PRINT September 2010

Tauba Auerbach

Tauba Auerbach, The Whole Alphabet, from the Center Out, Digital, V, 2006, gouache on paper on panel, 30 x 22".

WHEN I WAS IN PRIMARY SCHOOL, each student in my class had to write on a yellow legal pad for a little while every day. I recall one of my entries announcing that I had decided to make a change in my handwriting: My lowercase a would from then on have a flat top. Implementing this change in the entry, I expected the entire page to take on a different look from the rest of my journal. But somehow, though I had reconfigured a symbol that appears more than 8 percent of the time in English, the whole thing still looked like something I would have written. I was disappointed.

Style is finer grained than choice. It is a complicated amalgam of microscopic tendencies. Choices yield categories in handwriting, like the bubbly teenage girl’s letters or the designer’s printed caps; but tiny weaknesses and strengths in each person’s hand inflect their script with uncalculated nuance. For the past ten years, I’ve hardly written in anything but capital letters—a conscious decision—but within that, there are things that just seem to happen whether I want them to or not. My horizontal lines bow slightly downward; the top stroke of each E extends farther than the bottom stroke; there is increased pressure at the bottom of each S. All of these things are exaggerated when I’m writing quickly—when I’m thinking less about writing.

My father, an architect who still does all of his drawings by hand, has a loose version of the trained architect’s script: crossed perpendiculars with certain, even pressure, but also something rogue that escapes the conventions of the classification. He “winds up” before beginning his signature. My mother, originally from Germany, still has a whiff of the European lilt in her writing, but with a large amount of space between each letter, and scooping, reversed italics. Looking at my parents’ penmanship is a bit like looking at each of them—shaped by their environments but distinguished by their particular automatic inclinations. This meeting point between the intentional and the unconscious shifts within various mediums. I recently read about a motion to create a reversed italic setting for digital fonts, to distinguish sarcasm from plain meanness in text-based electronic communication. This acknowledges that meaning in written language is not only content but gesture.

Despite knowing my parents’ handwriting so well, it would be nearly impossible for me to forge it. I’m sure I could manage to re-create the shapes, but some ingredient in the alchemy of their styles would be missing. They both also write in all caps.

Tauba Auerbach is a New York–based artist.