Review
Phoebe Cripps

Margaret Salmon’s K is for Kato: An Esperanto Alphabet Book

K is for Kato: An Esperanto Alphabet Book, Margaret Salmon, Dundee Contemporary Arts (2020)

What’s more basic than an alphabet book? Yet in the afterword of Margaret Salmon’s K is for Kato, a letter nudges you, “dearest reader,” to go back to A and look closer. It’s like in the Teletubbies, when they plead “again, again” after the segment has played on their TV bellies. As a child, I would find this eye-rollingly boring, yet the replay would unfailingly reveal more.

Unlike the Teletubbies, K is for Kato is not just aimed at children, but all ages. (In her letter, Salmon asks the reader, “Can you speak baby?”) The formal design is that of an art book, not a children’s book—the pages are 135gsm, the cover high-gloss, and its dimensions replicate the 10 x 8–inch camera Salmon uses. At the same time, the paperback cover and rounded typeface (Montserrat Alternates) are subtle features both appealing to and inclusive of young readers, which also shun the usual reliance on color, energy, and overly stylized cartoons to entice children. Rather than shouting, Salmon’s black-and-white images hum with the kind of quiet energy that asks for a more deliberate way of looking. Each letter receives its own simple spread, reminiscent of children’s alphabet books: the full right-hand page exhibits the photograph, with its black, uneven film border, while the left-hand page displays the letter in uppercase and lowercase at the top, with an accompanying word in Esperanto—a language invented by the ophthalmologist Dr. Ludwik Zamenhof in the 1880s—and in English underneath. Detail and emotion still abound in monochrome, and are in fact heightened by the care and attention the large-format camera necessitates. In her letter, Salmon divulges that she only shoots one or two sheets of film per subject, visible in the tenderness of the photographs assembled here.

K is for Kato: An Esperanto Alphabet Book

Margaret Salmon

Dundee Contemporary Arts

2020

25.5 x 20.5 cm

64 unnumbered pages

Edition of 200

Paperback glue bound

CBA Collection no. FA.B122.2445

Salmon’s use of Esperanto also evidences intention and purpose. With the language, Zamenhof had hoped to foster peace and understanding between different countries across borders. By adopting the familiar alphabet book format, the book’s uncomplicated design echoes Esperanto’s ambitions, and Salmon uses her images as the site for both play and shrewd injections of Esperanto’s internationalism. Ĵ, for ĵurnaloj (newspapers), shows a stack of the items piled on a stool, the topmost of which bears the headline “Farewell, not goodbye.” An index of the photograph’s subjects in the end matter confirms my suspicion—this is the front page of The Scotsman on January 31, 2020, the day the UK left the European Union. Z, for Zetlando (Shetland), features a close-up of a map of the northern tip of Scotland, with the Scottish Shetland Islands next to the Danish Faroe Islands in a separate box, much in the same way that Alaska and Hawaii are often cut from their geographical locations and pasted to be more conceptually convenient for mapmakers. Salmon frames these two archipelagos side by side, united perhaps more by their shared isolation than by ties with their respective mainland nations.

K is for Kato: An Esperanto Alphabet Book, Margaret Salmon, Dundee Contemporary Arts (2020)

Most of the other photographs are more quietly political, embracing Esperanto’s meaning as “one who hopes.” They are playful images, often with strange or unexpected qualities—such as arbo (tree), captured both leafless and fruitless, with shrugged-off apples lying rotten on the ground beside; or masko (mask), where a papier-mâché cat’s head by the artist Monster Chetwynd sits comically oversized atop a child’s shoulders. P is for piedpilko (football), followed by R for rideti (smile)—further examples of shared languages of sport and expression beyond borders. One of the clearest examples of this universality is the letter Ŭ, similar to the English W, which Salmon has chosen to illustrate by the universal sound ŭa!—baby’s cry—and the image of a small, blanketed baby mid-howl. This cry is our very first method of communication as humans: proof we are alive, and that we’re heard.

K is for Kato: An Esperanto Alphabet Book, Margaret Salmon, Dundee Contemporary Arts (2020)

In her silent black-and-white films, Salmon has built a space for gentle touch, gesture, and communion between bodies. K is for Kato slows down further to arrest the image, and takes up the widely recognized alphabet book format as a signifier for imagination and repetition, echoing the universal objecthood found within its pages. Like language giving form to feeling, Salmon’s book gives structure and frame to life, and asks that we look for the tenderness in everyday moments that language can’t give voice to.

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K is for Kato: An Esperanto Alphabet Book, Margaret Salmon, Dundee Contemporary Arts (2020)

K is for Kato: An Esperanto Alphabet Book

Margaret Salmon

Dundee Contemporary Arts

2020

25.5 x 20.5 cm

64 unnumbered pages

Edition of 200

Paperback glue bound

CBA Collection no. FA.B122.2445

K is for Kato: An Esperanto Alphabet Book, Margaret Salmon, Dundee Contemporary Arts (2020)
K is for Kato: An Esperanto Alphabet Book, Margaret Salmon, Dundee Contemporary Arts (2020)
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