A from ABECEDA by Karel Teige, Prague, 1926
“Karel Teige (1900-1951) was the brightest star in the brilliant constellation of Czech avant-garde artist-writers of the 1920s and ‘30s. A constructivist and a surrealist, a poet, collagist, photographer, typographer and architectural theorist, his 1926 photomontage designs for the alphabet are a uniquely elegant and witty invention, and one of the enduring masterpieces of Czech modernism. They enact the letter-titles of the twentyfive experimental poem sequence, ABECEDA, by his friend Víteˇslav Nezval, and feature the third collaborator on the project, the dancer Milc˘a Mayerová. It was Mayerová’s idea to choreograph the poems, creating a pose for each letter, and then to publish it as a book of twenty-five images with Teige’s title designs. Karel Paspa’s photographs of Mayerová are at once sexy and chastely gymnastic: they present a young woman assertively modern and wittily self-possessed.
Teige’s designs effectively transform the letters of ABECEDA into what he claimed was a new constructivist typography: ‘a system of signs capable of embodying words in graphic figures.’ Since the letter as such is nothing more than a simple familiar sign, its graphic components – vertical, horizontal, diagonal, circle, semi-circle – can be ceaselessly re-invented as abstract designs, according to function. Teige’s reductions, dislocations and re-arrangements are startlingly original yet immediately recognisable. Starkly black and white, they work by simplification and contrast, absolute visual economy and jazzy counter-change: the letter made free to perform in its own time and space.
ABECEDA is an exciting realisation of what László Moholy-Nagy, the most influential of the Bauhaus teachers, called for in his 1925 modernist manifesto PAINTING, PHOTOGR APH Y, FILM : a dynamic combination of photographic image and lettering which he called ‘typofoto’. Teige and co. managed to add dance, pose and poetry to the mix. Teige succeeds in finding a perfect and distinctive solution for every letter: Mayerová’s brilliant pose alphabet is animated into a visual dance, which Nezval called ‘a living poem’. ”
- MEL GOODING
D from ABECEDA by Karel Teige, Prague, 1926
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