From Dexter to Sinister: Exquisite Blazonry


Heraldry is an historic visual language with it’s own grammar and syntax, meant to
convey the lineage of a person, family, group, or entire kingdom. The practices’ intention
in communicating class, social placement, power and prestige within a strict lexicon of
emblem, color, texture and compositional placement is the starting point from which
“From Dexter to Sinister” begins to address contemporary issues regarding identity,
subjectivity, globalism and the lingering presence of colonialism in contemporary culture.
While the project, in part, refutes some of the basic notions of heraldry, especially the
concept that power can and should be determined by birth, it also embraces the power of
iconic imagery and seeks to exploit its relationship to text. Roland Barthes, in Rhetoric of
the Image, proposes two functions of text or “the linguistic message” in relation to the
iconic functions of an image: anchorage and relay. With anchorage, "the text directs the
reader through the signifieds of the image...remote-control[ing] him towards a meaning
chosen in advance."i In a system of relay, "text...and image stand in a complementary
relationship...and the unity of the message is realized at [the] level of the story, the
anecdote, the diegesis."ii


The Blazon, a specifically, and economically written text meant to convey exact
instructions for the reproduction of a herald, was a curiously poetic mnemonic device
contained by and conveyed between heraldic artists in the most portable form at the time
of their use: memory and speech. Despite it’s potential for interpretation and loss within
the repeated translation of image to text to image, the strict structure of heraldry and
blazonry were meant to guard against any sort of subjectivity. “From Dexter to Sinister”
proposes to seek out and emphasize fissures in the translation and signification process,
highlighting not adherence to a set of rules, but personal interpretation as well as the
manipulation and disruption of the directive and unifying properties of text in relation to
image. By allowing subjective responses to surface in these works we unfix the symbolic
and emblematic value of the herald, re-inscribing the image with value both as art and as
components of alternative narratives developed outside of sanctioned systems.

 

The project begins with a series of Blazons written by a diverse group of writers and
poets in response to a series of “Family Crests for the Disenfranchised.” This series,
generated by Sarah G. Sharp, is comprised of 2-dimensional “crests” that offer a
subjective set of symbols meant to represent “family” for outsiders, orphans, edge-
dwellers and anyone who feels disconnected from their biology, heritage or tradition in
general. They draw on abstract and mundane imagery that reference American spiritual
imagery from the 1970’s and Eastern European propaganda art. A group of international
visual artists are then asked re-interpret the blazon visually, without access to the original
crest. This process mimics the avant-garde parlor game “Exquisite Corpse” which exists
in contemporary form as both a drawing and writing exercise. In this exercise each artist
must base her response only on what she is shown, creating a final work comprised of
subjective “interpretations of interpretations.” In this context the final “Exquisite Corpse”
will be a series of exhibits, both on the ground and on the internet, which display all three
phases of the project, imagery alongside text, herald next to blazon next to herald.
                                         
i  Barthes. Roland "Rhetoric of the Image." Image, Music, Text. Ed. and trans. Stephen
Heath. New York: Hill and Wang, 1977. 39-40
ii ibid. P 41

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