The Withdrawing Room (2008)



All works: Laser cut dictionaries and archival PVA. Images courtesy of Bill Jackson.

The Withdrawing Room (2008) works were made to mark the Tercentenary of the birth of Samuel Johnson, and in response to the house where he compiled one of the first English Dictionaries.

Samuel Johnson, 1709-1784, was hard on books, capable of tearing the heart out of them and leaving them – as if discarded – on table or floor as soon as they had served his immediate purpose. But these specimens, with their pages precisely laser-cut, are clearly not the result of careless treatment.

Prophet is interested in the way familiar objects can be adopted as symbols, for example, the use of the oak tree as shorthand for Englishness. With these works she has transformed standard dictionaries by designing computer fonts to facilitate the laser cutting of shapes, of words and objects that evoke ideas of Johnson’s life and work. Collectively the books symbolize his achievements as the leading literary figure of his time and the incisive intelligence he brought to his undertakings as a poet, biographer, lexicographer, essayist, editor and reviewer.

A commemorative Jasperware medallion of Johnson was issued by Wedgwood in 1784 and is thought to have been modeled by the celebrated sculptor John Flaxman shortly before Johnson’s death the same year. Jane Prophet’s Portrait of Samuel Johnson, a dictionary in which a profile of Samuel Johnson is cut through the pages (produced in an edition of 10) offers a comparable, though perhaps more apposite, memento.