29 Jun 2020

Emily Lazerwitz: Reading her new redacted book, 'A Year of Space'

Zoë Foster

Emily Lazerwitz: Reading her new redacted book, 'A Year of Space'

A focus on Emily Lazerwitz’s work, particularly her redacted books and rug and print work, as she launches a reading of her new book ‘A Year of Space’.

Contemporary art object making is key to Emily Lazerwitz’s practice. She reveals a new redacted book that she has made in her studio in this period of isolation. Alongside this is her exclusive reading of the book. This is a form of performance for Lazerwitz with these works.

The art object A Year of Space is part of a collection of books that Emily purchased to make contemporary artworks from. She bought them online from a bookseller as the country was going into lockdown. This creates a randomness in the selection of books she bought. Her only remit was that the books be from the 1940s – 1960s. This stands in contrast to her usual process of choosing a book for redaction. Usually she carefully selects each one over time in old bookshops. This element of chance in the new process is one that Emily embraces. She sees it as reflecting how things seem completely up to chance right now.

Emily has done an exclusive reading from the first chapter of the redacted book for us. This gives an aural sense of the work.


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Book Sculptures
A Year of Space, 2020. Emily Lazerwitz

‘A Year of Space’

In this reading, she reads aloud the words left behind after she removes all the words that are not semantic primes from the pages of book. She crosses each one out with a Sharpie. These works are both sculptures and performances. The readings are therefore an integral part of the piece, allowing the patterns of language to emerge. 

Emily also reduces the images within the book to their basic form. This replicates the process of redacting the text. Similarly, she sees the relationship between the silhouette as being analogous to the semantic prime and words. Through this action, she reduces the element to the core in both text and image.

newspaper cutout
A Year of Space, 2020 Emily Lazerwitz
Space detail
A Year of Space (detail) Emily Lazerwitz

London-based US artist and mathematician Emily Lazerwitz explores the intersection of art, craft, technology and language in her work. She creates intriguing pieces where language is broken down and transcribed. The legibility is present, yet seemingly abstract. In her work, Lazerwitz is concerned with the way technology shapes the direction that language develops. Her redacted books are an integral part of her practice, and her engaging with these themes. 

This work is part of a series of redacted books that the artist has been making in the studio over the last few months. Watch her discussing them in her ‘INSIDE THE STUDIO’ video.


‘The Romance of Canterbury Cathedral’

Another work from the series, The Romance of Canterbury Cathedralis the first book from the collection of over 20 random books Emily Lazerwitz received that she chose to read. Originally written in 1932, this edition from 1945 includes a great introduction about the beginnings of World War II and the uncertainty that led to. Above all, for Emily, this is apt for the time. She is drawn to the sense of spirituality and anticipation. The book also references aspects of the artist’s own history. She went to a Cathedral School and finds comfort in the history of Churches and cathedrals.

The act of redacting ‘The Romance of Canterbury Cathedral” took Emily Lazerwitz two weeks. During the process she made a film. This presents careful documentation of each page, both before and after the redaction. Tin other words, the film is a unique record of her act of redacting the whole book and the sense of time of the process. For her, the act of redacting it is like a ritual. Equally, for Emily, reading something familiar in another time of turmoil, and importantly reading about something that survived that turmoil, feels right. 

unredacted text
The Romance of Canterbury Cathedral, 2020. (Before being redacted). Emily Lazerwitz
Redacted detail
The Romance of Canterbury Cathedral, 2020 Emily Lazerwitz


‘Prime Guides’

Prime Guides‘, 2014, is an earlier work from Emily Lazerwitz’s redacted book series. In this piece, a dictionary and a Bible, the two fundamental books of the English language, are both redacted on the right hand page. Emily removes all words that are not semantic primes from the page. The bleed from the sharpie comes through on the left hand page.

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Patterns and code are themes that are Emily continuously explores in her work. In the redacted text in Prime Guides, patterns emerge in the words remaining on the page. These patterns become more present when Emily reads the remaining text aloud, in her performances with the sculptures. The act of redacting also references censorship. In other contemporary art object that Lazerwitz makes, she uses censored CIA documents as her source, transcribing them into other forms, such as rugs and scarves.

Lazerwitz rug
Emily Lazerwitz, DOC_00000200100.pdf, 2018.


Redaction reappears in other media that Emily uses, such as in ‘DOC_00000200100.pdf‘, 2018, a hand speed-tufted wool rug that depicts the statistics of the Global Terrorism Database. Emily began this ongoing series -known as the Archive – in 2017. This is one of the works from the series.   

Therefore each “document” displays data representing terrorist attacks in the United States. This is sourced by the Global Terrorism Database from a certain period of time. Emily reconfigures and formats this data to mimic the style of redacted government intelligence documents. She represents each attack through a series of letters followed by black bars. The letters (shown in two groups separated by a space) represent the category of attacker followed by the category of target while the black bars represent number of fatalities followed by injuries. At the bottom right corner, she shows the time period shown by the rug. The data starts from the most recent attacks from database, which at the start of the project was 2015 and works backwards from that year.

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We see another rug work above. The textile piece USD-GBP-EUR-JPY-AUD-CAD-CHF-HKD-KRW’, 2016, shows a specific key historical moment. Lazerwitz uses as her source the currency exchange on the day of the EU referendum results. Tracking the different currencies at this pivotal moment, the work is a snap-shot of an important historical moment. Lazerwitz transcribes the figures onto the rug to make a monochrome. Similarly, the use of the rug also implies a sense of craft and hand-made. The use of this medium connecting the work to a long heritage of contemporary textiles, most specifically the work of Anni Albers, and more contemporary artists such as Sheila Hicks or Brent Wadden. As such, Lazerwitz gives us a multi-layered and complex work, part historical document, part art-historical. It is a striking piece that marks a defining moment of history.

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‘Nibbles for Tea’

Shown above is Nibbles for Tea​‘, 2014, an earlier print by the artist where she depicts a binary translation of the 7th chapter of Lewis Carrol’s ‘Alice in Wonderland – A Mad Hatter’s Tea‘. The depiction of the code then transforms the narrative into a seemingly abstract work – creating a play between language, code and interpretation.