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A World Without Words


A book of images originally presented as a slideshow lecture.


The first lecture invitation I accepted was from the Instituto Europeo di Design in Milan. I decided not to say anything. I had been collecting books with interesting visual material for a few years and some of the images in them had been inspirational or influential in my work. I decided to make a slide show of all the images which had made an impression on me. I expanded it with images from books at the Royal College Library and used their flat-bed camera to make the slides. In the end I had 160 images on two Kodak carousels, which I projected alternately so each image had two partners. I gave it the title ‘A World Slide Show’ and Emanuele Soldini, who had invited me, announced that I was going to show some images of inspiration without making any comment and that after the show I would be in the bar across the road if anyone wanted to discuss it. It worked out fine, with a good enough reaction to convince me to carry on refining it.

I showed it again in Valencia, this time accompanied by a video of some old black-and-white film footage of a French philosopher waving his arms and talking about sex. This was altogether too much for the Spanish students, who didn’t seem to get the message, and I was obliged to stay behind and explain myself. Finally I put together a selection of sentimental songs from different parts of the world, which has remained the soundtrack for the slide show. Later on I adapted it to video for a show at a shop in Frankfurt called Leptien 3 and after that I met Tony Arefin, a graphic designer who was involved with the new art magazine Frieze and had come to interview me for it.

He asked if he could make a book out of the slide show, which he did beautifully, in an edition of a thousand copies. The book title evolved as ‘a world without words’ partly as a reference to the nature of the material and partly as a reference to the ‘no comment’ strategy. The book was republished by Lars Müller after the first edition was sold out, using the original films, which had only survived because Tony had neglected to pay the printer for them and he was keeping them on the off chance that there might be a reprint which would allow him to get his money back! The original slide show now exists as a digital version, which was prepared for the Design Museum in London.