Thursday, 12 May 2016

NOTES: metaphor as a viaduct

spread from the upcoming work stormy seas and calm waters

The other way to rethink the word-thing relation is to look at the material roots of metaphorical language, and metaphor stands at the heart of all useful, meaningful descriptive language. The Greek linguistic roots of the term metaphor denote a "carrying across." Just as physical bridges are built over rivers, there are verbal viaducts that carry us across the physical experiences of our lives. We use language to bring us to some farther shore, to help make sense of events and experiences. The metaphor of "metaphor" is that it is based on physical, spatial activity.

The Materiality of Metaphor: On Words and Things (In this extract from his recent book, A History of Religion in 5½ Objects, S. Brent Plate discusses the grounding of language and meaning, especially metaphor, in bodily experience)







Wednesday, 27 April 2016

→ intimate and cathartic is the constellation of cancer

Speaking in Tongues: Speaking Digitally / Digitally Speaking (2015) by David Paton

"Intimate and cathartic" refers to both: the process of making a book and the process of reading. Book as an object encourages intimate interaction between the maker and the object, the object and the reader. Art as an activity veers towards the cathartic experiences between the artist and the object; the object and the viewer. Adding to that a medical context, results Medical Humanities and an approach, which considers artist’s books as a tool to aid healing and facilitate communication between doctors and patients.

Test Day II (1999) by Martha A. Hall


I was honoured to co-curate Prescriptions exhibition, which is now open until August 14 at The Beaney House of Art and Knowledge, Canterbury. The exhibition is part of Artists’ Books and the Medical Humanities project by the University of Kent’s School of English. It was originally structured around a set of Martha A Hall’s books, which she created from 1998 until her death in 2003 to document her experiences with breast cancer and interactions with the medical community. To extend Prescriptions further, an open-call was initiated, which resulted in over 200 artists worldwide submitting nearly 250 works, of which 88 bookworks were selected, reflecting on the themes of illness, grieving, disability, mental health, surgery, birth, aging, recovery, history of medicine, treatments and wellbeing. 

View of Prescriptions at The Beaney, Canterbury.

Illness, healing, grief are intimate processes. Like Martha A Hall, a number of Prescriptions artists have responded to their conditions by making books: whether it is their own diagnosis or grieving at the illness of a friend. Like Martha A Hall, 25 of the participants are dealing with cancers, of which 11 are breast cancer patients and further 4 are friends or family of a breast cancer patient. 


Cancer is one of the twelve constellations of the zodiac. Its name is Latin for crab and it is commonly represented as one. Its astrological symbol is ♋. Cancer is a medium-size constellation with an area of 506 square degrees and its stars are rather faint. Cancer is the dimmest of the zodiacal constellations, having only two stars above the fourth magnitude.

Cancer is frequently represented as a combination of five stars. 

1. Lizzie Brewer
The first star in my Cancer constellation is Lizzie Brewer. Lizzie's work Prescriptions is a set of embossed prints, which reflect on the amount of pills taken during the five years of her breast cancer treatment. Each tablet is one little step towards healing: her work shows a long journey. Repetition is what stands out in Lizzie’s work: tablets look the same, pages look the same. There is meditative quality to an ongoing expanse of sheet after sheet after sheet. Other then details of her surgical report there are no other texts and there are no images. The person behind this data is very much absent - repetition hides her like a smokescreen.

 2. Carole Cluer
Carol Cluer was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004. Unknown is another seemingly detached work, which hides individual well behind volume, number and data. Carole considers the number of people diagnosed with breast cancer in the same year as her. Based on the measurement grids and tattoos used when you have radiotherapy, she had drawn a grid by dragging a fine gold wire across paper, so each dot represents one person - anonymous person - like herself. The books consist of pages and pages and pages of identical looking hand drawn grids: simple to look at, but exquisitely executed. If Lizzie’s work zooms into individual’s experience, Carol’s work zooms out to globalize it, by re-contextualising herself into the worldwide stream of data.

3. Carol Pairaudeau
If individual is hiding behind the data in two previous two works, Carole Pairaudeau puts herself right into the center of her book. Not only is the work presented in a hospital sample bag with Carole's name printed on it, her book is a concertina, showing her scar and bruising on one side and words (about healing of the scar) running on the other. The photo images of bruised skin are otherworldly in their blues, greens and purples. Their beautiful and painterly quality contrasts with their painful origin. The text complements images: it transports reader through stitch to fade of the scar in three concertina folds, producing six steps. Like in Lizzie’s work, Carol’s work is about time and healing. The steps might be bigger and may take more time of complete, but the work feels cathartic and emotionally true.

4. Ruchika Wason Singh
Ruchika Wason Singh builds her book as a journey of acceptance at the loss of her breast. Physical and emotional healing is replicated in her creative process. Ruchika paints breasts and tears them into pieces, which she then restores by painting onto them. She resurrects the breast visually as she completes her inner transformation into an honest acknowledgment of her situation. Ruchika then pastes images onto sheets of paper to form a book, which further contributes to the idea of archiving the experience. Her set of collages is loosely held together by fabric, resembling bandages. The cover image is a stitched scar. The book is wholesome, bold and honest. Ruchika’s work elicits anguish and grief that feel resolved as the book is closed.

5. Mara Acoma
A photo book by Mara Acoma documents her own experience of having her mother diagnosed with breast cancer. The work, Mara says, allowed her to demystify her own emotional journey. She is using the visual language of near death experiences and folklore surrounding ghosts. The images are dark, produced to the backdrop of gothic sets of crumbling castles, gloomy forests, abandoned hospitals and misted up windows. A lone ghost of a heroine is moving from one location to the next across sprawling spreads of large size monochromatic photographs. Those imaginary locations represent her mental states, which - like Lizzie’s tablet’s or Carole’s bruises - are steps towards emotional healing. 


Intimate and cathartic is a diary for the writer, as it is for the reader. The books above are diaries in the most generic sense of the word. They are non-verbal diaries. Their authors reach beyond language to say the unsayable. The (almost) lack of language evokes universal readability of the artwork, which in turn, resonates with universal concerns of understanding illness and understanding healing as a process.



Wednesday, 30 March 2016

→ introducing physicians' almanac binding

English folding almanac in LatinMS.8932. Wellcome Library, 2014.

In the world of medieval English bookmaking, 15th century saw emergence of a physician's folded almanac. The book, which was produced to be carried around; where each page expanded individually to allow the medical practitioner access essential information on stars, saints and signs of Zodiac.

English folding almanac in LatinMS.8932. Wellcome Library, 2014.

Folded almanac belongs to the late medieval period, when astrology, science and magic coexisted in medicine. Almanacs were utilitarian tools, which helped physicians check the alignments of starts before making a diagnosis or commencing a treatment. They contained calendar (with saints' days), charts as well as diagram of Zodiac Man, which indicated the parts of the body as they were ruled by the signs of Zodiac.

English folding almanac in LatinMS.8932. Wellcome Library, 2014.

English folding almanac in LatinMS.8932. Wellcome Library, 2014.

English folding almanac in LatinMS.8932. Wellcome Library, 2014.

English folding almanac in LatinMS.8932. Wellcome Library, 2014.

The almanacs must have been abundant in the 15th century. By the end of the 1500s, physicians across Europe were required by law to calculate the position of the moon before carrying out complicated medical procedures, such as surgery or bleeding(2).

English folding almanac in LatinMS.8932. Wellcome Library, 2014.

By the end of the 1500s, physicians across Europe were required by law to calculate the position of the moon before carrying out complicated medical procedures, such as surgery or bleeding. - See more at:
The almanacs had a "best before" date - the astronomical and astrological data was only calculated for a period of about ten years. A physician could only safely consult the manuscript during those years, after which he would need an updated version of the calculations (4).  It is thought(4), that this is the reason why so few of them survived to this day.

English folding almanac in LatinMS.8932. Wellcome Library, 2014.

By the end of the 1500s, physicians across Europe were required by law to calculate the position of the moon before carrying out complicated medical procedures, such as surgery or bleeding. - See more at:
Almanacs - like contemporary books - were portable objects: they were produced to be carried around, often hung on the belt. They were built out of individual sheets of parchment, which were folded and sewn together to create a fan-like structure that allowed each leaf to be unfolded individually(1) - not unlike maps. Almanacs’ practical function suggests that they were both ephemeral – readily discarded and replaced – and relatively inexpensive to produce with (often) crude illustrations(3). The more lavishly decorated ones (as the one from Wellcome Library shown here), suggest that their ownership extended to the wealthier patrons, who might have not necessarily practiced medicine.

English folding almanac in LatinMS.8932. Wellcome Library, 2014.

English folding almanac in LatinMS.8932. Wellcome Library, 2014.

As seen from the images, the structure is similar to the map fold: the book is contained in a small case, but each page can be expanded into the space well beyond the size of the book. My brief online research suggests, that there are a few variants of the fold, including a type of concerina. A wonderful blog post by Teffania shows her attempts to recreate the almanac structure.

Teffania's Stuff

Teffania's Stuff

Teffania's Stuff

Teffania's Stuff

Teffania's Stuff

Teffania's Stuff

Teffania's Stuff


1 Strådal, Sara Öberg (2016), Medieval Medical Diagrams: Meanings, Audiences and Functions. In Hectoren International: A Journal of Medical Humanities.

2 Bovey, Alixe. Medicine, Diagnosis and Treatment in the Middle Ages. In British Library

3 Brenner, Elma. The Enigma of the Medieval Almanac. In Welcome Library.

4 Albright, Adrienne. Art and Science 4 – Celestial Bodies: Astrological Medicine in a Folding Almanac. In Before the Art.


Tuesday, 1 March 2016

→ gold on the cover // The Great Omar + 10 contemporary foiled covers.

As we are getting ready for PAGES|Leeds with our gold embossed covers - which will house a new publication for GUTTER project - I have been looking around at gilding practice in contemporary bookmaking. 

Fabulously rich gilded bejeweled bindings were frequently used on grand illuminated manuscripts in Middle Ages. As manuscript culture faded, so did the bindings. 

In the XXth century Sangorski & Sutcliffe emerged as the binders of exceptional extravagance, using multi-coloured leather, jeweled inlays and precious metals. The history of their most famous work The Great Omar, is as spectacular a story as the work itself.

The Great Omar was commissioned by Sotherans Bookshop. It was indicated that the cost of the book was not to be a consideration. With that carte blanche, Sangorski & Sutcliffe outdid all previous efforts: after two and a half years they created a sumptuous binding containing over a thousand jewels. The front cover was adorned with three golden peacocks, their tails made of inlaid jewels and gold, as were the vines winding around them.
When the book was finally completed in 1911, it was listed for sale at £1,000 and shipped to New York for display. Customs, however, demanded a heavy duty on the shipment and Sotherans refused to pay. The Great Omar was returned to England, where Sotherans had it sent to Sotheby’s auction, where it sold to an American named Gabriel Wells for mere £450. The first ship scheduled to transport the Great Omar sailed without the book, so it was packed safely into the very next option, a luxury liner called the Titanic. The book went down with the ship in 1912. Weeks later, Sangorski also drowned in a bathing accident off Selsey Bil.
Sutcliffe took six years to recreate a second copy from Sangorski's original drawings. As soon as the new Great Omar was completed, it was stored in a bank vault for safety. Unfortunately, the bank, vault, and book were destroyed in the bombings of World War II.
The firm passed into the hands of Sutcliffe’s nephew, Stanley Bray, in 1936. After his retirement, Stanley created the third The Great Omar, which took another fourty years. He worked to his uncle’s original specifications. This final copy lives in the British Library still today. (from Biblio and Guardian)

The place of Sangorski & Sutcliffe is taken today by designer bookbinders. Contemporary bindings look remarkably modest as compared with the above. I have discovered some very skilled bookbinders (such as Robert Wu or Sol Rébora). I have failed, however, to find jeweled lashings of gold (even though, I am sure they exist!). As a result, I have diverted to mock gold leaf, i.e. metallic foils. 
Here are my top-ten book covers:

1. F. Scott Fitzgerald anniversay book cover editions by Coralie Bickford-Smith


 2. by Julia Kostreva

3. by komma (a platform for presenting projects of students of the Design Faculty of the University of Applied Sciences, Mannheim)

4. Laus 2015

 5. by Keith Hayes

6. by Coralie Bickford-Smith (again)

8. by Marian Bantjes

 9. by Tadeu Magalhães

10. Laus 2012


Wednesday, 3 February 2016

→ in the gutter

At PAGES book fair in Leeds, March 5-6, we will be presenting GUTTER - our curatorial experiment, which is an investigation into the contextual presence of book as an object and as art object, as well as an investigation into a curated event as a paradigmatic structure. (do come and see for yourself what this sentence actually means!)

As a result, gutter is something I could not help but notice as we were selecting  entries for prescriptions medical humanities and book arts exhibition, due at Beaney House of Art and Knowledge in April later this year.

Here are a few of the artists and their works I have noted down for their use of gutter space.

Wounds by Ruth Shaw-Williams documents some of her mother's many scars left by years of surgery. Ruth is interested in the visual articulation of that which has been hidden.  This involves the archiving of past hurts, coupled with documentation of the point at which they re-surface.

Ashely Fitzgerald considers the idea of the book as if it was a body that came to life with the spine of the book as the back bone and the pages as layers of flesh. The work G.B.S.  addresses her experience with a viral infection called Guillane-Barre Syndrome.

When speaking about gutter it is only appropriate to talk about guts and on innards: a collaborative project between Amanda Couch, Andrew Hladky, Mindy Lee and Richard Nash, which explores the changing conceptualisations of guts and digestion, their impact on the creative process and the role they play in constructing and destabilising our sense of self. The book is very appropriately spilling out of it's encasement with more parts being added to it as the project develops.

Derek's Story by Josie Valley is based on a narrative provided by Derek Cummings. Josie has created a visual response that is empathetic to his expressions of the multimodal experience of chronic illness in contemporary society.


Wednesday, 6 January 2016

→ excavating phantasmagoria (after Kaunas Biennial 2015)

fantasmagoria was a form of theatre which used a modified magic lantern to project frightening images such as skeletons, demons, and ghosts onto walls, smoke, or semi-transparent screens, frequently using rear projection.

Threads: A Fantasmagoria About Distance was the main Kaunas Biennial 2015 show (finished on 31/12/2015), curated by Nicolas Bourriaud. "A damn good title!", as Agent Cooper might have said. The title draws from the concepts of phantasmagoria (19th century "almost real surreal" horror theater, from the times of pleoramas, dioramas, padoramas, myrioramas, phantom rides, panoramas, magic lanterns and peep-shows) and distance (the space between two points). The ideas of distance and phantasmagoria are not the subject of the show, however, but a metaphor for contemporary art exhibitions, according to Bourriaud.

Based on the link between science, poetry and spiritualism, Threads is an exhibition about art as a system that connects itself to a different time and/or space.  The artwork as a telegraphic device, entering into contact with something happening somewhere else, in another realm, world, place or times. (Nicolas Bourriaud)
According to the curator, “the exhibition strives both to approach the form of fantasmagoria and address the way today’s artists include the notion of distance in their works. In a globalized and digitalized world, how does art deal with transportation, with real time communication? What is the current shape of presence/absence dialectics? How do artists present absent realities?”(Virginija Vitkienė)

Threads: A Fantasmagoria About Distance unites eighteen artists working in very different media (dominated by installation artworks). The title not only unites, but also highlights each of the works' "phantasmagorical" and "connective" aspects by re-contextualising them. Highlights? In certain cases excavates, where no phantasmagoria was seemingly present beforehand.

Attila Csorgo
One of my favorite works is Attila Csorgo's gently geeky poetic contraption Clock-work (2015): a three-dimensional curve projected onto the wall casts the shadow of (the symbol for) infinity, with a second hand moving round in circles, as propelled by ticking of the mechanism at the bottom. Installation itself looks like something from the 19th century - one of the popular spectacles, that later gave birth to the film. Like the 19th century visual illusions, Csorgo's work is based on science and meticulously engineered devices. Unlike the 19th century illusion, Csorgo's work is not just a visual spectacle - it is also an analytical glance into the fragments of reality that might not be noticeable otherwise, as well as a "thread" back into the world of phantasmagorias, shadows and mechanical timekeeping.

Amalia Ulman's Stock Images of War (2015) is a video piece of poetry. A TV screen in a small room loudly recites a poem to the soudtrack of the war, supplemented by brash animation of the text. I am assuming it is original poetry - although, it could also be an accumulation of phrases from online sources. I have found no information about this arwork, beyond the fact, that it was created to supplement an exhibion (under the same title) of very delicate wire sculptures.  The video can be considered in relation to its very prominent soundtrack, visual effects and vocal poetry tradition, but in Threads: A Fantasmagoria About Distance the video is primarily a tardis into the distant horror theater of war.

Darius Ziura's autobiographical work The Monument to Utopia (2015) is a collaboration and a re-connection of three friends: Darius, Serge and Slava, who had met during military service twenty-five years ago. The work is authored by Ziura; it includes a statue made by Slava, a film about the making of the statue and two tons of books stolen in Dublin by Serge (another currious subject, which I hope to explore somewhere later). Twenty five years of separation, eight years of stealing books, two hours of film; thousands of miles between Vilnius, St Petersburg and Dublin are contained in this memorial, which collapses physical and temporal distance between the three men. Like in a theater of shadows, their ghostly presence rises from the objects and suggests undelying reality and possible authenticity.

An exhibition - like a book - is a structure, where each element is exposed to the title and appropriated by it. The title Threads: A Fantasmagoria About Distance tints every artist in the show. Some works employ obvious links to the metaphor, such as flickering light by Carsten Holler, creaking doors by Julijonas Urbonas or live webcams by Roberto Cabot. Others, however, benefit from some excavation, to regenerate unexpected semantic aspects of text/artwork that might have got burried as the work evolved.

Title is the viewing lens into phantasmagoria of the art show.