Book review – Critical Dictionary


The Critical Dictionary goes from Algeria to ZG. Through interviews with artists and historians, essays, quotations and photos with or without texts, the anthology uses the alphabet as a starting point to look for meanings, shake up definitions and tell readers something -but not everything- about appropriation art, borders, war monuments built in Serbia in 1946-2000, forest, overt research, etc. It comments on ‘thing’ and on ostranenie. In case you were wondering, ostranenie is the artistic technique of forcing the audience to see common things in an unfamiliar or strange way, in order to enhance perception of the familiar. And ostranenie is a practice Critical Dictionary is particularly good at. In the book, images and words are juxtaposed, they collide and challenge each other. The results often have political undertones, a sense of humour and the witticism one has come to expect from visual art.

Demonstration in this excerpt from an interview the author had with The Huffington Post: To define a forest as a large area with a thick growth of trees isn’t wrong, exactly, but is limited. It says nothing about the forest as a pervasive symbol in Romanticism, an international movement of the early 19th century that challenged the Enlightenment by confronting light and transparency with darkness and opacity. Or why from 1948 onwards, Israelis were keen to plant trees on demolished Arab villages, presenting the resulting forests as pure nature. Such issues are raised, I hope, by ‘F for Forest’ in the book Critical Dictionary.


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Tom Lovelace, In Preparation for the Real, 2010

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Tom Lovelace, In Preparation no. 4, 2011

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Tom Lovelace, In Preparation no. 5, 2011

Critical Dictionary was created by David Evans, a writer and picture editor who lectures at the Arts University College in Bournemouth. He was inspired by Georges Bataille’s short essays in the Surrealist art magazine Documents and by Bertold Brecht War Primer, photos of war he cut in newspapers and magazines, and accompanied with four-line poems.


Jo Longhurst, I know what you’re thinking, 2002-2003

G-Greenwich Meridian:


Simon Faithfull, 0° 00 Navigation, 2010

The Critical Dictionary started as an online art magazine, it then became a book, and it is now an exhibition at WORK Gallery. I can’t remember having seen anything like Critical Dictionary before. You can open it at any page and it will wake up your brain immediately. There isn’t even an introductory essay to bring any method or order to the experience. And i can’t remember either having encountered such exercise of translating a website into a book into an exhibition.

001. Richard Paul, Amateur.jpg

Richard Paul, Amateur, 2012. View of the exhibition space

009. Anon, Found Photographies.jpg

Anon, Found Photographs, 2011. View of the exhibition space

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Office of Experiment, Overt Research Project, 2008-2009

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Office of Experiment, Overt Research Project, 2008-2009

Critical Dictionary Installation2.jpg

View of the exhibition Critical Dictionary at WORK gallery

Critical Dictionary Installation.jpg

View of the exhibition Critical Dictionary at WORK gallery

The book Critical Dictionary is published by Black Dog Publishing (available on amazon UK and USA.)

The exhibition of the same name will be on until 25 February 2012 at WORK gallery in London.

All images courtesy the artists and WORK gallery.