggressors, agree, agreement, ah, ahahahahahaha, ahahahahahahahhahahahahahaahaa, ahahahhahah, ahahh, ahead, ahem, ahh, ahhhhahahah, ahm, ’appen, ahw, aid, ain't, alcove, aliens, aligggh, alive, almighty, am, ambles, amen, ammended, angelic, animal, animals, anni, annus, anti, anxious, anybody, anyhow, anyone, anyway, apparatus, appearance, appointment, appreciate, approach, approaches, approaching, aquaduct, area, aren’t, argue, arm, armour, armoured, around, arrest, arrested, arrive, arrived, arse, arses, art, articulate, ashamed, asked, asking, assassin, asses, Assyrian, asteroid, astray, astrologers, athathin, athithtanth, Athyrian, attachment, attack, attainment, attempt, attractive, audience, Augustus, authority, autumn, available, aw, awake, awoken, aww, awww, azzz.

The absence of words beginning with B to Z might simply be due to the artist’s virus-induced lethargy, or to lack of space. But again, by their very absence, they are present. Perhaps it is also a critique of the alphabetisation of things. Samuel Taylor Coleridge was unimpressed by the Encyclopaedia Britannica’s organising principle: he called it a “huge unconnected miscellany … in an arrangement determined by the accident of initial letters”. Why do we insist on starting with A and finishing on Z, or more often, in lists, Y? Here, it must surely be ironic. “All the words beginning with A” is so much better than “Some words…”. Was it, a priori, intentional? We shall never know. As Marx might have said, but didn’t, ahahahahahahahhahahahahahaahaa. And what has this artwork to do with the Coronavirus? Nothing. It is only shown in the gallery because of Timbren’s succumbing to the virus. Well, why not. And it is easy to imagine him having, with this final, typically humorous piece, the last laugh.




 

©2020 by Brian Reffin Smith