Thursday, September 1, 2011

Abstract Language #2: ottar ormstad’s bokstavteppekatalogen.

ottar ormstad’s bokstavteppekatalogen is a triumph. ormstad’s style is quite traditional and would not be out of place in some of the classic anthologies of concrete poetry like Mary Ellen Solt’s 1968 volume Concrete Poetry: A World View. Working exclusively in the typeface Helvetica Neue 75 Bold, ormstad echoes classical visual poems by Eugen Gomringer, Décio Pignatari and Franz Mon.

Where ormstad builds upon those important early practitioners of visual poetry is with the integration of op art stylistics. ormstad work uses InDesign to breathe fresh life into this clean form. bokstavteppekatalogen’s 24 pages vary from lyrical abstractions to beautifully rippling Op Art canvases that undulate in way reminiscent of Victor Vasarely and Bridget Riley. In yet another example of Brion Gysin’s dictum that “literature is 50 years behind art”, Solt’s anthology represented the most comprehensive sampling of international visual poetry at the time but few of the visual poets pushed the composition of poetry towards op art. There are a few minor examples of visual poets engaging directly with the artistic aims of op art, but it is until ormstad’s 2007 bokstavteppekatalogen that a poet works with the form so convincingly.

Charles Olson argued in his 1950 essay “Projective Verse” that the
advantage of the typewriter [is] that, due to its rigidity and its space precisions, it can, for a poet, indicate exactly the breath, the pauses, the suspensions even of syllables, the juxtapositions even of parts of phrases, which he intends,

arguing that “for the first time the poet has the stave and the bar a musician has had.”

Early visual poets like dom sylvester houedard explored the possibilities of the typewriter as a compositional tool beyond the enforced grid (see his 1972 volume Like Contemplation (PDF)), ormstad further extended that reconnoitering into digital typesetting.

By manipulating the kerning of blocks of text almost unnoticeably and highlighting the slight variations in a non fixed-point typeface, ormstad creates the appearance of movement.
ormstad’s work is difficult to locate, but is worth the effort.


  1. good to see these - along with your comments!

  2. this is awesome! Thanks for posting these its great to see cross over ideas from other art forms


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