The Ñ steps into the Anglophone Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII).
128 files line the cold room’s interior walls. Left to right. Front to back. And corner to corner. A full panel ogling at the foreign character.
There is a file left open next to the M. It looks just about the right size. So the Ñ climbs up. Scales down its x-height. It pushes one leg in. Pulls up the other.
But the Ñ doesn’t fit. It twitches, itches, shuffles and shifts.
It climbs out of its case. Peers over its chafing shoulder, glancing down its sloping limb. Finds a black typographic mutation, a bulging mole-like thing.
The unnerved Ñ snoops over the shelf wall and pries at its neighbours’ straight spines. Gawks at their quaint-less legs and smooth unaccented strokes.
The Ñ buys some Corticosteroids. Spreads them smoothly over the undulating appendage, finger oils massaging them in. It dreams of the squiggle drying out. The tilde wiped clean.
A new software is installed. It calls for: Expression! Expansion! A surplus of forms!
Thousands of typefaces are uploaded onto the server; diacritics joining the software pack. Baroque parodies, Renaissance revivals and geometric Modernist cuts.
Added ornaments, appendages and lateral bodily expansions: an umlaut, an ear, even faux pen-formed serifs!
Letterpress themed presentation software; light pretending to be pressed and inked. A pastiche of literary sophistication, no more than pixels arranged on a screen.
Cheap types squeezed through slow digital connections. Newly uploaded faces distributed for free! A convincing image of inclusivity. Designers’ conceit.
Ill-suited for English use, the Ñ feels out of place. Out of character.
It hides away, concealed behind the processor’s memory buffer. Deep in the dark it pretends not to suffer.
But the right index finger is determined to coax the lonely letter out.
Gathering its strength it stoops down onto the N key and gives the ring finger a shout.
The ring finger joins in. It wants to take part in the fun. It stretches. Points. And shoots straight at the 1.
Exotic characters emerge from an overhanging bubble.
The fingers dither. They can't decide.
The fingers select. They click.
blue green yellow orange red
blue green yellow orange red
wait in a liminal state.
blue green yellow orange red
wait for the numb bodies to buckle under the stony weight.
M wakes up to the realisation of being truly mediocre. A body isolated in the box of its apartment, it lacks cultivation, menace and guile.
M hits the walls and bounces up against the boredom of diminished expectation. It decides to make a move. Meander between binomial streams.
M surfs the web. Rides vapid blog waves for days. Stylishly cascades page onto page.
M is caught in the tide, the wave is gathering speed, the crest becoming steeper, vertical, curling over, dropping M violently onto its trough. The character crashes onto the shore of some unknown back server.
It stand ups. Rearranges itself. Tramples over some alien body. A tilde wrapped and deformed. M overtaken by the other character's curious form.
It interrogates the funny looking letter.
The Ñ opens its mouth. Takes air. Prepares to say something ...
The Ñ asks if it minds checking the undulating path hovering over its shoulder. It feels different today. Shifted in some way.
M is startled. It is slow thinking on its feet. The tumescent tilde bulges against the tight leading, looming over the character with infectious black ink.
M thinks the squiggle should be looked at, that an autopsy be done!
M insists. Reiterates that the Ñ do away with the added point of inflection. Prevent any potential diacritic contamination.
The Ñ again opens its mouth ... mustering nothing more than a low nasal grunt.
M stands staring. Confused.
It arches over. Decides to take action into its own hands. It stretches its left leg into an obtuse angle, latching onto the Ñ's tilde like a handle, yanking it down, twisting the thin wire, the curl contorting, the tilde mangled.
The Ñ wakes with a start. Takes a moment to remember where it is.
The Ñ suspects there is something wrong with it. Something fundamentally wrong.
The Ñ joins a rendering class. It feels cumbersome. Unwieldy. The Ñ stretches its right leg. Places its vertex a few feet ahead.
It breathes. Jumps, moving down in one extended diagonal stroke!
Left leg stretch. Right leg stretch. Breathe. Jump! Stems landing perpendicular to the floor.
Guiding fingers centre on the character: paths directed onto the curvy line.
Endpoints, levers and control point realign the Ñ's spine.
The character leaves elastic. It feels ecstatic. Reborn.
Skin ABS skin. Tip. Type. Tip. Tip. Type. Buzz. Fingers rewarded by the pulse of static fuzz.
Zealous digits press on spring-loaded keycaps, current flowing from flesh onto machine. The plates underneath move closer together, making an interesting mess of things.
The controller pours over the fingers' movements, attempts to read the digits' mood. It translates each minute limbic gesture into a throbbing digital groove.
The host server is having an alphabetic party. U, C, A, E, and Z are all there. M and O gallivant in, thrusting arms and bowls up high into the air.
The characters gather into a string. Raising their voices, the conga line begins to sing.
The Ñ ventures to join in. Attempts to include itself amongst the boxy English letters.
It feels a bit awkward. Disjointed. The hovering tumor itches. The Ñ twitches. Ignores the need to scratch. Instead, it shields the tilde with a wide brimmed hat.
The satellite looms heavily over its shoulder, bumps falling outside their designated pixel. The crusty scabs create a bouldered unhinted texture. They cast a shadow over the character's lively mood, the Ñ coming across as an uptight prude.
So the Ñ shoots down a shot. Tequila, to lighten itself up.
Immediately it feels a sense of elation. Spurred by the slight intoxication.
The Ñ starts dancing left right left it spins left right left legs swaying left right left it bumps into a French Script Z. Together they pirouette left right left bodies wriggling left right left the hat flies left right left an unexpected scab shower left right left the tumescent tilde flops left right left bursting left right left viral pixels spewing left right left the infected pixels adhering onto tensile lines left right left added anchors and nodes sparkle and scintillate left right left.
Curves wrap. Paths bend. The O, U, C, A, E and Z contort. The Ñ's face stretches. Its lips pull laterally, teeth hovering over each other threatening to touch. Air flows up the Ñ's sinuses, reverberating into a long nasal sound. A cacophonous wave hollered out in an array of different languages, the È's acute squeals drowned.
Driven by confusion and anger Ó, Ç, Å, È, Ü and Ž grunt and gesture. Voices perceived as no more than sharp squawks and croaks. An irresolvable internal contradiction of language: words, letters and dots out of joint. The only likely common language reduced to that of zeros and ones; all meaning stuck on the aporia of semiconscious froth.
M calls for a revocation of the Ñ's papers. Asks that the foreign letter be relegated. Deported. Sent back to where it came from.
M has good intentions. The elephantine squiggle falls outside the H&S regulations, goes way beyond the ASCII's legislation.
Conventional typesetting focuses on the unsustainable ideal of absolute control. Digits treating the textual surface for spots of discolouration. Fingers evening the spacing between the words, between the letters, between the punctuation.
Eyes pick up the shape of the letters, adnate serifs pulling them in. They hop across lines of text at lighting-fast speeds.
The system heats up.
Turns back on
The processor responds.
White light makes the grainy, pixelated tilde stark and visible. Fingers surgically zooming into the floating black glyph. The distorted monstrous protuberance held coarsely by the raster grid.
Digital blades feel for subterranean binary bumps. Each cut registered through the tiniest change in the ragged pixel lump.
The fingers take a byte. Gulping down four full bits. They suddenly choke, disgorging a nibble of the tasty typographic meat.
The Ñ's shoulder lightens. Then bleeds.
The Ñ is liberated from the ASCII. Thrust amongst the lumpen proletariat, ranked and valued according to its resolution.
Plunged into a spinning digital uncertainty the Ñ runs willy-nilly unsure of what to do.
Exhaustion threatens to overwhelm it. Sadness accelerates into grief.
Black letters and diacritics housed inside multistory flats. Coiled wire fencing menacing characters with an upsurge in watts.
Diacritics mutate: added appendages growing at an exponential rate.
Cicatrix pixels replicating at lighting speeds. Black and grey squares failing to adhere properly to the pixel grid.
Swaying glitchy limbs make Ñ, Ó, Ü, Ç, Ž and Å scream out in pain. An impending electric force sweeping the infected pixels away.
Bits twinkle. Bits fade. The infection goes viral on the web. Gooey paths. Shimmering lights. A glimmering 256 coloured display.
Bodies that shatter, twirl, and superimpose. Millions of characters growing bunions on their toes!
The extended character table spreads into a salty seaside abyss. The air laden with moisture; nitrogen and chloride suffusing the vents.
The salty corrosion spreads amongst the metal-roofed flats. Water seeping through the cheap seals covering the caps. Electrolyte leaks and cauterizes everything in its path, causing skins to become scarred and patched.
Papules and nodules pop on the Ü and the Å, mushroom granulomas sprouting all over their face. The sickly characters' bitmap forms coming across as bulky and unrefined. Meanwhile, the unaware typist pretends everything is fine.
The Ñ apprehensively passes by the caustic ghetto. It moves through its two conductive plates. Charging through the anode metal and insulating oxide layer, it bumps an ashen-faced Å.
It then sweeps onto the negatively charged electrolyte gel. It turns to the other side. Feigning everything is well, it avoids looking the Å straight in the eye.
The Ñ returns. A prodigal letter. It acts as if it never left. Pretends to be real cool. The Ñ hangs out with the Ó and the Ü. It feigns to be one of them, yet fears going anywhere new.
The Ñ feels inconspicuous, believes is in disguise. But its clean geometry renders the tilde distinctly legible. Visibility spelling out the character's demise.
The Ñ feels queasy. Unsure. It finds the Ü and Ó's broad counters boorish. Their wide proportions crude.
The Ñ feels dizzy. Insecure. It's heard all the stories. It's read all the news: serifs piling up in secret mass graves. A mess of rioting pixels cloud the Ñ's naïve views.
The fingers dance to remember. Typing old words. New words. Words they once spoke.
They move up and down the keyboard. Tic tic tic tic tic. Tee. Dancing to the warmth of an old nostalgic beat.
Step. Swirl. Round this particular series of words. Step. In that particular order.
No no no no. No.
Rearrange the syntax. Move the words around. That word. Step. This word. Step. Now this word, tap tap tap!
The rhythm and pulse of fingers as they tap. The up and down of spoken phrases rendered flat.
Tap tap tap the fingers tap. Index tap. Middle tap. The ABS white infill crumbles off the keycap.
Falter... breathe. The pinky quietly mutters and repeats.
Extend. Gyrate. Mark the sound of vocal intonation. Extend. Gyrate. Step on the proper punctuation.
Grave, acute, circumflex. Diaeresis, tilde, kroužeck.
Swirl, twirl. Middle up left. Ta ta ta ta, tap!
Pinky tap. Ring tap. Tap tap tap 200 characters per minute and the blistered tilde snaps!
Good online faces with large torsos, low contrast, sturdy as a rule. Avoiding serifs, or better yet, choosing to have none at all.
The Ñ appears all prim and proper. Its subtle curves slide into elegant stems. The tilde combed and gelled, lays flattened beneath a thick sebum layer.
But the squiggly path is wilful, has a life of its own. It liberates itself from the gooey plaster, making a loud palatal sound!
The Ñ is embarrassed, enveloped in shame. It returns to the drawing board. Arrows drag out its contagious splines. Once the tilde straightens, the Ñ is tamed.
The Ó lies inside its Adobe hut, enveloped by a lover's haze.
It summons up the image of a posh partner to cuddle and caress: a rich character with a modern geometry and even-width face.
The Ñ directs its stems towards the circular character, points drawing up and round, they turn into a curve; magnetic electricity flows out from the open counter spewing out gigantic Norepinephrine and Dopamine waves; tilde curls, creating a crest, it extends, coils, titillatingly entwining into the Ó's acute.
The connection then accelerates. Deteriorates. Rainbow spirals circulate.
Stoic mathematics and prohibiting parameters: the love scene rendered on a prehistoric OS. Cubic functions unsuccessfully translated as quadratic curves slit the ligatured diacritics' embrace.
Petite limber fingers adapt to someone else's scale. They stretch, push. Then stretch a little more ... They press down. Press down hard. They press a little stronger. Press down a little longer ... then circumvent typing accents in at all.
Diacritics dream of accessing the keyboard. Second, third, even the fourth row would do!
Placed on a keycap their purpose would then be deemed important; each foreign character given a meaningful role.
The accented characters feel shame for needing the manufacturers' good opinion. But only expensive fonts have a broad multilingual support.
Choices reduced to the available system resolutions. Meeting the standards of another means making them your own.
Catalina Barroso-Luque is a Mexican, Glasgow based, artist interested in how text penetrates and colonizes bodies – her own and those around her. Her practice spans across writing, installation and scripted voice performance. Catalina often works with practitioners in other fields, playing with how interactions infect and inflect each other. Ñ is part of a series of works focused on performing letters and character types; other pieces include: eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee (GSS Fellowship presentation, The Pipefactory Glasgow 2017) and Cannibal O (PSS London & CCA Glasgow 2019).