The first exhibition of Alternumerics, a twenty-part work that is a secret code to the multifaceted languages and typographies of Paul Chan


Fields of Knowledge
  • Aesthetics / Media
  • Design
  • Philosophy / Theory

Organizing Institutions



Aaron Levy, Jean-Michel Rabaté


Collection of Mari and Peter Shaw. Special thanks to Paul Chan and his studio, Greene Naftali Gallery and Jeffrey Rowledge.

Opens to public





4017 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Slought is pleased to announce Alternumerics, the first exhibition of a twenty-part work that serves as a secret code to the complex and multifaceted languages and typographies of Paul Chan. The exhibition will be on display from April 14 to May 14, 2015, with an opening reception on Tuesday, April 14th from 6:30-8:30pm.

Alternumerics emerged out of Paul Chan's interest in expanding traditional alphanumeric systems to include the potential for new meanings. His exploration arises out of a seemingly simple question: What is a word? And is language even capable of describing the world around us? Previously available to download through Chan's now defunct National Philistine website, and now available through Slought for the duration of this exhibition, each of these alternumerics-- all functional fonts-- transform the act of typing into a generative performance, exploiting how computer fonts traditionally function. Unlike conventional fonts like Arial or Helvetica or Comic Sans, Chan's fonts are comprised of phrases and sentence fragments instead of letters and other alphanumeric characters, so that what is typed on the keyboard is not what shows up on the screen, or what is printed on paper. Alternumerics turn traditional letters into foreign symbols that disrupt and create new forms of meaning, exploring the relationship between what is typed, what is translated—and fundamentally—what is communicated. Like a group of anarchists, the texts ignore the rules of mutual understanding and unite picture, lettering, and programming language to create an alternative or subversive form of communication and interaction-- or what Chan calls "neither sense nor nonsense."

Moreover, Alternumerics explores the relationship between language and interactivity by transforming the simple computer font into an art platform. While the fonts were available for download, Chan transformed any computer connected to a standard printer into an interactive art-making installation. Word processing applications became linguistic desiring machines.

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About the Artist

Paul Chan (born 1973 in Hong Kong) lives and works in New York. He was awarded the Hugo Boss Prize for 2014. Recent solo exhibitions include Schaulager, Basel (2014); The Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago, Chicago (2009); Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA (2008); and Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (2007).

Chan's work has been exhibited in international exhibitions as well, including documenta 13, Kassel; Making Worlds, 53rd Venice Biennale, Venice, 2009; Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of Art, New York, 2006, and 54th Carnegie International, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, 2004. Recent solo shows include Paul Chan: The 7 Lights, Serpentine Gallery, London, and New Museum, New York, 2007–2008.

In 2007 Chan collaborated with the Classical Theatre of Harlem and Creative Time to produce a site-specific outdoor presentation of Samuel Beckett's play Waiting for Godot.

His essays and interviews have been published in Artforum, Frieze, Flash Art, October, Tate Etc., Parkett, Texte zur Kunst, and Bomb Magazine, as well as in other magazines and journals.

In 2010 he founded his publishing company Badlands Unlimited, which publishes new works by artists and writers that embody the spirit of the emerging dissolution of the distinction between books, files, and artworks. His most recent series, featured in his current exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum, includes New Lovers Trilogy, a series of erotic novellas.


Alternumerics has been organized in conjunction with Framing Fraktur, an exploration by The Free Library of Philadelphia of traditional Pennsylvania German folk art and its relationship to contemporary art.

"I don't remember why I began mutating fonts into forms that both reduce and expand its signifying possibilities. It wasn't as if language had stopped working for me. I could still express love and malice and the infinite space of the future with the existing alphanumeric set on my keyboard: I could still write. But I wanted more. I got greedy. I wanted language to only work for me and no one else.

I have essentially reduced the material possibilities of these fonts to signify the immaterial by making the material more specific, more historical, less universal, and more accountable, to me. And like any system that reduces a world it is inherently tragic. Think Diderot's Encyclopedia. Think Socialism. This is why the word "tragic" always comes to mind. These fonts write with scars from other bodies. They work like systems that bleed."

-- Paul Chan