Produced by Lynne Sachs + Susan Agliata in collaboration with local New York City artists.

Visit Online Exhibition


Abecedarium: NYC is an interactive online exhibition that reflects on the history, geography, and culture - both above and below ground - of New York City through 26 unusual words.  Using original video, animation, photography and sound, Abecedarium: NYC constructs visual relationships between these select words and specific locations in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island.



Each word - whether it's A for audile or Z for zenana – leads to a different short video and a location in the city that you may never have experienced before. In selenography (the study of the moon), amateur astronomers in Staten Island's Great Kills State Park celebrate the wonders of the night sky. In open city (a metropolis without defense), the ruins of military installations throughout the five boroughs decay with time.   Chatty teenagers in a Flushing, Queens cafe drink bubble tea in xenogenesis (the phenomenon of children markedly different from their parents). In diglot (a bilingual person), a Chinese accountant, Albanian baker, Palestinian falafel maker, Argentinian film archivist and Cuban cigarmaker speak candidly about their daily routines.  In mofette (an opening in the earth from which carbon monoxide escapes), mysterious gases flow from gaps in the streets of Manhattan.


A group of moving-image artists was invited to contribute their own visual interpretations of selected words, thus sharing their own unique perspective on the nature of language and urban life.  In addition to creating a video, each artist reflects on their own work in the project blog, and intimately shares their perceptions and interpretations of the city in which they live.  From listening to ringing church bells on a Sunday morning in Astoria, Queens to investigating the repercussions of the 1950 Standard Oil spill in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, each artist provides a unique vision that enriches the collective knowledge.

Artists (in alphabetical order): Susan Agliata, Alisa Besher, Beth Botshon, Janine Fleri, David Gatten, Barbara Hammer, Heather Kramer, George Kuchar, Ethan Mass, Scott Nyerges, Lynne Sachs, Erik Schurink, Erika Yeomans.


To place the project within the context of the greater culture of the web,  Abecedarium: NYC utilizes the popular social networking tools of del.icio.usPicasa, Facebook, Flickr, and Google Maps.  In this way, project participants can become a part of and contribute to the Abecedarium: NYC network of links, photos and resources related to the geography and culture of New York City. When you add Abecedarium: NYC to your own del.icio.us social bookmarking account, post the link to your Facebook profile, or join the Abecedarium: NYC photo network on Google's Picasa, you will become an integral part of the online community.

The interactive content is also contextualized by a brief history of the artist abecedarium - from the Italian Futurist's edible alphabet to essayist Susan Sontag's alphabet of dance to avant-garde composer John Cage's alphabet radio poem.  This narrative traces the rich history of the abecedarium as artistic outlet from the first seeds of language to the digital age, from physical objects to virtual worlds.


The experience of visiting Abecedarium: NYC is more than watching, listening and learning. Visitors to the project are invited to respond to existing content as well as to share their own experience of New York City by contributing original videos, soundscapes, photos or texts to the project blog.  As more users contribute, the project grows in size, scope and experience, and transforms into a destination for sharing and learning about every facet of the city.

The web 2.0 capabilities of Abecedarium: NYC allow for a new level of user sharing, interaction and tracking.  Shoot a video and geotag it to the exact location it was shot, then track other users' comments on your work via RSS feed.  Add your favorite post to Digg and subscribe to the project feed through Google Reader or My Yahoo!.

Using del.icio.us, the project blog also provides links to related sites with a special focus on artist produced abecedarium projects. Find the alphabet on the wings of butterflies, a plant alphabet created by the artist John Baldessari, an acrostic alphabet poem read by former Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky, as well as the history of the alphabet.


Beginning in 2000, filmmaker and Abecedarium: NYC co-director Lynne Sachs became intrigued by the concept of an “abecedarium”, a book designed to take a child through the first steps of reading. As a new mother, Sachs cluttered her young daughters' play area with these age-old formulae for learning:  A is for apple; D is for dog; X is for xylophone.  She wasn't completely satisfied, however, because, for the most part, these ABC books functioned more like a conventional cultural literacy test than intriguing introductions to the world of words.  

Over the course of the next six years, Sachs examined the work of other artists, writers, filmmakers, musicians and poets who had created their own original interpretations of the alphabet (See History of the Artist Abecedarium). During an artist residency at the MacDowell Colony, Sachs began work on a project which would intertwine a meditation on words and their meanings with an exploration of New York City. 

In 2005, Sachs proposed creating a multi-media online abecedarium with the Donnell Media Center of The New York Public Library.  The Media Center is known both nationally and internationally for its thirty-year history of exhibiting avant-garde film and video to the public.  Through the Library's initiative, The New York State Council on the Arts provided a production grant for Abecedarium: NYC. In 2006, media artist and web designer Susan Agliata joined the project as co-director. 

Lynne Sachs + Susan Agliata

PHP Programming + Research and Development: In Choi
Flash/ActionScript Programming + Innovation: 
Joseph Tekippe

Abecedarium: NYC is made possible in part with public funds from The New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency.