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CULTURE

Rammellzee: The Equation, The Letter Racers

Two exhibitions explore a legendary New York artist's fight for linguistic liberation

by Ami Kealoha
on 07 February 2012
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The character of Rammellzee is one of the most compelling to emerge from the NYC street culture scene of the late 1970s and '80s. The Queens native began his career tagging the side of A train cars in his home borough and later moved into the budding hip-hop scene, where he emerged as an influential lyricist. Rammellzee's obsession with futurism and linguistics led him to establish the eponymous persona, at times referred to as "The Equation." A duo of upcoming exhibitions at the MoMA and The Suzanne Geiss Company explore the work of the reclusive artist, his manifestos and the science fiction-influenced culture that he embodied.

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Created over the course of 14 years, "The Letter Racers" sculptures are on view in NYC for the first time. They represent the artist's manifestos "Iconoclast Panzerism" and "Gothic Futurism," two works written in Rammellzee's idiosyncratic language. The written and visual works explore the slavery and corruption of language and its liberation through the artist's own work.

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The complex theory behind "The Letter Racers" has to do with the freedom of language from its historical fetters. As Rammellzee writes, "In the 14th century the monks ornamented and illustrated the manuscripts of letters. In the 21st and 22nd century the letters of the alphabet through competition are now armamented for letter racing and galactic battles. This was made possible by a secret equation know as THE RAMMELLZEE."

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Playing with metaphysical concepts in the physical world, Rammellzee used found objects from the city streets to create the sculptures. A collection of perfume caps, spray can triggers and other small detritus comprise 52 "letter racers," armed for linguistic and galactic warfare. Witnessing the series as a whole lends insight into the man behind Rammellzee's self-made masks as well as the impact of street culture on the American dialect.

Two years after his premature death, The Suzanne Geiss Company is exhibiting "Rammellzee: The Equation, The Letter Racers" from 8 March to 21 April 2012. At the same time, the MoMA will present a few pieces from "The Letter Racers" as part of the "Print/Out" exhibition starting 19 February 2012.

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