“Writers, artists, and public intellectuals are nearing some sort of precipice: Their audiences increasingly expect digital content to be free…Where publishing is concerned, the Internet is both midwife and executioner. It has never been easier to reach large numbers of readers, but these readers have never felt more entitled to be informed and entertained for free.”
While the article focuses largely on the financial and sales impact of the Internet on the publishing industry, it was the title that made me read it. I am intrigued that over my life time, the primary information medium of print – be it books, newspapers or magazines – has been overtaken by pixels on a screen. Digital is often cheaper to produce and more immediately accessible, but can’t be handled like a paper book.
In the past, the printed word in books has been culturally elevated to a cannon of societal truth, but as information changes so rapidly, the production time-frame of print is not longer compatible with the rate of knowledge. Books seem to be passing into decorative curiosity and a nostalgic artifact.
This is perhaps the ideal space for the artist to reclaim the book, when others turn to the digital space of blogs and Kindle. It is an opportunity to share and keep and also places this project in an interesting space: artists using the internet to birth a book.
“What is on the paper map is a representation of what was in the retinal representation of the man who made the map; and as you push the question back, what you find is an infinite regress, an infinite series of maps.”
Gregory Bateson, in “Form, Substance and Difference,” from Steps to an Ecology of Mind (1972)
An atlas is a visual depiction of knowledge: a gathering of geographical information compiled and collated to bring before our eyes, in a systematic way, a whole multiplicity of spaces gathered into a single volume.
To make an atlas is to reconfigure space, to redistribute it, to redirect it: to dismantle it where we thought it was continuous; to reunite it where we thought there were boundaries. Bold red lines draw borders across a page, dividing a paper space based either on features of the corresponding actual landscape space or an arbitrary human imposition.
In December 2001, I visited the United States for the first time. We spent New Years at the Ogilby Sand Dunes just outside of Yuma in the Algodones Dunes area, which sit on the border of Arizona, California and Mexico. At midnight we welcomed in the New Year with the usual fanfare and then went to bed. Laying in the RV trying to get to sleep at 1am, the California New Year celebrations from the camp site next door started, delayed because of the different Daylight Savings timezone. On one side of the line we celebrated the New Year an hour earlier than the neighbors barely 300m away. I could see the flashes of their fireworks on the inside of my closed eyelids.
The next morning we rode quad bikes out to the US – Mexican border. At that time, it was marked with a stone obelisk in the middle of the sand dunes (similar to this). The especially consequential red line on the map was denoted by a singular point in an otherwise continuous stretch of sand. Now, a large barrier fence runs the length of the sand dunes, clearly imposing the human line on the landscape space.
I have been working with the idea of borders and edges in relation to maps and actual landscape for over a year which has resulted in a number of paper constructions. The unresolved incarnation pictured above is tentatively titled Globe. Pages from a 1970’s Readers Digest Atlas have been geometrically divided and then reconstructed using Magnus Wenninger’s polyhedron and dual models. The dismantling and reassembling process returns a flat mapped paper landscape to its original three dimensional form, creating a new space lapse in the translation. The Bay of Biscay now borders the Gulf of Alaska to build a new body of water; a man-made sea on a man-made globe. The two areas are 8104 km apart as the crow flies, but in Globe they are neighbours. They sit side by side and fold away from each other and then back towards another notional geography.
With leaving hearth, home and country in the forefront of my mind, I’m starting a new project based on our beloved bookcase.
I will draw/trace into a book all of the first pages from all the travel or adventure or journey books my partner and I own. Ranging from true adventure novels to ‘coming-of-age’ journeys, I’ve been fairly inclusive with the titles, and each of these books speaks to me of some sort of change or transformation. What follows is a list of titles and a couple of explanations … and before you ask, no, I haven’t read them all.
Batting on the Bosphorus, Before the Wind
The Catcher on the Rye (because the first scene is of him running away from school), The Cave of the Cyclops (a single chapter we have (not sure why) from Homer’s Odyssey), The Colour of Heaven
Duck, Death and the Tulip
Great Expectations, The Great War for Civilisation, Gulliver’s Travels
Here Comes Another Vital Moment, The Hobbit, Homage to Catalonia
In Great Waters, It’s All About the Bike (because what better mode of transport?)
Kidnapped, Kidnapped (we have two versions)
The Last Continent, Lolita (because they meander around in the old jalopy), The Lord of the Rings
Mister Pip, Moby Dick, Monstrous Regiment, My Name Was Judas (because Jesus and his disciples were pretty good walkers), Mysteries on the High Seas
On The Road (how could this list be without it?)
Sailing Alone Around the World, Saving Fish From Drowning, The Secret Garden (because the lasting impression I had from this book was the comparisons between India and England), Seven Pillars of Wisdom, The Science Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe (honestly, only because it has a cool-looking hot-air-balloon-space-ship on the front), Small Boat Sailing (because it’s another cool mode of transport), Somewhere East of Suez
The Tale of Johnny Town-Mouse, Treasure Island, The Two Towers
White Teeth, The Wind in the Willows (because a sense of spring urges Mole from his hole), The Wishing Tree, Witches Abroad
these are the backing papers from animal i have cut out for drawings. they have been stuck to my wall for a while. the u-tac has soaked into the paper a bit so you can see the lump behind. they remind me of the ‘wait and see’ thought in that the information is missing, or alluded to. they are sort of empty, or maybe marker for something. though maybe that is only because i know they are sticker-backs that point to a whole lot of information existing elsewhere. i like the way the hold a sort of informationless space.
i tried scanning one as well, maybe it is a bit sanitised.
When I was a child my family had a book called Wait And See. In my recollection it is small, squarish with a hard cover and cotton stitching that was somewhat old and sagging, so that the pages were a bit loose. The book had some story about a girl, which I don’t remember at all. What I do remember is that every second page of the book said “wait and see” the words were in quite small font, right in the middle of the page, like this:
Mostly I used to read the book by reading every second page, the wait and see page. Maybe it was because I was not very good at reading, or maybe compared to the trite stories most children’s books contained ‘wait and see’ was quite compelling. Read this way it was all waiting and no seeing. The potential was endless.
Not that this has too much to do with an artist’s book, which presumably has as much to do with seeing as waiting. It does however have a bit to do with looking at a book (as opposed to reading it for its story) I remember this book as a tactile object; it’s thin yellowed pages slightly loose on their cottons and those little words floating in the empty page. I also, retrospectively, remember it as a performative moment, I could choose how to read the book, and by so doing reinvent it entirely. I did not have to be an obedient viewer reading from beginning to end, it worked just as well backwards.