Abeceda (‘Alphabet’) designed by Karel Teige, poems by Vitĕzslav Nezval.

Abeceda (‘Alphabet’) was a book designed in 1926 by Czech artist Karel Teige (1900-1951) inspired by a series of poems dedicated to the alphabet written in 1922 by the Czech poet Vitĕzslav Nezval (1900-1958). It was published in Prague by Nákl. J. Otto.

Both Teige and Nezval were founding members of Devětsil (‘Nine Forces’), a group of modernist artists and intellectuals who introduced European avant-garde movements such as Dadaism, Surrealism, Constructivism to Czechoslovakia.

Nezval’s poems respond initially to the visual design of each letter, then elaborate this into a sequence of surreal associations:
Let us call you a simple hut
Transport your tropics to the Moldau,
O palms
A snail has its simple home with antennae sticking up

while people don’t know where to rest their heads.


According to Teige “In Nezval’s Abeceda, a cycle of rhymes based on the shapes of letters, I tried to create a ‘typofoto’ of a purely abstract and poetic nature, setting into graphic poetry what Nezval set into verbal poetry in his verse, both being poems evoking the magic signs of the alphabet.”


Alongside the poems, and integrated into the letter deigns, are a series of photographs taken by Karel Paspa (1899-1979), of the dancer Milča Mayerová (1901-1977) evoking the letters of the alphabet through physical posture. Her poses were not intended to be strictly mimetic however, but rather apply the principles of Constructivism to bodily movement.


A full scan of the book can be seen here:

In 2000 a video was made for the exhibition ‘Dreams and Disillusion: Karel Teige and the Czech Avant-Garde’ at the Wolfsonian – FIU, Miami, with the dancer Elaine Wright re-interpreting the designs.


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