Simon Glass

On The Tower of Babel, 2006

The Tower of Babel is a biblical story (Genesis 11:1-9) in which men attempt to build a tower of bricks and mortar reaching to the sky, in order to make a name for themselves. When God confounds the language of men they no longer understand one another and they cease their building.

“On The Tower of Babel” is a suite of nine 32”x32” digital prints with 23.5k gold leaf. Each print shows a letter of the Hebrew or English alphabet. Together they spell out the words “Babel” in English and “navlah” in Hebrew (“confound” or “confuse”). The Hebrew word “navlah” is the first occurance in Hebrew scripture of the word for “confound” or “confuse”. In the first person plural future tense that occurs here, the word is an anagram for the word for “brick”. The confounding of language undoes the tower at its most elemental level.

Background texts in each print consist of computer code obtained by opening an image file of the letter in a word processing application. The hue of the background is determined by the position of the letter in the alphabet. For the English alphabet, 360 degrees of hue are divided by 26, for the Hebrew by 22. As with verb conjugation, grammar and punctuation, once an arbitrary system is in place, convention takes over. (A couple of irregularities have been allowed.) Two kinds of translation are suggested here: the subjective interlinguistic translation of Hebrew into English and the closer to absolute translation of code into image.

My annotated translation of the Story of the Tower of Babel can be found here.