Professor Janice Robertson will present the paper “Aztec Picture-Writing Meets Hypermedia and a ‘New World’ of Writing Opens Up” this fall at REWIRE 2011: The Fourth International Conference on Media Art Histories.

REWIRE 2011, taking place in Liverpool, England from September 28th- October 1st, is being hosted by FACT (the Foundation for Art and Creative Technology), a Liverpool-based cinema and art gallery.

Aztec Picture-Writing Meets Hypermedia and a ‘New World’ of Writing Opens Up
The Aztecs lived in a primarily oral culture. They had no alphabet, no spelled-out words, and no written texts—they worked instead with pictures. The pictures were read out loud, and readings moved easily among pictures, words and things.

This world was silenced in the 16th century with the Spanish conquest and colonization of Mexico. Most of the pictorial documents were burned; some survived because they were routed to Europe, several ended up in Great Britain: Codex Fejérváry-Mayer at the World Museum Liverpool, Codex Zouche-Nuttall at the British Museum, and Codex Mendoza at the Bodleian Library of Oxford University.

The Mendoza is especially famous, for a 16th century Spaniard transcribed once spoken words beside each of the pictures, and an 18th century Englishman, William Warburton, Bishop of Gloucester conceived the notion of “picture-writing” with reference to the material in this document. From then on, readings of the pictures would begin and end with the written-down words. One would think that the pictures would find refuge in art history; but those identified with “writing” were categorically excluded from disciplined investigations of “art.”

Now, digital technology has leveled the playing field between pictures and words, even orality, and hypermedia is a game-changer: prioritizing links and connectivity, rather than autonomous “things-in-themselves.” Investigations open to multiple content-forms and multi-lineal connections are finally in sync with the picture-based practice of the Aztecs, and revealing a “new world” of writing.

The VoiceThread for this presentation can be seen here.