Hoboes were a subculture formed by rootless migrants that traveled across the United States, from the late 19th to the mid 20th century, looking for work wherever it was to be found.
To communicate their experiences to their fellow Hobos, they developed a pictorial alphabet known as “Hobo Signs.”
Hoboes used these symbols with the intention to pass on vital information. Generally this signs were carved, or marked with chalk or coal, and left in strategic locations.
In 2005, for the 9th Istanbul Biennial (curated by Charles Esche and Vasif Kortun) Otto Berchem resurrected their alphabet with the project Temporary Person Passing Through, marking important sites with the intention to map his own experience of the city.
The exploration of language, codes and signs has been a constant in Berchem´s work. Since 2011 Berchem has developed his own chromatic system of communication, inspired by the writings of Nabokov, Adoum, the medical condition of synesthesia, and the work of Peter Saville.
With the series Hobo Paintings he proposes a series of pictograms, using his alphabet and Hobo signs.