Sunday, 29 April 2012

Recycling printed matter: ancient palimpsest I

* Sumerians treated clay tablets as ephemeral notebooks. Once the information they contained became irrelevant, the tablets were soaked an reshaped, to be used again. As a result, few examples survived - ironically, largely survived those that got burned in the fire, i.e. fired.

* Sometimes the back side of the papyrus scroll was used to copy an new text.  The books of that kind were not particularly decorative - they were produced for a keen reader, who was more interested in content rather than the status.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Words : EHON 絵本

E-hon chiyomigusa (Illustrated book of the thousand floating grasses) by Nishikawa Sukenobu

Kuroneko Yamato (Black Cat of Yamato) by Katsushika Hokusai

Ehon mushi erami by Kitagawa Utamaro

Ehon mushi erami by Kitagawa Utamaro

Ehon mushi erami by Kitagawa Utamaro
Seiro bijin awase sugata kagami (Mirror of Beautiful Women of the Green Houses) by Katsukawa Shunsho and Kitao Shigemasa

Ehon shungа print by Shuncho Yushido

Since about seventeenth eighteenth century Japanese have been publishing illustrated books consisting mainly of pictures and possibly a few words. Picture books. Ehon or e-hon. The books were produced using predominantly black and white prints on thin paper. Then nineteenth century brought an avalanche of printed matter, flooding the market with colour prints, produced using multiple blocks.
Ehon books were highly sought after in Europe and the USA - as a result most of them are now kept in Western collections, rather than in Japan. Well, I suppose this can be said about most of the artefacts from Asia or Africa.

Monday, 9 April 2012

A Million Years of On Kawara @ Baltic, Newcastle

APRIL 9, 2012 AD

It is an obvious fact, that fish and chips do not come any better than at North Shields: complete a queue,  tea, buttered bread, beautifully fluffy fish and an extensive amount of grease that sticks to the roof of your mouth for the rest of the day. 

Still rubbing onto that grease we went to Baltic gallery in Newcastle - my favorite exhibition space. Ever.
On the first floor we found On Kawara.

On Kawara's One Million Years is an epic work of conceptual art. It speaks simply and directly about a subject that is relevant to us all: the passage and marking of time. The monumental 20-volume work is comprised of Past, a typewritten record of the date of every year from 998,031 BC to 1969 AD and Future, which accounts for 1996 AD to 1,001,995 AD. Past is dedicated to ‘all those who have lived and died’ and Future is ‘for the last one’.

A couple sits in the middle of a large white room on a platform. It looks like a conference. The couple are taking turns to read the dates one by one. Year after year. The sound of their voices is strangely comforting. It feels like listening to the shipping forecast and gale warnings on the BBC. A familiar audio experience that makes no sense. Comforting nevertheless. Counting time. We sit and listen. My mother-in-law drifts off to sleep. 

On Kawara is obsessed with marking the passage of time. His Today paintings series have been ongoing since 1966. Simple monochromatic paintings of the date and place where they were painted come in a set with a boxed newspaper from that day and place. Repetitive. Minimalist. A visual equivalent of reading out the dates in a large white room.

The white room in Baltic also contains one of his actual printed book. 

One Million Years

On Kawara (Japanese, born 1933)

1999. Artist's book in two volumes, Each: 5 15/16 x 4 5/16 x 1 3/4" (15.1 x 10.9 x 4.4 cm). Publisher: Editions Micheline Szwajcer and Michèle Didier, Brussels. Printer: Jongbloed, Heerenveen, The Netherlands. Edition: 570. Monroe Wheeler Fund. © 2012 On Kawara

Heavy and substantial. If closed, it looks like a bible, dictionary, encyclopedia, War and Peace or another work of substantial authority. The book is behind the glass - no touching. The open pages contain lines and columns of numbers. Some absurd statistics. Nonetheless, I feel an urge to find the year of my birth. I cannot. The book is behind the glass - no touching.

Can you count to a hundred? A thousand? - I remember asking my friend at the start of the primary school. Can you count to a million?


Andrea Zitel @ Baltic, Newcastle

Loved it. A truly harmonious blur of art and design. An utopian fantasy of customized pods and furniture placed in an idealistic world of hippiesVSpioneersVSFarenheit451film in felted uniforms. 

Here is an interesting interview  with her on the subject of art-craft-design: 

Andrea Zittel is a contemporary artist living in the high desert of California. Her work blurs the line between art and everyday life. With a slightly distopic and fantastic view of existence she has done things like breed chickens, make modular living environments and create a 44-ton floating island off the coast of Denmark. She graciously let SuperNaturale interview her about her work, her thoughts about art versus craft and her deep love of felting.

Andrea Zittel:
It’s interesting to be doing this interview with you for SuperNaturale right now, because after years of working in the margins between design and art - now I’m working on a trinity to combine design, craft and art.

Since graduate school I’ve been interested in the idea of craft. But every time I brought it up in school people would discourage it. Craft is sort of a scary area for a lot of artists. So I’ve been trying to think about why there is this prejudice against craft – and have realized that it is primarily seen as a regressive gesture. So the question that follows this is: how can craft, in some way, become progressive? Or another approach is to think about how it can actually be made relevant to a contemporary lifestyle.

And do you mean the making or the having?
In my mind it’s more about making it. For me the definition of craft is that it is an individual form of production as opposed to mass production, and also that a crafted item usually be made by the same person who would wind up using it.

If craft is individual production, what is the difference between art and craft?
Well that similarity is probably what scares most artists. But for me the function of art is more to do with facilitating new forms of perception. Art helps us to perceive things in a different way. Then I see design as a pursuit to shape the way that these things look and function in a more practical sense... and craft delves into production and the way in which they are made. I think that all three areas can be components of a single object – in fact, perhaps we should always be thinking about this trilogy when we bring a new object into the world.

So craft can be the process by which you arrive at art.
It can be part of the process, but I feel that it hasn’t been an important part of artistic production for a while now. The thing is that after several decades of artists challenging the conventions of authorship by not producing their own work, it has now become the hallmark of an important artist to have a large crew of fabricators who make their work for them.

It seems to me that there is a gap there somehow--presumably when most artists are starting out they would need to do it themselves, and contracting it out would be a bit of a leap.
There are some artists who do that DIY thing really well but when I follow a lot of younger artists I see that when many of them start showing, they immediately aspire to start working with assistants and studios. Personally I find it really stressful to work with assistants and until this last year I never had a studio...

So it sounds to me like you have been crafting since art school, that you have always been very involved in the making of your art.
Sure. And I paid my way through art school by doing bronze casting and welding and woodworking for other artists - so I’m pretty good at doing those things even though it hasn’t been part of the content of my work.

I find making things for myself enormously empowering and I have this intuitive feeling that craft could still be really important in people’s lives. All of my work keeps coming back to the idea of individual empowerment. Like when I made design it was very much anti-design, and anti-architecture, it was more about how to be an empowered consumer and to be your own ultimate authority. So with craft there’s another form of this idea that you can be doing things for yourself.

Have you always made your own clothes, or have you ever had them made?
Well, in the early 90’s when I was wearing 6-month uniforms, I would have a tailor make them because I wanted them to be really perfect and I don’t sew that well. But the Personal Panels and Crocheted Dresses I make myself. I’m better at crocheting and felting than at sewing.

Here is the text from the exhibition brochure:

Andrea Zittel

Lay of My Land
10 February 2012 - 20 May 2012
Born in California in 1965, Andrea Zittel’s projects are rooted in everyday life. In 1999 she moved to the Mojave Desert with the idea of leading an experimental life and established A-Z West, a site that encompasses all aspects of daily living as ‘an ongoing endeavor to better understand human nature and the social construction of needs.’ At A-Z West routine activities such as sleeping, eating, cooking and socialising become artistic actions. For over two decades Zittel’s experiments here have included dressing in the same home-sewn uniform for months on end, living on an artificial island and living without measured time. She is best known for her ‘living systems’ that explore the fundamental elements of human survival. A-Z West consists of six gradually acquired parcels of land. It is located in an area where, from the 1940s to the early 1970s, the US Government gave people five acres of land under the Homestead Act as long as they could improve it by constructing an inhabitable structure. Today, the result is a seemingly infinite grid system of dirt roads and tiny, largely abandoned, shacks.
Zittel’s crochet works explore one of the fundamental principles of her practice: the possibility of freedom born from limitations. Each work is based on a specific self-imposed rule system that dictates the final form. Clasp 2010 was made by making ninety-degree turns and three stitches in any given corner. The Bodily Experience of a Physical Impracticality 2010 is a starburst of incremental units. The works have a contrasting relationship. Clasp holds like an embrace while The Bodily Experience of a Physical Impracticality evokes the body moving through space and is reconfigured each time it is shown.
Raugh Sculpture
The Raugh (raw/rough) liveable sculptures are furniture modules that were also developed from the idea of freedom within limitation. Like Zittel’s crochet, these objects are built with strict organising criteria. The Raugh system plays with the idea of natural order. Zittel believes that things belong most naturally in the environment in which you place them. She sees the Raugh Bookshelf 2006 as an ‘energetic accumulator’ that sucks life onto its surface. The Raugh sculptures adapt to domestic disorder and to the accumulation of dirt. The user is central to the functionality of the work and the customisation of the basic modules is an integral part of the process.
Wall Sprawls
The Wall Sprawl works are created using satellite images of uninhabited land that is starting to be developed. The images reveal the cultural context of the American Southwest and challenge the popular notion of the desert as a wilderness. The reality is a rapidly developing, complex and politicised space – its resources are exploited by the US Military and it has the fastest growing population in the United States. Wall Sprawl #2 (Las Vegas between Enterprise and Henderson) 2011 draws attention to the fringe areas that lie between the desert and large-scale development. Its pattern reveals different time periods, agendas and economic systems: expensive developments have organic forms, while cheaper developments follow rigid grid patterns. The use of repeated patterns, tiling and mirroring in the work echoes the sense of never-ending sprawl.
Lay of My Land
In contrast to the Wall Sprawls, Lay of My Land 2011 emphasises the fact that the landscape has been divided into arbitrary sections and reveals a collision between natural geography and man-made systems. Here, Zittel focuses on the concept of the parcel map, which superimposes a man-made system of measurement and distribution onto the land. In practical terms, this historical process of division means that Zittel is not permitted to build across the boundaries between adjacent parcels of her own land. Zittel’s house, studios and a number of Wagon Stations are visible in the topography of this work.
Wagon Stations
The Wagon Stations have sat on one of the six parcels at A-Z West for eight years. Close to destruction by the elements and the hostile desert environment, they have been relocated to a gallery setting at the end of their functional lives. The units were developed as part of Zittel’s High Desert Test Sites project to accommodate visiting artists. A station wagon was the smallest thing Zittel could imagine safely sleeping in; the Wagon Stations developed from this idea. It had to be possible
for the structures to both withstand the elements and be small enough to be built without the need for permits. These requirements and restrictions have informed their design – the curved shape and leg supports allow the wind to move around them and their size is just sufficient for two people to sleep inside. They can also be locked and secured. The Wagon Stations offer a limited space that allows the bare essentials for living. Zittel wanted to experiment with living systems that could be left open for modification and customisation by those that inhabited them. All of the units in this exhibition have been customised by the people who used them and made them their personal space over time.

Elizabeth Price @ Baltic, Newcastle

I never use songs because of their words – but I do try to use songs with an effective, generic
pop sentiment, or a certain ersatz emotion, and to connect that strange, strong attachment
or feeling to another narrative. (Elizabeth Price)

The videos are great. They are probably as close as a video can get to an artist's book. A book with a sound.*

The one right at the back was about the things: User Group Disco. All it shows is a mesmorizing sequence of everyday objects spinning to the music. The objects are lit with that British Museum kind of light that makes them resemble important sculptural artefacts. You would be forgiven for thinking you are watching a documentary! The imagery is punctuated with her trademark snippets of text that drop in here and there. Like flicking trough a book. A Christie's catalogue.
Very simple. Very detached. Very engaging.

USER GROUP DISCO, 2009 (15 mins) This video is part of a series in which each episode constructs a section of a ruined museum. This work opens in the ‘Hall of Sculptures’ and is a fantasy narrative played out through objects, neglected items of kitsch and consumer goods and artefacts that swirl in the darkness like floating debris. These various utensils and ornaments drift through categories of definition and, in so doing, gradually generate other spaces and narratives. A distinctive rhythmic soundtrack completes the work.
The following text is an edited (twice!) interview between Elizabeth Price and Alessandro Vincentelli, BALTIC Curator of Exhibitions and Research.
AV: Each of the three works in the exhibition is constructed around a different spatial concept or place: the auditorium, the Hall of Sculptures (from an institution or museum), and, in the newest work, the bottom of the sea. How did you intend the viewer to experience these?
EP: I want the viewing space to exist as a parallel or mirroring space to the place constructed within the video, the fictional location proposed or established through the narrative. The title of the show, Here , refers to this. Each of the video’s narrators repeatedly calls the fictional place they are describing ‘here’. They insist upon the real presence of the fantasy location – but in doing so, I think they actually disrupt that fantasy, because they remind the viewer of the empirical ‘here and now’ of the viewing space, and of their own embodied reality. I called the show Here to co-name the two contingent but distinct ‘heres’ of the work.
AV: In your videos you don’t use people, you use objects. Are you more at home working with archives or museums, and with the meanings that objects have?
EP: I usually appropriate objects that do not belong to me personally, which I think are powerful or important. I take possession of them through art, and adapt them to tell other stories, although I usually draw upon their own existing, archived histories to do this. My work is about people and histories, but not individuals – it’s about people as collective forces or voices and how we emerge as such through material culture. This is why I use objects (in which category I would include melodies and writings).
AV: With several of your films you are creating a very particular kind of space in the work, one
that seems to be informed by film genres. Are science fiction films or horror films an influence
for you?
EP: I’m interested in the kinds of complex imaginary spaces constructed in science fiction. Each of my videos is constructed around a spatial principle, which is the ‘here’ the narrators refer to. In fact the narrative often comprises little more than establishing imaginary places and moving through them.
AV: The third section of the film Choir continues the research from the first two. With this you
have drawn on a powerful real event, a fire in a Woolworths department store in Manchester in May 1979. What was it that drew you to this?
EP: The image that links the three films is one of an expressive hand gesture. The image from the Woolworths fire of women waving from windows for help was the first image I came across of the three. I remember it from the time; I saw it in a newspaper when I was a child. When I was looking at the image of the Shangri Las doing their sombre, enigmatic dance, and wondering why I was so fascinated by it, I remembered this newspaper image. At the same time I was reading about ecclesiastical architecture – for no good reason, other than being interested in the arcane terminology – and I came across a similar image in that context. To some extent, it was a coincidence.
AV: Your use of text draws from a whole range of sources, from artistic manifestos to advertising scripts.
EP: I really enjoy finding and reading arcane texts. I like technical vocabularies and take pleasure in the formal qualities of strange or new words, how they sound or look on the page. The script for West Hinder drew from car manuals and press releases, and that for Choir (Part 1) drew on essays on ecclesiastical architecture. In each of these sources, a different kind of language has been used very precisely to name things, to build complex ideological worlds.
AV: What were the sources for the range of objects and artefacts in User Group Disco?
EP: I collected all the objects over several years, because they seemed redundant in some way: damaged, outmoded, useless or excessive. I didn’t initially collect them in order to make the video – and many objects in the ‘collection’ do not appear in the video.
AV: The motif of the spiral or the turntable recurs in User Group Disco. Why is that?
EP: The ‘pivotal’ object in the video is the turntable and this is used to animate the other objects, which rotate and swirl in the darkness. Hence the reference to ‘disco’ in the title. In The Form of the Phonograph Record’ (1934) Theodor Adorno describes the phonographic record as a strange and terrible science fiction object, in words which seem to evoke a whirlpool. This text, with its prophetic tone and paternal attitude, was the key for all the others. credits and funders.
(from the exhibition brochure)

P. S. October 22, 2012 - a follow up from Tate Britain.

* which suggests that an average codex book is a video without a sound. A customizable kind of video -  where the viewer can toggle the scenes as he pleases.