Qwerty: Does it Signal The Death Knell of the Typewriter?

We’ve all seen them, heard their unmistakable clack, used them and probably have a few of them lying around in our attics and basements, but few of us come across them anymore even in thrift shops. The old typewriter may be terminally ill, but a stay of execution is definitely in the air!

A new exhibit called Courier recently opened at the University at Albany Art Museum. Some three dozen works rendered by eleven artists from South Africa, Spain, Germany, China and the Albany area comprise the display, which ranges from interactive installations to a collection of antique typewriters.

According to Janet Riker, the museum’s director:

“It’s really weird, but everybody’s got a typewriter story. As we started planning this exhibit, we heard so many typewriter stories that were very personal… I think the Courier exhibit will open up for our students a window onto technology, how it changes and how we leave something behind with each new development.”

One fascinating interactive installation at the museum concerns work done by Xu Bing, a Chinese artist. His exhibit is entitled: Book from the Ground, and it is based on dozens of airline manuals he amassed on his travels all over the world. It utilizes a high wall to separate two computer keyboards on which two museum visitors type simultaneously.

The words they type are instantly transformed into universal symbols and icons that appear on the computer screens and are projected onto a third wall, offering a look into “real time.” This suggests an innovative universal form of communication that transcends language barriers, and yet at the same time it is also very similar to ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Who would ever think that a typewriter could aid in the memory of an autistic savant? For Leona Christie, assistant professor of art at the university, the typewriter is a doorway into the mind of brother, 39-year-old Gavin Christie, who has a photographic memory and types detailed lists about things he sees and the television shows he watches.

Leona’s photo-polymer engravings are a symbolic collaboration with her sibling whose many typewritten lists have become the fabric of his life. Her white-on-white embossed prints have transformed his memories into the realm of art.

According to Christie:

“These typed lists are the way he processes his life…Gavin has an extraordinary memory of each day of his life.”

Qwerty as the most used modern day keyboard layout has served as a mouthpiece for Gavin who began typing in 1977 at the age of six although he had never uttered a single word. When their grandmother died, in true savant fashion, Gavin typed out many lists detailing each day she had lived in the sequential order of her long life.

In the words of his loving sister, Leona:

“He likes lists that repeat. He’s very obsessive about them and they are an act of remembering for him. He also has an artist’s ego and loves the idea that his lists will be in this art exhibit.”

The image that the Courier exhibit uses to advertise itself (utilizing the once-ubiquitous Courier font) is an IBM Selectric typewriter.

The Courier exhibit will run from October 5 to December 4th.

Don’t miss this unique display if you are anywhere near Albany, New York, and…don’t forget to type up some notes!

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