Jürg Lehni & Alex Rich
2008 ~

Empty Words is an installation that proposes a system for typesetting and producing text-based posters consisting of only holes.

A gently modified standard vinyl cutter controlled by a custom made software interface carefully cuts each hole in sequence at a controlled speed, celebrating the industrial machine’s normally unconsidered gestures. The resulting setup becomes a tool for the production of textual works, reminescent of older sytems such as Linotype machines.

Things to Say, Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen, 2009
(Furniture by Martino Gamper)
All That Is Solid Melts Into Air, MuHKA Exhibitions Extra Muros, Mechelen, 2009
Graphic Design — Now in Production, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 2011
Graphic Design — Now in Production, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, 2012
Graphic Design — Now in Production, SECCA, Winston Salem, 2013

Running on a modified Apple TV connected to a rotated LCD display, the software allows visitors to type their own posters, while enforcing many constraints.

Unlike other computer systems today, the setup does not offer any layout options and defines a maximum of five lines of text, at an automatically determined type-size, limiting the options for the poster to be produced, while painfully rendering visible the always present limitations of any technology-based system for creative production.

Left: Marcel Duchamp’s notes on The Large Glass, self-published in 1920
Right: Richard Hamilton and George Heard Hamilton’s translation, publishd in 1960

In 1920, Marcel Duchamp published his notes on The Large Glass in a box with letters consisting only of dots on the lid.

In 1960, Richard Hamilton published a typographic and linguistic translation of the box into English as well as the shape of a book, forcing him to interpret the missing letterforms of the alphabet.


In 2005, Jonathan Hares and Alex Rich completed the alphabet as a digital typeface and manually produced a pair of drilled posters as their contribution to The Free Library, curated by Mark Owens. This prompted the exploration of possible methods of automated, mechanised production.

For Empty Words the typeface was simplified by removing dots to prevent damage to the paper while the machine carefully cut one hole after the next.