Free Alphabets

In an ongoing participatory project, I have been creating a series of site specific codes made with litter and found objects called “The Free Alphabet”.  Using children’s ABC books as a model, I assigned items of trash to each letter of the alphabet acrophonically; based on the first letter of the name of that object (i.e. aluminum foil = A).  This code is then presented as a system of 3-dimensional writing always available in the streets as it utilizes unwanted and ubiquitous objects.

I have worked on the Free Alphabet in several different cities around the world. The project is a participatory game that touches upon many different independent fields of interest all by re-focusing attention on the unwanted object.  This project looks deeply and comparatively at the cultural ritual of littering and the municipal treatment of waste.  The found objects are material culture, revealing current trends in marketing and snacking and the plant material provides clues to the urban environment itself.  Looking for letters and writing with the code engages geography and urban design and deciphering the code becomes a challenging linguistic game. Lastly, evoking the concept of ‘free speech’ has its own meaning and interest in each different city that can at times be controversial and/or contradictory. The broad stroke of a manifesto-like document that accompanies the project reads as an anti-global and anti-corporate piece of rhetoric that is both uplifting and confusing.  That garbage is all we have left to communicate freely becomes a complex re-alignment of values and is ultimately a dystopian contradictory vision.

“The Free Alphabet is a tool of communication for everyone.  It is a medium for free speech in an era where communication has been colonized by commercial forms like Facebook and Gmail.  It has the potential to re-purpose public space into a public forum. Until more rigorous forms of street cleaning are employed, the characters of this alphabet will continue to be available at no cost all over the streets. Please use them to speak to each other, to strangers and to the people who clean your street.  The Free Alphabet is at your disposal.”