Issue 15 The Average Fall 2004

Artist Project / Alphabetized Newspaper

Rutherford Chang

Newspapers take the events of everyday life, both minor and momentous, and mold them into compelling narratives designed to inform and instruct. Who, what, when, where, why—the five indispensable pillars of the news story may suggest the traditional deadpan parameters of reportage, yet as any reader knows, papers also employ a battery of less straightforward tools to engage their audience’s attention. Stylish journalism—from seductive ledes to poignant kickers to clever headlines and captions—is much more art than science. In fact, it’s a highly subjective and very strategic form of literary performance, one that furthermore must operate at a level of subtlety that manages to be effective without contradicting the implicit assertion of expository objectivity essential to the self-image of the overwhelming majority of major American newspapers.

Rutherford Chang’s painstaking hand-made alphabetization of the front page of the 12 May 2004 New York Times presented here challenges the formal and conceptual architecture of the newspaper with often surprising results. While it’s true that Chang’s process is a leveling one—a kind of averaging machine that takes the carefully wrought informational matrix of the Times and dismantles the syntactical hierarchies used to create its original meaning—the gesture is not simply deconstructive. For virtually every witty turn of phrase or vivid description that gets detourned by the strokes of the artist’s X-acto blade, some other little bit of poetry emerges, the Grey Lady’s familiar “just the facts ma’am” tone reorchestrated into a wondrously glossolalic account of All Fits News Print That’s The To.

Rutherford Chang is an artist based in New York.

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