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Carol Ribi

E-Mail: ribi [at] schriftbildlichkeit.de


Ph.D. Project

Writing in Pictures: Warja Lavater's Artwork and Theory.



My PHD project focuses on the artwork of Swiss artist Warja Lavater-Honegger (1913-2007), who lived and worked in Zurich, New York and Paris. Lavater developed a creative language of signs that was based on abstract signs and with which she was able to "tell" stories in a purely visual manner. Her first visual story book was published by the Museum of Modern Art of New York in 1962. Afterwards the French editor Adrien Maeght printed and published Lavater’s books in Paris.


The aim of my research project is to describe the artistic process of Lavater’s development of a language of abstract signs. I consider the historical context and the circumstances in which she lived as well as her educational background, which was based on the ideas of the late Bauhaus. These historical inquiries are the groundwork for a further task, namely, to frame a theory of a "poetic graphisme". With the term "poetic graphisme" I seek to theorize Lavater’s creative language of signs. My hypothesis is that this kind of notational writing system, as Warja Lavater uses it, fulfills the function of reference and narrative on a purely visual level, without using any phonographic or natural language-based signs. This assumption opens two paths for discussion: first, it leads to the question of how narratives can work without the help of the conventional writing system and phonographic language. Second, it brings in the question of how signs can be understood, what types of graphic elements presuppose their comprehensibilty and what kind of notation is functional for telling stories visually.


In this sense my research employs two different scientific practices. On the one hand, it follows the art historian's approach in gathering historical evidence of the artist's work and life. On the other hand, it relates the work to theoretical questions from semiology, the study of art and visual perception and narrative studies. This project investigates the connection between aesthetic and functional forms of notation, while also analyzing the visual appearance or surface of the art work and the meaningful composition and movement of graphic signs. The underlying thesis is that meaning develops out of the interconnection and play between the visual and referential elements of notations.


Curriculum Vitae

since 07/2012

Grant from the „Forschungskredit“ fund of the University of Zurich

since 10/2011

Associate member of the DFG Research Training Group „Notational Iconicity“, Freie Universität Berlin


Master of Arts from the University of Zurich with a thesis on „The First World War and the Suffering in Culture. A Study of Change in the Texts of Sigmund Freud, Thomas Hardy and Wilfred Owen“


Scholarship of the Reiser-Siemssen/Selve-Gerdtzen-Foundation and the City of Zurich


Script and direction for the film „Wider den Stand der Dinge. Die Universität im Umbruch“ as a part of the university anniversary project.


Project manager of „Z(w)eitwissen“, a project for the 175th anniversary of the University of Zurich containing an exhibition, a publication and a film about the student movement since 1968 in Zurich


Tutor at the English Department of the University of Zurich






Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft