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 A to Z: From Aardvark to Axle 

'A to Z' is an ongoing series of projects based on the premise of making a visualisation for every noun listed in the Concise Oxford English dictionary, starting at "A", and proceeding in alphabetical order. The opening project, 'From Aardvark to Axle' is to make a drawing for each of the approximately 460 "A" words

View sequence of 100 drawings from “animation” to “aridity”.


“A to Z: From Aardvark to Axle” | 466 Drawings various size | 2013 | Installation

The ‘A to Z’ project is clearly absurd, but it also represents a serious attempt to systematically account for what makes up our world. It challenges the notion that some things are more important than others, and instead treats everything within a language equally.

While the conceptual parameters of the project are strictly defined, within this framework there is considerable room for exploration, association, play, and inventiveness. For example, the choice of image which best represents a word must be chosen from an almost infinite number of possibilities; some are straightforward illustrations of objects: for example, “apple” is represented by a drawing of an apple from life. Others require more imaginative leaps: for example “appearance” is represented by a sequence of drawings of a magician conjuring up a white dove. Other, more abstract, words often rely on particular concrete manifestations: for example “annihilation” is represented by a drawing based on a well-known photograph of the mushroom cloud caused by the Nagasaki atomic bomb.

In part the project stems from the basic question: what should an artist take as their subject-matter? Right from the very first week of art school, this question bothered me intensely. Fellow students made work about their personal hang-ups or life story; others used existing artists or styles as their starting point; still others explored the formal concerns of their chosen medium. But I wanted to make art about the world. The trouble was, the world was frustratingly large and complex – where could I possibly begin?

The scale of the project seems ridiculous – but dictionaries and encyclopedias have been written by individuals in the past. In the age of Enlightenment it was seen as a necessary and achievable project to catalogue and understand everything in the world: the scope of knowledge was more or less graspable by single scholars.

But that has all changed: nobody could now claim such authority. There is simply too much to know. And yet, in the age of Google and Wikipedia, knowledge has become so much more accessible. The information is all there; the only problem is what to do with it. With this project, I have decided to respond to everything in the world visually, starting at the beginning of the alphabet, and continuing from there.

A lifetime undertaking, ‘A to Z’ represents a continuation of my explorations into themes of absurdity, subjective interaction with everyday environment, and the construction of rational knowledge.
Dave Ball






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