An object seen can have innumerable meanings. Only language, something auditory can unravel them. No longer is any meaning left to look for. The object is there, and nothing else. So language disappears. No more additional knowledge exists. The very objects of sight and hearing are possessed, since they are inscribed in a certain space. Just as they are. The artist will have to take possession of these instantaneous realities.
Jacques Ellul The Humiliation of the Word
Brazilian educator Paulo Freire contends that to know a thing is to know it in relation. In other words, to know is to see the partial articulated within the whole. In turn, the whole can only be fully understood as the sum of many parts. As Ellul asserts, the means of perception ("sight and hearing") are themselves embedded in a wider reality: experience at once informs and limits new experience.
Education is political. Freire developed a means of adult literacy learning which recognised the wider social, political and economic realities of teaching illiterate peasants reading and writing.
Employing artist's sketches of local life, Freire encouraged learners to discuss and problematize the taken for granted. By distinguishing between nature and culture, the intricacies and contradictions of their collective existence became more salient. More importantly, the fundamental structures of oppression were exposed: the enforced silence of illiteracy, prohibiting voting rights, for example.
The peasants embarked on a process of "naming the world" - in their own terms. Hence alphabetisation became, in the hands of the peasants, a tool for the creation of "new knowledge". A means of abstracting knowledge from experience, and from knowledge - cultural action for freedom.
According to Ellul, it is language which unravels an object's meanings. However, paradoxically, meaning (truth?) often seems swamped amidst the deluge of 'INFORMATION' characteristic of late 20th century western society. Visual, auditory and textual overload may paralyse rather than creatively inform. With so many 'facts' available it seems "no more...knowledge exists". All is defined.
Richard van der Aa refers to the individual elements which make up his works as morphemes. A morpheme is said to be the smallest meaningful unit into which words can be analysed. Standing amongst van der Aa's installations - neither text nor picture - is to pause mid-conversation, mid-sentence, mid-word between the artist and his world. Far from being static, it is an instantaneous glimpse into a process of making meaning. Enter in to the conversation ... make new knowledge.
John Dickson April '94