Wednesday 15 October 2014

Digital scrolls (again)

Helen Douglas at Whitechapel Art Book fair, 2014


The Art Book Fair at Whitechapel certainly looked different from the last year: upstairs had a much happier feel, with more tables filling the space and a refreshingly (!) large number of Canadian presses. Downstairs seemed as usual - big publishers and big tables. The cafe, however, was almost gone, with it's space in-between the floors occupied by a Blurb commission Unbinding the Book [why in the cafe?), which ranged between underwhelming and truly exciting. [Anyone knows what Imprimatur is? Is it a real imprint? Or is it merely a metaphysical concept from Blurb marketing department?] On the whole - a few hits and misses later - Whitechapel Art Book Fair was an improvement from the year before. 
(My personal favorite at Whitechapel, however, remained Kader Attia's Continuum of Repair: The Light of Jacob’s Ladder: a magnificent bookwork or a piece of installation - the choice is yours. )

One of the highlights of the fair itself was Helen Douglas’ new book, produced as a result of her residency in Mexico, where she traveled under the invitation from Martha Hellion. Surreal and mesmerising continuous sequence of images blends foliage, architecture, fragments of Mexican papercuts and textile into a seamless panorama. A garden of Eden? {seductive}. The Mexican book is not dissimilar in the many ways to the other books that Helen has been producing since 2001, that feature her trademark Thumberlina's perspective to draw in the viewer through the boundary of paper into the enchanted photographic foliaged images beyond. One of those works is her scroll book The Pond at Deauchar, which was conceived and produced as a physical scroll and as a digital scroll.


Helen Douglas The Pond at Deuchar
There is a well known anecdote about how Helen Douglas wanted to produce the scroll as a digital app to accommodate The Pond at Deuchar.  Apple refused the idea, because the app did not include any more functions than scrolling the scroll (!).
Eventually the app for this artist's book was born and the pond can now be enjoyed online HERE.  It is a beautiful translation from one medium to another, that maintains the original fluidity and depth of immersion. In fact, the experience of the digital scroll excels as submersion into the work due to the level of detail that zoom option provides.

For comparison, below are a few more digitised scrolls by academic institutions. 

1. A library of digitised Asian scroll paintings at the University of Chicago.

Lake Zhiyang and the Eastern Lake 1663

There is a phenomenal incentive from the Center for the Art of East Asia at the University of Chicago - they have now uploaded online a library of digitised  Asian scroll paintings. What a resource!
The Center for the Art of East Asia initiated the Digital Scrolling Paintings Project to support the teaching of classes on East Asian painting. The temporal and spatial qualities of handscroll paintings are lost in photographs of selected sections that are reproduced in books and projected in the classroom.  Although used widely in current art education and the study of these works of art, such reproductions seriously distort the nature of handscrolls by erasing their sequential and participatory viewing process. The display of these paintings in long cases in museums also is not the way in which these paintings were made to be experienced. With the assistance of the Humanities Computer Research Department, the Center developed a prototype for digital scrolling technology as an exciting tool to simulate the viewing experience and to improve understanding of handscroll paintings.

2. Dead Sea Scrolls online by Google and Israel Museum in Jerusalem. 
Dead Sea Scrolls
In 2011 Google and Israel Museum in Jerusalem uploaded the oldest known biblical manuscripts Dead Sea Scrolls online in a high-resolution format, so they become available to all and everyone (with a reliable and fast internet connection, that is).

3. A Ripley scroll from 1477
Ripley Scroll (1477)
This Ripley scroll (1477) has been scanned-in as a very VERY hi-res very long photo and uploaded online: a delightful level of detail, that can otherwise be only enjoyed with a magnifying glass. In simple terms, it is an alchemical manuscript that shows in pictorial cryptograms the production of the philosopher's stone (the elusive ingredient that produces incorruptible gold out of lesser metals; and/or the elixir of life). A very detailed description of the scroll is on BibliOdyssey (among numerous other treasures that can be found there).

4. Georgian scrolling book Trip to London at Princeton University
Artist unknown, Trip to Town (London: William Sams, 1822). 
Box embossed: E.P. Sutton & Company; 
Sangorski & Sutcliff. GA 2005.01039
 And finally, here is this charming Georgian device Trip to London that has been digitised by Princeton University. It is a box with a twelve plate scroll that contains a story about a very unfortunate  honeymoon journey to London by a recently married Mister O'Squat and the Widow Shanks. 
Here is a POST from Booktryst (June, 2013) about the scroll, including this curious snippet of information.
It is not found in Tooley or Abbey, has no copies recorded by OCLC/KVK in institutional holdings worldwide, no copies at auction since ABPC began indexing results in 1923, no copy in the collection of the British Museum, nor is it found in the annals of our sister TV series, Divorce Court. It is an incredibly scarce item, as rare as a Taylor Swift long-term relationship.


Digital editions raise questions about... editions: what is the relationship between the digital and the material version of the book? Is it an edition in its own right? Prof. Michelle Brown spoke of digital manuscripts in the article she wrote for our Codex: Between This and That book. She suggested that digital editions should be treated as born digital editions in their own right.
The exponential increase in digital imagery available online is encouraging scholars accustomed to working on early texts in the form of printed editions to become aware of the value added and transformative experience of working directly from the primary sources, without having to travel around the world and negotiate access to materials, the rarity and fragility of which may necessitate curatorial restrictions on access to be applied – as in the case of the Beowulf manuscript itself. Manuscript curators initially anticipated that digital surrogates would lessen the demand for consultation of the original; in fact, the stimulation of interest that they provoke can often lead to even more requests to view. Scholarly scepticism is such that there is also felt to be a need to see the original for oneself, in order to test the veracity of digital versions – which indeed have their own life and should be seen as born digital e-manuscripts in their own right.
 Born digital e-scrolls in their own right, then.


The original version of this post can be found in Egidija's Notebook II.

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