HARD TIMES / SCRABBLE VALUE:
A PLAY IN 2 PARTS
3 Channel Video / 4 Channel Sound
“The scene was a plain, bare, monotonous vault of a school-room, and the speaker’s square forefinger emphasized his observations by underscoring every sentence with a line on the schoolmaster’s sleeve. The emphasis was helped by the speaker’s square wall of a forehead, which had his eyebrows for its base, while his eyes found commodious cellarage in two dark caves, overshadowed by the wall. The emphasis was helped by the speaker’s mouth, which was wide, thin, and hard set. The emphasis was helped by the speaker’s voice, which was inflexible, dry, and dictatorial. The emphasis was helped by the speaker’s hair, which bristled on the skirts of his bald head, a plantation of firs to keep the wind from its shining surface, all covered with knobs, like the crust of a plum pie, as if the head had scarcely warehouse-room for the hard facts stored inside. The speaker’s obstinate carriage, square coat, square legs, square shoulders, – nay, his very neckcloth, trained to take him by the throat with an unaccommodating grasp, like a stubborn fact, as it was, – all helped the emphasis.”
– Charles Dickens, Hard Times
Hard Times / Scrabble Value: A Play in 2 Parts is an economic and textual analysis of the book “Hard Times” by Charles Dickens, related to the present. By decoding the book via different filters: using Scrabble letter/number use values and noun pictorial representations, factual readings of the source material become “relatively” suggestive, posing a dialectical mode of reasoning and conversational word play.
The central thesis of “Hard Times” is to privilege “facts” over experience and individual interpretation. It speaks of a world and means of education that is not open to making sense through understanding and conversational dialogue but rather, through rules, numbers, and systems. Fore grounded within an industrial economy involving mass production, individual desire and the ability to succeed are often supplanted by calculated projections related to class and long-term productivity. With little use of nouns and adjectives, most of its meaning can be gleaned through conversational and situational nuance, despite what is asserted.
Charles Dickens was paid by the word to write “Hard Times.”
The 3-channel video is the duration of the audio book equivalent: 3 hours 24 minutes.
Credits: Charles Dickens, Hasbro, BBC Television, Microsoft.
1 Channel of Video / Sound: White screen visual. Sound is a mechanized man’s voice describing the qualities of the man speaking, then reading the number “Scrabble” game letter value equivalent of every word in “Hard Times”—from start to finish.
2 Channel of Video / Sound: Black and white split rectangular frames moving to the rhythm and sound of a pen tapping on a table.
3 Channel of Video / Sound: The visuals are graphic compositions in black and white of stills, featuring: pictograms and silhouetted forms of the nouns spoken throughout the duration of “Hard Times,” along with word labels—from start to finish. The rhythm of the presentation corresponds to the tapping of a pen on a table, which derives from the orchestral intro (appropriated from the TV version of the book), and the spoken number value translation of the book.
Jennifer Schmidt (b. 1975, Bedford, Indiana) is a multi-media artist living in Brooklyn, NY, who often works with print media and graphic design to create sculptural installations, video, and screenprinted ephemera.
She received her Master of Fine Arts degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1999 and Bachelor of Arts degrees in Studio Art and Art History from the University of Delaware in 1997; and is Regular Full-time Faculty within the Print Area and Graduate Program at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Recent exhibitions and screenings include: Elizabeth Foundation, New York, NY, Sonic Fragments, Princeton University, NJ, International Print Center New York, NY, Volume Gallery, New York, NY, Goliath Visual Space, Brooklyn, NY, Armory Center for the Arts, Pasadena, CA, Rencontres Internationales Paris/Berlin, International Film Festival Oberhausen, Germany, Video Pool, Winnipeg, Canada, Boston Center for the Arts, Boston, MA, Jen Bekman Gallery, New York, NY, and Gallery 312, Chicago, IL. Recent curatorial projects include: Event Horizon, Public Art Project, Boston, MA; Bit Logic, GASP, Boston, MA; Mybrary, BUILD, San Francisco, CA; LINGO, ONI Gallery, Boston, MA; and 13/Proof, Anchor Graphics, Chicago, IL. Recent artist residencies include: Homestead AK, Sunshine, Alaska; Brooklyn Community Access Television/Rotunda Gallery, Brooklyn, NY; The Banff Centre, Banff, Canada; Elsewhere Artist Collaborative, Greensboro, NC; The Experimental Television Center, Owego, NY; Frans Masereel Centre, Kastlerlee, Belgium; Delaware Center for Contemporary Art, Wilmington, DE; and Vermont Studio Center, Johnson, VT. Jennifer Schmidt is a 2007 fellow in Printmaking/Drawing/Artists’ Books from the New York Foundation for the Arts, and is a 2008 grant recipient from the Puffin Foundation.