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Belles Lettres
January 9, 2008 1:19 PM   Subscribe

Israeli designer Oded Ezer produces stunning works of experimental typography. He has been lauded for creating [PDF link]"...Hebrew characters that melt," but it is his more unconventional work that is truly breathtaking - made up of letters with vivacity and personality. He calls his gorgeously abstracted work "typo art," existing wholly neither in the space of art or typography, with hope that it might transcend language altogether. See his flickr stream for more sketches, works, and arresting typescapes.
posted by youarenothere (21 comments total) 50 users marked this as a favorite

 
Very nice stuff—thanks for the post!
posted by languagehat at 1:45 PM on January 9, 2008


This is way cool. Wish he'd done some stuff with non-Hebrew letters, but still way cool.
posted by cjorgensen at 2:01 PM on January 9, 2008


Hey! You got typography in my art!
posted by stavrogin at 2:03 PM on January 9, 2008


They melt?
posted by lumensimus at 2:08 PM on January 9, 2008


This is a brilliant post.

Oded Ezer stands in a long line of Hebrew typographic creativity. There is a famous midrash about Moses visiting the beit midrash of R. Akiva after seeing God tying crowns to the heads of the letters of the Torah:
Rav Yehuda quoted Rav: When Moses ascended to the Heights [to receive the Torah] he found God sitting and drawing crownlets upon the letters. Moses said to God, "Master of the Universe, what is staying Your hand [from giving me the Torah unadorned]?" God replied, "There is a man who will arise many generations in the future, his name is Akiba b. Yosef. He will exegetically infer mound upon mound of halakhot (laws) from each and every tittle." Moses requested, "Master of the Universe, show him to me." God said, "Turn backwards [and you will see him]." Moses [found himself in R. Akiba's classroom where he] sat at the back of the eighth row. He didn't understand what they were talking about and felt weak. Then, they came to a matter about which the students asked Akiba, "Rabbi, how do you know this?" He told them, "It is the [oral] law given to Moses at Sinai." Moses felt relieved.
That legend was crucial for authorizing the interpretive creativity of the rabbis against the weight of biblical tradition. If R. Akiva could develop theologies even on the adornments which crowned the letters of the Law, then the step to seeing those theologies as already latent within the Law was a short one. An aesthetics of typography was put forward as the basis for an engagement with the text at a level more fundamental than its plain sense.

From this perspective, Ezer is marking the total collapse of such an intellectual conceit. His adornments begin to overcome even the ability of the letter-forms to sustain interpretation. They are beautiful and evocative in a way that surpasses even the interpretive genius of the theologian. Given that he's trained at Bezalel art school in Jerusalem, and given the intellectual turmoil that grips Jerusalem these days, I can't help but think that this is an intentional goad to the arrogant ultra-Orthodox establishment.

If you think I'm overanalyzing, consider this: in the early days of the Yishuv, there was a tremendous controversy over toilet paper. In the face of extreme poverty, it was common to clean oneself with newspaper after using the toilet. But for many Jews, who had grown up thinking of Hebrew letters as inherently sacred, such an act, even if the subject matter of the newspaper was profane, amounted to a grave sacrilege. Even today, some sector of the Israeli population, not entirely religious, considers the Hebrew alphabet as inherently sacred. If Oded Ezer is indeed addressing these people with his art, he is affirming the sacrality of the alphabet by showing its ability to convey meaning beyond theology.
posted by felix betachat at 2:21 PM on January 9, 2008 [16 favorites]


Typography is neat. I'm looking for a good typography magazine. I need an easy resource to make ransom letters from.
posted by aftermarketradio at 2:22 PM on January 9, 2008


Amazing stuff. I am rarely disappointed with the quality of work that comes out of Betzalel.
posted by FeldBum at 2:26 PM on January 9, 2008


Wow. I happened to click on the least impressive link of the bunch. Snarkiness happily retracted!
posted by lumensimus at 2:32 PM on January 9, 2008


His adornments begin to overcome even the ability of the letter-forms to sustain interpretation. They are beautiful and evocative in a way that surpasses even the interpretive genius of the theologian.

Your history is fascinating and your point interesting, but from what I know of the history of Jewish exegesis I would be extremely surprised if a hardened Talmudist couldn't interpret Ezer's adornments without breaking a sweat. Those guys don't know the meaning of "beyond theology."
posted by languagehat at 2:50 PM on January 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


I would like to favourite this twice. Thank you for this post.
posted by motty at 2:53 PM on January 9, 2008


I really like this one quote from him. For me, this is a great expression of what it is that artists actually *do* (as opposed to what they *say* they do, or what critics try to argue that art *means*):

I don’t know, I have no idea what I’m doing. Maybe I’m just doing bullshit stuff, maybe I’m a prophet. I don’t know, and I don’t care. I play games. I open doors and whoever wants to enter is welcome. People after me will do things much more interesting. I’m still in the dark...what is the meaning of one wire touching another and creating a spark? You can make a circus show out of it and people will enjoy it and clap their hands, or you can light up the entire world, or start of the digital universe. So I don’t know...^
posted by MythMaker at 3:07 PM on January 9, 2008


Ugh. That's what I get for responding to MeFi posts while writing dissertation prose. Sorry. All I mean is that I think Ezer is making fun of the haredim. The midrash I quote is widely known, in part because it's so colorful. I wouldn't be surprised if he hadn't said to himself, maybe early on in the development of his style, "Crowns? I'll show them crowns."

To put it in a more formal way: the point of halakhah is its imposition of an ideological layer between the individual and the world. Religious practice for its own sake is at the same time a devotional and a philosophical act. It affirms the Torah as co-equal with creation. If Ezer really is commenting on this famous midrash with his work, then he's actually undercutting the claim of the ontological priority of the Torah. He is making sacred words into beautiful things and he's troping on traditional Jewish orthographic practices in doing so.

It's not so much a matter of presenting something a sage couldn't interpret so much as undercutting the theory of language which sustains their act of interpretation. This guy is a genius.
posted by felix betachat at 3:11 PM on January 9, 2008


Man, I love typography. It's sort of like how I used to get excited about new Lisa Frank stationery, except I don't have to be embarrassed about it in fifteen years.
posted by katillathehun at 3:12 PM on January 9, 2008


Mitzuyan!
posted by Astro Zombie at 3:25 PM on January 9, 2008


This guy is a genius.

No argument there.

If Ezer really is commenting on this famous midrash with his work, then he's actually undercutting the claim of the ontological priority of the Torah. He is making sacred words into beautiful things and he's troping on traditional Jewish orthographic practices in doing so.


Trope on, mayn kind!
posted by languagehat at 3:30 PM on January 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


I've been a fan of his work for years and am happy that he's starting to get recognized in the popular design press here in the US.

He's also a really nice guy!
posted by luriete at 3:59 PM on January 9, 2008


God, what a great post, and what great discussion.
posted by klangklangston at 4:09 PM on January 9, 2008


I loved the spider shin/sin letters. Absolutely gorgeous.
posted by astruc at 4:55 PM on January 9, 2008


Fantastic. An artist and a craftsman.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 5:17 PM on January 9, 2008


This is some beautiful stuff. Much obliged!
posted by Wolof at 10:54 PM on January 9, 2008


The 'Now' poster with the nails... so great! Great post.

A shaynem dank dir im pupik!
posted by heyho at 4:22 PM on January 10, 2008


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