Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Elephant No. 45: Latent News

For today's elephant, I thought I'd try a Surrealist technique called Latent News. In this technique, you simply cut out letters from a newspaper, then reassemble them into an image. In other words, today I'm making Ransom Note Elephant.

An online search for "latent news" helpfully turns up many links for "latest news" and "latent fingerprints", but only one reference to this particular technique. The one-sentence reference describes latent news only as, "a game in which an article from a newspaper is cut into individual words (or perhaps phrases) and then rapidly reassembled." However, having produced many ransom note-type greetings as a kid (don't ask), this is not a technique with which I am completely unfamiliar.

Instead of cutting up a newspaper article, I decided I would work with some existing text about elephants, cutting out the individual words from the front section of our local newspaper. I wasn't sure when I started if I would then spell out the sentences in the shape of an elephant, or lay the words in a visual pattern. Since I thought that "latent news" might imply laying down words without regard for their usual order, that's what I decided to do. I think the idea is that, by laying down the words at random, you end up creating new meaning. 

The text I chose is adapted from a Wikipedia page on elephants:  
Elephants are a symbol of wisdom in Asian cultures and are famed for their memory and intelligence, thought to be equal to dolphins and primates. Aristotle once said, "The elephant is the beast which passeth all others in wit and mind."
Since I assumed it would be hard to find words like "Aristotle", "beast" and "passeth", I allowed myself to combine words from whatever I could find, just like a real ransom note. The only rule in that case was that I had to keep the recombined word together within the design.

Rules set, I started combing the paper for the words I needed. This was by far the longest part of the process, and incredibly tedious. In fact, it was so boring and time-consuming that I thought about using only one sentence. Unfortunately, that wouldn't have given me enough words to work with.

When working with text, I find it's always a good idea to do some sort of sketch to use as a baseline. Once I had a light sketch, I started adding words.

I glued on the words based solely on the basis of whether or not they would fit the space I had, and/or whether or not they could be made to follow along the baseline without looking too clunky. I paid no attention to how the words might combine to create a new narrative—which I think may be the whole point of the "latent news" technique (the paying-no-attention part). A few serendipitous phrases appeared, but I think you'd have to stare at it for a while to find any kind of new narrative.

The gluing of the words was easy—well, aside from getting gobs of nasty gluestick on my fingers, which made all the tiny letters stick to me rather than the page. Keep a damp cloth handy if you try this technique.

I like the way the final result looks, but I think you'd have to have a lot more words to make this work as a recombined narrative. Since that would mean a great deal more tedium, I'm quite content with this being my only venture into the wonderful world of latent news.

Elephant Lore of the Day
The team mascot of the Oakland Athletics baseball team is an elephant. The story goes that John McGraw, manager of the New York Giants, called the Philadelphia Athletics a "white elephant". In response, Connie Mack—manager of the Athletics and one of the team's owners—jokingly presented McGraw with a stuffed toy elephant at the beginning of the 1905 World Series. To this day, the A's are sometimes referred to as the Elephants or even the White Elephants.

By 1909, the A's had an elephant logo on their sweaters, and in 1918 it became part of the uniform's jersey. Over the years, the elephant logo has appeared in various colours. It is currently forest green.

Elephant emblem on the sleeves of Oakland A's jerseys.

In 1955, the team moved to Kansas City, Missouri, and in 1963, the mascot was changed from an elephant to a donkey by the team's owner, Charles O. Finley. It was rumoured at the time that he had done this to attract Missouri's heavily Democratic population to the games by changing the mascot from the Republicans' elephant to the Democrats' donkey.

In 1988, the elephant replaced the donkey for good, and became the symbol of the A's again. Known in the mid-1980s as Harry Elephante, the mascot's name today is Stomper. An elephant is now featured on the sleeves of the players' uniforms.

To Support Elephant Welfare
World Wildlife Fund
World Society for the Protection of Animals
Elephant sanctuaries (this Wikipedia list allows you to click through to information on a number of sanctuaries around the world)
Performing Animal Welfare Society
Bring the Elephant Home
African Wildlife Foundation

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