Johanna Drucker's Artist Books
An online repository of facsimiles, metadata, and commentary

Tongues: a parent language


Project Statement

This book was created as a New Year's greeting at the beginning of 1982. The text was extracted from Simon Frith's The Tongues of Man, a short study of the history of language. The procedure for extraction was to take every other word, then every third, fourth, fifth etc. in sequence out of each successive section or chapter. This produced the short texts in the book. These were set in Stymie light and printed letterpress. The images were made through successive impressions all accumulating in sequence, some from paint, ink, tissues, twigs, cardboard, and anything else capable of making a repeatable mark.The images were created at the time that I was beginning to do event drawings, and they are definitely of that deconstructed and dynamic variety.

Production Narrative

Extracting the text and setting the type were fairly straightforward procedures. I think I edited the text down, eliminating extra "the" "and" and other small words that repeated, but other than that, I tried to be fairly faithful to the method. The text blocks were small, and setting was quick. The images took forever. I remember this was to be sent out as a New Year's greeting. I worked all through the winter school break, and the pages were still requiring attention well into January. But if you figure that the first mark had to appear on all of the 12 pages in all of the nearly 90 copies, and the second had to appear on 11 pages of all 90 and so forth down through the final pages, you can quickly do the math and understand why it took so long, though the images look very ephemeral. Gluing and folding the pages, putting them into envelopes to ship (as a binding), was easy.

Critical Analysis

Design Features

typographic: Stymie light, clean and very delicate on the page, well-suited to the images.

imagery: Meant as an image of dynamics, events, a mere trace of activity rather than a form.

graphical: The page layouts were spare and delicate, making text and image each appear very directly, without any frames, headers, footers, or other apparatus.

development: The images develop as they accrete marks, building to a distinctly developed state. Because they are event traces, they could go on indefinitely.



Johanna Drucker


Publication Information

publisher: Druckwerk

publication: 1982-00-00

publication history: A single edition of this work was produced, this one.

Aesthetic Profile

artists' books (LCSH)

content form:
experimental text (local)

publication tradition:
artists' book (local)

related works: Prove Before Laying has some connections, because of the constraints involved in composition. And the poster I did for an exhibition of my work at Wurster Hall in the 1980s used a similar printing technique for the imagery.

other influences: I'm not sure what other procedural work had a direct influence on me at the time, but I was certainly aware of minimalist, conceptual, and poetical productions using such techniques.

community: other The poets in the Bay Area, as usual, and extended networks of friends (artists and poets) elsewhere.

Related Documents

manuscript type: texts

location: artist's archive

note: Some should be in existence.

General Comments

title note: The title, "Tongues" was the key word in Simon Frith's, "The Tongues of Man," on which the text is based and from which it is derived. The subtitle puns "a parent language" and "apparent language" in playing with historical and contemporary linguistic systems. What, after all, of the historical, is apparent -- what remains of the "parent" language -- in our daily use?


Publication Information

edition type: editioned

publisher: Druckwerk

place: Oakland, California

publication: 1982-00-00

edition size: 90

note: All printing, texts and images, was done in the studio at the warehouse.


horizontal: 4.25 inches closed

vertical: 9 inches closed

depth: .1 inches closed

Production Information

production means:
letterpress (local)
painting (local)

binding: other Unbound--accordian fold.

bookBlock: paper
endsheets: paper

ink (local)
watercolor (local)


format: accordion (AAT)

cover: This book has no cover, per say. The title appears on the top fold of the work, so that it appears on the front, and the last fold, which appears on the back contains the copy number and artist's initials.

color: yes


pagination: unpaginated 12 pages

numbered?: numbered

signed?: signed