Sep 28, 2009

Re-thinking 'the Idea of Book' : Mapping Interpretations

All things are subject to interpretation; whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth …… Friedrich Nietzsche

Our understandings of history are largely based on a set of interpretations that followed one after the other into thousands of documents that are archived and recorded in various forms. These are what we consider as, memoirs of the past and present, evidences of an evolving history and culture. This aspect/act of interpretation is the central premise to this essay. It deals with interpretations with specific reference to the ‘Book’ both as a historically constructed object and idea. It is ought to set up a conceptual premise wherein which the interpretations on the idea and the object of the book be enquired, understood and critically engaged with. It also enquires the possibilities of imagining the idea/object of the book outside the ambit of its historical construction/understanding.

The book as it was understood is ‘a written or printed work consisting of pages glued or sewn together along one side and bound in covers’. [1] This definition codifies a formal schema on the basis of which you can call an object ‘book’. Though the content of the books keep being interpreted and re-interpreted, it is only at specific junctures that the formal structure of the book is really re- thought. Keeping these aspects in mind, the primary initiative of this residency has been to re-think the physicality and functionality of the book. It is also necessary to understand that apart from re-thinking the physical/formal structure of the book, this residency has also brought forth various aspects such as narrative, text, image etc. that are historically associated with books into a different context. The artists in this residency have come from different cultural/disciplinary backgrounds, thus brought together the diversities of understanding/interpreting the very idea of the book. My attempt in this essay is to map the interpretations these diversities had put forward in the domain of bookmaking. It is also, to critically understand their implications within the discursive field of cultural production.

With the intervention of newer technologies, the way in which information is deciphered has significantly changed. The premises like internet function as obvious information sources in today’s global scenario. So book as understood today is not just something that deciphers information rather it has re-defined its own role and function within a socio-political sphere.

In specific reference to the visual art tradition and its association with the idea/object of the book, the Artist’s Book becomes an important genre that attempted to imagine the art work in the form of a book. One of the significant innovations the initial form of Artist’s Book had brought in is the intersection of text/image. Works of William Blake can be considered as initial example for this, as many of his books have an integration of image and text to the extent possible. For him this practice was a strategy to gain certain amount of independence in the process of bookmaking, publishing and distributing. Some of the significant western art traditions such as Futurism, Dada, Surrealism and Conceptual Art attempted to deal with the genre of Artist’s Book in their own distinct ways. Whereas Futurism published their avant-garde ideas in the forms of pamphlets, posters and magazines, Dada used the genre as a methodological strategy to contest against the established social/ disciplinary structures. Later to this Surrealism tried to revive back a specific kind of Artist’s book that existed around 1890’s in France and tried to manipulate its formal aspects. Conceptual Art as a movement adapted the form of Artist’s Books in much more strategic way with artists like Sol Lewitt, Bruce Nauman, Jaroslaw Kozlowski having Artist’s Book as a centre to their practice. In Indian context artist’s like Ghulam Mohammed Shiekh, Arpita Singh and Nalini Malani briefly but significantly dealt with this genre. This genre in that sense, historically opened up newer space wherein which the visualities imagined by the artists negotiated with the idea/object of the book. [2]

Keeping in mind the historical trajectories/transformations of both the idea/object of the book and the genre of the Artist’s Book that emerged at a specific historical time. The formulations in this residency attempted to move away from existing understandings of bookmaking and re-formulate diverse methodologies of dealing with it. In this process, objects such as bird cages, mirrors, window frames, bamboo sticks, and bricks came together to play their role. These objects however, are articulated through a different language as they are displaced and re-situated in different contexts and functions. These attempts also distance them from the historically constructed genre of the Artist’s Books and formulate a discursive space wherein which there are no clear demarcations on the basis of the genre.

At this point there are questions that need critical consideration. What are the possible ways in which the idea/object of the book can be re-interpreted/ re-imagined? What are the methodological strategies that can play role while one is set to move away from the basic structure of the book itself? The following analysis would try to broadly engage with these questions.

Sachin George Sebastian manipulates the paper roll and makes it into a fractured landscape; a plain sea reaches an urban architectural scene. The usage of roll here is a metaphoric act as it is something that doesn’t have an end and scroll in its artistic function has inherited quality of narrating short (hi) story. From the side view this work appears as a seismograph that has a plain line at the beginning and as the landscape head towards urbanity it goes up and down increasing its height and finally falls down at the end. Every fold in this work is understood as a fracture as it is transforming a space into something else all together. Sachin’s attempt through this is to question as to How Long? How Far? these fractures of landscapes in the name of development are going to happen, in midst of the fact that modern day urban architectures are bombarding with a visual excess leaving common person no space to relate or articulate. In this work Sachin brings forth the aspect of narrative in a peculiar way of his own. The various instances that got surfaced in this work are considered to be an outcome of his experiences/confrontations with the spaces around him and their transformations in the due course of time.

Sachin George Sebastian, How Long? How Far?

Sachin George Sebastian, How Long? How Far? (Side View)

In another work Sachin has conceived in this residency which also stands in continuation with the thematic of the above one, is a series of pages bound together. These are not mere pages in the conventional sense rather they have something unexpected to offer when you open them. The running text acts as an interacting agent making the viewer to turn them around into different ways. These are as Sachin explains the memoirs of his thought processes from a week before this residency has commenced and travelled in the whole five weeks. The end page of this is not a systematized approach with the skill; rather it was an attempt to move away from his own process of working thus questioning How Long? How Far? Such a formal experiment would reach. This work also moves away from the idea of linear narrative as every page has different story to tell and yet they all stay together as a fragmented assemblage.

Sachin George Sebastian, Five weeks of Residency and a week Before That

Sachin George Sebastian, Five weeks of Residency and a week Before That(Page 1)

Sachin George Sebastian, Five weeks of Residency and a week Before That(Page 2)

Sachin George Sebastian, Five weeks of Residency and a week Before That(Page 3)

Sachin George Sebastian, Five weeks of Residency and a week Before That(Page 4)

Sachin George Sebastian, Five weeks of Residency and a week Before That(Page 5)

Sachin George Sebastian, Five weeks of Residency and a week Before That(Page 6)

The relationship between text and the image plays a very important role in the context of Sukanya Ghosh’s work. Her works are juxtapositions of images, texts and meanings that articulate through a newer language. The frames here appear as pages that are transparent having images drawn and text written over it. The transparency here is a formal strategy that moves away from the understandings about the opacity of a page historically. This works articulates through three forms broadly, firstly the structure is of Prologue that stands as an introduction to the one that follows. It is a closed structure tied together with papers pasted, images drawn and texts written over it and when you see through you can see one through the other. The second level of the work is a 3 fold structure that has a layering of text and the image with its frames wide open inviting the viewer’s view to pass through them. The text written on transparent surface such as glass with images overlapping and intersecting bring forth a newer methodology of dealing with image and text relationship. In the third level there are pages with printed texts and random images joined as if they are stitched together almost in the form of a tapestry. Some of these have an appearance of semi- transparency as they are joined with a paper on top and stitched from its four sides. These attempts also bring forth the overlap of images and text in various modes and layers thus, re-formulates the way in which the texts are situated and understood. In that sense Sukanya’s interpretations re-situate the functionalities of the objects, text, and image to produce newer meanings.

Sukanya Ghosh, The Book of Residues, A Folio in 3 Acts

Sukanya Ghosh, The Book of Residues, A Folio in 3 Acts (Detail)

Sukanya Ghosh, The Book of Residues, A Folio in 3 Acts (Detail)

Sukanya Ghosh, The Book of Residues, A Folio in 3 Acts (Detail)

Sukanya Ghosh, The Book of Residues, A Folio in 3 Acts (Detail)

Meghna and Aditya’s project is an attempt to perceive the space as a page and also to create a space in that page. The corner of their studio has been framed into the page and the wall joint stands as its dividing line. This space is explored to its limit as there are attempts of constant erasure and re-working in it by assembling objects, making drawings thus creating a space in a space. These attempts can be understood as their perceptions while confronting with the space day after day and experimenting within a fixed frame. The documentation of this process is a series of temporary constructions that have occurred within the page/space in the due course of the residency. Such an approach towards the form of the page brings forth interesting instances as this attempt moves out from the conventional idea of a page and places it onto a corner of the room. It also made possible a playful approach towards the elements in the page itself with strategic manipulations.

The Animation projection that runs across the flying pages of telephone directory book is an outcome of the series of drawings that have taken shape one over the other on the surface of the long sheet that was pasted on the side wall of the studio space. This sheet stands as a residue that has a series of hidden images in its underlying layers that have been erased in the process. From another perspective the strategy of projecting this animation on a book that is printed is to mock the functionality of the object such as book by using it for an unusual purpose. The virtual nature of the images here, show their ability to travel across the physicality of the book.

Meghna Bisineer & Aditya Pande, Untitled (process)

Meghna Bisineer & Aditya Pande, Untitled

Meghna Bisineer & Aditya Pande, Untitled, Single Channel Projection

Meghna Bisineer & Aditya Pande, Untitled

Logaine Navascues’s Random Reflections are a series of micro narratives which are actually not narratives in the conventional sense. These are Random Reflections that articulate about various aspects of the social operation and function. The texts are printed on small white paper pasted on to the black cards in a sequential frame that appears as an attempt to highlight the aspect of the text. In other words when you see these folded black sheets bound together in the manner of accordion fold. The first attention goes to the small white paper that is pasted on to it with printed texts. This creates a site for interaction as it makes the viewer to push his sight a little in order to catch hold of the text. The series of mirrors weaved in between also act as interactive agents as they show multiple reflections of an image. The mirror in this context stands as a metaphor and speaks about a psychological reflection while one confronts with any space. The hung bird cage and a elongated board placed on to the wall with small mirrors all over having text printed on them is another formal aspect through which Logaine formulates her work, Here the short texts get reduced into mere alphabets thus inviting the viewer to create his/her own words by joining the alphabets. Getting all aspects together in short Logaine’s interpretations/reflections are outcomes of her confrontations with different cultures, space, and people. Though she titled them as Random Reflections they are not by product of the lack of coherence rather they are to be understood as a significant methodological strategy of engaging with the thematic, idea and space all together.

Logaine Navascues, Random Reflections

Logaine Navascues, Random Reflections (Detail)

Logaine Navascues, Random Reflections (Detail)

Logaine Navascues, Random Reflections (Detail)

Logaine Navascues, Random Reflections (Detail)

Sebastian Cordova’s works somehow situate similar trajectory; they are memoirs of his every day experiences expressed in various ways such as photography, text, and drawing. His work Strip Tease is a series of texts/narratives that are written about various aspects within a social sphere. They are reflections, reactions towards confrontations/conversations with space, people and culture at large. These texts have a poetic approach but they are not poems in the conventional sense. The drawings are narratives of different scenes that too having a strong poetic synthesis. These representations are scenes of game play that metaphorically approach into various aspects of life, re-working on the notion that understands the life as a game. Liberty Kites is a series of photographs that are conceived in different locations/frames. These are images of kites lying down that are recorded in patterns one after other or sometimes one led to the other. This series of photographs construct a visual narrative through a pattern that doesn’t necessarily have a specific beginning or an end. In another work Sebastian manipulated a readymade book titled Billy’s Truck Diary. In this particular work he erased some of the texts from the sequence of a sentence and replaced them with words that don’t make sense in that sequence thereby de-constructed the narrative.

Sebastian Corodova's Display Space

Sebastian Corodova, Mithila Painting in collaboration with Amresh Jha a painter in Delhi Haat

Sebastian Corodova, Strip Tease

Sebastian Corodova, Post-Colonial Thought

Sebastian Corodova, Billy's Truck Diary

Thus by bringing everything together it is important to draw attention here that the formulations in this residency in their own ways, moved away from the existing understandings with regard to idea/object of the book. Sachin’s attempt adapts the material of paper which was historically associated with the book. By displacing the understanding of the paper as a flat surface it tries to create a kind of architectural piece. Similarly his popup book also tries to construct architectures inside a space such as a page, thereby breaking the limitations it had historically. His attempts also engages with the aspect of the narrative, whereas the paper-cut landscape narrates the transformation of space from a rural to urban scenario, the pop-up book stand as visual narrative of his thought processes throughout the duration of the residency. The trope of page is also explored by Aditya Pande and Meghna Bisineer. In their work Untitled the corner wall of a room was visually transformed into a page and whatever experiments that have taken place are limited to this frame of the page. In another work they have conceived which a series of drawings animated are and projected on the flipping pages of an already printed book, is also understood as an attempt to mock the function of the same. The trope of page occupied a semi transparent state in the works of Sukanya, The window frames are transformed into pages with painted images and pasted/written texts over them. This diluted the opacity that has been attributed to the page historically and made viewer to see through them. Her works also formulated newer relationships between the image and the text. Logaine’s Random Reflections tried to articulate through narratives that were random in their approach towards subject. The trope of the page here is presented in an accordion fold having tiny paper with printed texts pasted on to the every fold. It also adapted various objects such as bird cages and mirrors in order create an interactive space wherein which the viewers are invited to make their own words. Sebastian Corodova explored the aspect of narrative in his own way, whereas Striptease and Liberty Kites construct a narrative through visual and the text Billy’s Truck Diary tried to manipulate the words in the already existing narration thereby de-constructed the meaning it had to offer.

Before concluding it is necessary to mention some of the critical questions the residency as a whole kept forward into the discursive domain of Bookmaking. All the attempts in this residency some way or the other tried to appropriate/interpret aspects/tropes/ instances that are historically affiliated with the object/idea of the book. But reviving back the basic premise of the residency that is ought to re-think and re-imagine the idea/object of the book, how far one can consider that the attempts in this residency re-imagined the historically constructed entity called book in the actual sense? This also leads us to a state where we realize the practical impossibility of re-imagining an object/idea outside the ambit of its historical formation. In that sense the attempts in this residency are initiations towards newer ideas about space, book, object etc that needs to extend its explorations/experimentations into broader avenues.

Srinivas Aditya Mopidevi

New Delhi

[1] Definition of the term ‘book’ as suggested by Concise Oxford Dictionary, Tenth Edition

[2] What Are Artist’s Books, From the website of Victoria Albert Museum, V&A South Kensington, Cromwell Road, London SW7 2RL

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