Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Happy New Year.

Happy New Year. 

Watch this space for some exciting new projects coming up in 2015 and thank you for reading our Wednesday Posts. 

Here is a page from the Virginia almanac of 1752 from the introduction of the new Gregorian Calendar when the beginning of the year was moved from March to January. 

'When the British decided to change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, the Virginia Almanack gave directions for reform. Replacing the old calendar required an adjustment of eleven days because of a discrepancy between the solar and calendar years. A 1751 act of Parliament dictated that the new year, 1752, would begin on January 1 rather than on March 25 and that September 2, 1752, would be immediately followed by September 14, 1752. The shift of the new calendar went relatively smoothly in the American colonies, aided perhaps by the information given in almanacs and newspapers.' (


Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Merry Christmas!


Merry Christmas! Thank you for reading our blog. It is really not a problem if you haven't yet. In any case, we wish you a peaceful Christmas and a very happy New Year!

Miracles happen on Christmas, Pat. Everybody knows that shit.

–Matthew Quick, The Silver Linings Playbook


Christmas book arrangements here

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

The Library as a Site for Encounter

“But fishing, as we know, in libraries or anywhere else, is a tricky business, with never a certainty of who's going to catch whom.”J.D. Salinger

For the past few years I've been making art for libraries. The first artwork I made was called the Exchange Student for the Ecole superieur de beaux arts de Grenoble (which was later exhibited as The Weimar Years) and the last was In The Reflected Sky with Egidija and George and part of Art Language Location. Each project has made me question why I use libraries as sites for artwork.

In This Journey is a Book, ten books positioned throughout Peckham library took visitors on a trip across the breadth of the collection. The main appeal of the library was the site itself, this place that is segregated into so many other little spaces, with sections aimed at quite different types of people and zones for different types of activity. Part of my intention was for visitors to use the space in a different way.

The video 'In Explanation of the Book' was shown on the monitor in the library of Camberwell College - a screen that was usually used for library notices. The video was a kind of intervention that used this formal library paraphernalia to exhibit something intimate and personal. The video which showed people's hands interacting with books, would hopefully prompt visitor's to take note of the sensory experience involved when handling books.

In 'The Hesitant Visitor' pamphlets were created for three different subject libraries within Senate House library. Each told a fictional story that linked the content of each library to other subject libraries within the same building. Each library has a wealth of information there for readers to explore, but often we tend to stick to what we know. This artwork was made in an attempt to draw connections for readers. In this instance specific texts were important to the art.

These are just three ways that the library as a site has informed the art I have made. With two new library-related projects in the pipeline, I hope this experience will become richer.


Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

scrolling gadgets {moving panoramas}
Tomas Saraceno, Cumulus at Barbican


Some time ago I wrote a post digitised scrolls: from the Pond at Deuchar to the Trip to London, at the bottom of which I mentioned a charming Georgian device Trip to London that had been digitised by Princeton University. Trip to London is a box containing a twelve plate scroll that displays a humorous story of a honeymoon trip. It is a close development of the very popular moving panoramas, which came to Europe in late 17th century and by early 19th century they were so common, that there were even ladies' fans with miniature scrolled pictures incorporated into the designs. 

Trip to London


Moving panorama - to put it simply - is a long panorama in a scroll, which has ends of it attached to two rods. The handles on the rods are then turned to allow the panorama to move across the screen, very much like a basic animation film. Moving panoramas were available in handheld scrolling devices as well as a form of large screen/stage entertainment. They were hugely popular: successful shows drew crowds and boasted years of performances. For example, Albert Smith's Ascent of Mont Blanc was performed for seven years at the Egyptian Hall in London, while Hugo d'Alesi's Mareorama allowed seven hundred spectators per viewing of this show, that offered a multisensory sea voyage illusion, complete with thunder, wind and local dancers.

a card promoting Hugo d'Alesi's Mareorama

Moving panoramas were extraordinary pieces of engineering. They often featured special enhanced sets and effects, merging of medias and mediums into one immersive spectacle. For example, touring panoramas of the late nineteen century England frequently included such novelties as mechanical puppets and slide projections. The most impressive ones, of course, were present at Exposition Universelle in Paris, 1900. The above mentioned Hugo d'Alesi's Mareorama incorporated two screens, each 2,500 feet long and forty feet in height, which were scrolled for the viewers present on board of the full size boat. The boat required hydraulic piston engines and pumps driven by electric motors to stimulate motion. 


Hugo d'Alesi's Mareorama
Hugo d'Alesi's Mareorama

Another immersive panorama at Exposition Universelle in Paris was Pavel Yakovlevich Pyasetsky's Great Siberian Railway Panorama in the Russian pavilion. It offered a 45 minute experience of Trans Siberian rail journey complete with stuffed polar bears on papier-mache icebergs, a dinner of caviar and sturgeon in a luxury imitation train with a library, gymnasium, marble bath, smoking and music salons.

This 45-minute experience was an essay in detail. It offered a chance to experience the 14-day journey by rail from Moscow to Peking, a 6300-mile journey over tracks not yet completed at the time of the Paris Fair of 1900.
There were three realistic railway cars, each 70 feet long, with saloons, dining rooms, bars, bedrooms, and other elements of a luxury train. Totally detailed and lavishly equipped, the cars were elevated a little above a place for spectators in conventional rows of seats. The gallery faced a stage-like arena where the simulated views along the train trip were presented by an inventive contraption.
The immediate reality of a vehicular trip is that nearby objects seem to pass by more rapidly than distant ones. So, nearest to the participants was a horizontal belt covered with sand, rocks, and boulders, driven at a speed of 1000 feet per minute! Behind that was a low vertical screen painted with shrubs and brush, travelling at 400 feet per minute. A second, slightly higher screen, painted to show more distant scenery, scrolled along at 130 feet per minute. The most distant one, 25 feet tall and 350 feet long painted with mountains, forests, clouds and cities, moved at 16 feet per minute.
Real geographical features along the way were depicted on this screen: Moscow, Omsk, Irkutsk, the shores of great lakes and rivers, the Great Wall of China, and Peking. The screens, moving in one direction only, were implemented as a belt system. Due to the inexact speeds of the scenery,the 'journey' never repeated itself exactly, providing an ever-changing combination of scenes and a reason to pay to see the attraction again.  (from The Past Was No Illusion  by Walt Bransford)

Pavel Yakovlevich Pyasetsky's Great Siberian Railway Panorama


Apart from the great spectacles at Exposition Universelle, 1900, there was a range of other - more common and more humble - weird and wonderful panorama devices. There existed pleoramas, dioramas, padoramas, myrioramas, phantom rides for public viewing as well as personal hand panorama reels, magic lanterns and peep-shows.
The Kaiserpanorama, 1900
Phantom Ride
Rotunda, Leicester Square
Coronation Procession of King George IV
Tableau of the procession at the Queen's coronation June 28, 1838
Myriorama or tableau polyoptique by Jean-Pierre Brès
(a set of cards that can be arranged in any order)


Here are a few of the contemporary moving panoramas that range between overwhelming digital installations of Tomas Saraceno to painted paper scrolls of Adam Cvijanovic.
Helen Douglas, The Pond at Deuchar
Tomas Saraceno, Cumulus at Barbican
Adam Cvijanovic, Rolling Panorama Number 1
Panorama of Achmedabad


The Trip to London scroll box is a story telling gadget that bridged book and upcoming cinema. It's situation is not dissimilar to the hybrid publishing projects emerging today as a result of media arts niche-ing themselves into the book market, such as FakePress and HybridBook. Moving panoramas were defeated by the cinema, of course. Which of the contemporary story telling gadgets are going to stay?


Printed book sources:
- Schwartz, Vanessa. Spectacular Realities: Early Mass Culture in Fin-de-siecle Paris . Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.


Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Issues of Classification

Over the past few weeks I have been 'librarian in residence' as part of an art exhibition at Cafe Gallery Projects and aside from engaging visitors with the art on display,  I've answering questions about my own practice.

Librarian in Residence as part of Folles de leur corps / Crazy About Their Bodies
Despite the fact that my artwork hasn't changed much in style over the past ten years or so (compare The Weimar Years (2005) with In Explanation of the Book ( 2011)), I still find it difficult to describe. Although this must be a common experience for many contemporary artists,  I think it is compounded when it comes to art that involves books.

Still from The Weimar Years

Still from In Explanation of the Book
I think there are two reasons for that:

The first reason is that more and more people I speak to have heard the term Book Art. A shortcut like this can be useful when speaking about someone's art practice, however the term Book Art can incorporate vastly different types of art. Just looking at the art that Egidija,  George and I produce - we can see that each work can be structurally and conceptually diverse (From Egidija's Damnatio Memoriae to George's The Mind Follows and my Book Becomes Book).

Damnatio Memoriae
The Mind Follows
Book Becomes Book
The second reason is that each of us has a whole personally history with books and therefore a lifetime of associations.  Depending on our reading habits and preferences, we can all have a slightly different relationship to the same everyday object.

Seen from a different perspective these preconceptions and these differing understandings make for a rich in-depth discussion and add layers of meaning to the artwork, making the creation and the viewing, a much more rewarding experience.


Wednesday, 19 November 2014

words to be read aloud

Often we talk about what goes into a book but not the potential the book has to broadcast outside of itself. There is a performance element to the book that leads it to be read.  I am going to be exploring an artist whose main concern is text as it is read and also exploring the book as a performance space to be read from. 

Liliane Lijn works with text as it should be read. Though not within a book, the way she explores reading is fascinating. I think the way that reading is controlled and paced through her sculptures has a lot in common with the book.  Poem cones with words printed on rotate, so that words near the top where the cone is narrower move slower and words near the bottom where the cone is wider move faster. This affects your ability to read and controlling your experience of language, in a very similar way that a book may pace your experience of the text. But they challenge the nature of reading and what is able to be read. Words still exist but they blur then come into focus, forcing you as a viewer to distinguish between reading and seeing.

Another peice of work I would like to look at is: 'An Exhibition to Hear Read'. Where the book is used to be read from and broadcast out. Where reading is used to fil the space.
'An exhibition to hear read proposes the notion of speech as material gesture, in which both the texture of the word and its spoken quality are inscribed in space and time through the act of reading.  The vocal interpretation of these artworks constructs an abstract and ephemeral reality that can be said to sculpt the spaces in which it occurs. This ongoing investigation into the materiality of artwork as a question of word and speech is crystallized through a series of publications that act as both score and memory.' (Matieu Copeland)

The book here is one of the most important parts. It facilitates reading and in reading it opens itself up to a much larger space than it contained before. 

I think that I am now going to start thinking about my work in terms of how it might be read. At least in terms of how it can be read aloud. How can this change the work and can it be to its advantage. It takes the personal experience of the book and relays it as a communal one. In a way the reader claims the text that they are reading and reveals it as a performative act. Almost as if they are actors performing a script. 

I will leave you with a performance piece by Matteo Fargion called songbook which consists of a songbook that the dancers use to direct themselves.  The performance is both about the songbook as direction and the performers who act. As a result you are reading the songbook though interpreting the performance:




Wednesday, 12 November 2014

#metadata #narrative #archive


The images on this page are generated by "visually similar" Google image search for brass pull cord bayonet type lightbulb lamp holder traditional earthed.  An algorithm pulled them out from the vast archive of Google images for me. 

Somebody said that digital database defines the 21st century.


A couple of weeks ago Books in Browsers 2014 took place in San Francisco. Most of their talks are now available on YouTube, including the one from Johanna Drucker Database Narratives in Book and Online. She gives a neat introduction into what she believes to count as a book*. She then admits homicidal feelings towards those who think otherwise, and continues with her fascinating talk on the structuring of a narrative as an online database and a consecutive print output.

At the core of Johanna Drucker’s talk is her personal project, where she attempts to reign in the archive of her unpublished works, the records of which span about 40 years of writing. In the process of this experiment she scans her unpublished works to create an online representation of the library and to explore it’s relationship to the potential printed book as well as the original manuscript. She works in xml format and her archive is heavy with metadata. Metadata fields, she says, allow to structure multiple kinds of chronological and temporal organisational filters: they allow to redistribute literal temporality built into most of the narratives.
Johanna Drucker talks about the relationship between the networked resource and a printed output. What would the role of the printed book be in relation to the database? Is it a catalogue of the archive? Is it a guidebook? Is it an interface providing an augmented experience of the web environment?

Those questions, of course, can be asked about any book published from a database. Wolfgang Ernst in his essay The Archive as Metaphor** observes that archive as such does not contain narratives: it is a purely technical practice of data storage.
The archive does not tell stories; only secondary narratives give meaningful coherence to its discontinuous elements. In its very discreteness the archive mirrors the operative level of the present, calculating rather than telling. In the archive, nothing and nobody ‘speaks’ to us – neither the dead not anything else. The archive is a storage agency in spatial architecture. Let us not confuse public discourse (which turns data into narratives) with the silence of discrete archival files.
When traditional paper archives migrate into digital forms, their contents get reduced to a binary code. As a result, computer stops separating stored file information and processing rules (as in traditional archives).
When both data and procedures are located in one and the same operative field, the classical documentary difference between data and meta-data (as in libraries, where books and signatures are considered as two different data sets) implodes.
Digitalised memory undoes the traditional supremacy of letters in paper-based archives; instead, sound and images enter as well which can be addressed in their own medium: melodies can be retrieved by similar melodies, images by images, patterns by patterns.
Metadata allows to break the syntagmatic relationship between the items in the traditional database, in favour of highlighting paradigmatic links. While a collection of data in its own right has no narrative, it is how we travel through the archive: how we connect its fragments and how we fill in the gaps, that gives linearity to the experience. 
Is clever manipulation of metadata enough to function as a guide for the reader? Or would database benefit from a printed interface providing an augmented experience of the web environment?


An expansive volume of writing and artwork is available on the subject of archives, database generated narratives, collaborative authorship, etc. Below I have chosen a couple of works and texts that I had found fascinating:

Listening Post by Mark Hansen and Ben Rubin  
Pockets Full of Memories by George Legrad
Postcards From Google Earth by Clement Valla
I’m Google  by Dina Kelberman. (I did not get to the end of it. If you do, can you let us know what’s there at the bottom?)
Girls on White by Rebecca Lieberman

Lev Manovich : Database as a Genre of New Media
Wolfgang Ernst : Digital Memory and the Archive
Wolfgang Ernst : The archive as metaphor ** 
Brooke Belisle : Total Archive: Picturing History from the Stereographic Library to the Digital Database
 D|N|A: Seven Interactive Essays on Nonlinear Storytelling

Other almost relevant links: 
The Internet Archive
UK Web Archive
oScope visual search
TinEye multicolour search
retrievr search by sketch 
Musipedia melody search

* Book is a a structured sequence of intertextual components that have a structural relationship to each other, each of which is coded in order to participate in the semantic field of the book as a whole.


Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Sasha Pirogova's Biblimlen at the Hayward Gallery, London

Installation in the Hayward Gallery
On a recent visit to the Hayward Gallery I came across Sasha Pirogova's Biblimlen (2013) - a playful video in which various characters act out small, expressive scenes within Moscow’s grand Russian State Library. In one scene, a man obstructing the catalogue card system unwittingly becomes part of the system himself as a library visitor opens drawers around him, suspending him between them. The scene is available on YouTube.

Still from Biblimlen. Source:

It was refreshing to see such a fun and physical artwork and it’s great that the library, its furniture and its conventions are integral to it. The work made me wonder if the library had inspired the artwork. In the video it appears as an archetype with its rows of partitioned desks, hooded reading lamps and mazes of shelving. It's a fertile place for the imagination.

This led me to think of the bland libraries of my youth (particularly the academic ones) - all metal shelves and mismatched office furniture - and I wondered if a beautiful or distinctive library might be a more conducive place to read or study?

I am often drawn to art that is created in or exhibited in a specific place, as it has the power to make us reassess our own relationship with that venue – in this instance Pirogova’s artwork makes us see libraries in a lively and inventive way – turning them from quiet, sometimes stifled places, to ones of surprise and imagination.


Wednesday, 29 October 2014

considering the spine

''The spines of books on our shelves form a visual database. Continuing the cover image over the spine should remind us of the cover - and the contents of the book.' Derek Birdsall - Notes on Book Design
I have recently become very interested in the spine of a book. Both from a design point of view and an artistic one. I think it has something to do with spending the whole day in the Philosophy Library in Cambridge for the 'in the reflected sky' project. We had a list of the books we were interested in, with thier dewey decimal number and spent the day wandering along the shelves finding the books. The fist contact you would have with a book is when you grabbed its spine and pulled it out. The whole experience of the book, at least in this setting is hinged on the spine and as I sit here looking at my own bookshelves, it is a mass of coloured lines with the concentrated contents of the books all facing out. It is interesting to think of the 'face' of the book not being the cover which is rarely seen from day to day but the spine. 

I have come across an artist called Buzz Spector, who has made a body of work that is about the familiarity and relationship to your own personal library. Looking at the archive of books that you surround yourselves with. Why I thought he was interesting for this post is that his work seems to me, to be about the book spine. The spine being the point of contact.

'My work is abstract: it derives from things in nature or things in culture, but it's meant to be understood in terms of the excavation or displacement of its objects from their situations.'

In this image Spector has stacked a reconfigured books from his own library. In a way that removes all connection with content the book, it is just about its form. The way the pages fall and lie flat. The only constant being the spine, which becomes a repeated hollow linking them all together. 

In this installation 'Unpacking my library' Spector has arranged his books in order of the height of the spine, from tallest to shortest, on a single shelf in a room large enough to hold them. For me this has focused in on the spine being the centre of the book. Seeing the mass of books arranged in this way you are made aware of how important the spine is. Though this work is a personal collection of books the books themselves are presented as objects. It is the personal connection with the object itself on the shelf that is important, this point of contact. 

I want to also take a look at some design considerations when looking at the spine. The design of the spine changing the colour and look of our bookshelves. Having an interest in design it is always interesting to see what considerations the deigner has had. 

Two book projects by the deigner Derek Birdsall I find particulary interesting. For a collection of Penguin Education books Birdsall was given the task of dsigning the covers. Here he has used the width of the books to determine the size of the type on the spine. Seen together the literal weight of the book is represented by the weight of the type. Giving the spine a prominece in the whole design of the book. 'The titles were the thing, and I decided to exploit the varying spine widths typographically'

Here the spine of the book is central to the design. With the image making reference to the structure of the book and vice versa. 'I carefully placed the groom's hand to rest on the spine of the horse and the book'. It is a playful game with the anatomy driven precision of Stubs' paintings and the formal tradition of bokbinding. 

So now when you are next in a library or just gazing at your bookshelves take some time to consider the spine. Not just as a carrier of the books infomation but as that first contact you have with the book. The spines facing out on the world waiting for you to grab them. 


Refrences / Further Reading

- notes on book design, Derek Birdsal, 2004

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

frivolous female readers / body and book

This blog post is based on the research that I made for (in)discreet editions publications the discreet book of bathroom reading and those frivolous readers, which - in their own turn - were inspired by the material collected for codex: between one hand and another. 



Young Woman Reading

Young Woman Reading Jean Honoré Fragonard  (French, Grasse 1732–1806 Paris)

When collecting images of female readers one cannot escape an overwhelming amount of eroticised reading women: half-dressed or with their clothes barely holding on; women draped across beds, sofas, armchairs or frozen in a blush, contemplating the contents of their naughty read. Their hair flows. Their hands are gentle. Their skin is porcelain. Their touch is sensual: the book is a tactile object; pages are frozen in the middle of movement. There might be a glimpse of breast exposed. There might be a suggestive vessel or a protruding handle somewhere close by. Their eyes are seductively lowered towards the book held at the height of the chest.

The images come from across the centuries: charged with the intimacy of body and book.

There are Belle Epoque oil paintings, vintage postcards, prints, photos in contemporary press and online social media. Apart from a couple of sightings in Medieval imagery, eroticised women readers more prominently first appear in Renaissance. At that time majority of female portraits commissioned by men were intended as decorative possessions to be "absorbed into the overall ornamentation of ostentatious domestic environment"2. 18th century saw the birth of the novel and a further rise in reading - and new concerns, in particular, about the damaging psychological effects that reading had on female body and mind. 
Terry Castle suggests that even the solitary practice of reading was seen to harbour "dangers" that included a complex dynamics of self-involvement. She explains that once "reading became dangerous because it prompted obsessional thoughts", it became possible to diagnose the reader as the victim of hallucinatory disease. 4
The processes of reading, then were gendered - eroticised and sexualised. The active masculine reader with pen in hand mastered the text no less then his household... The early modern woman as a sexual object was figured and described as a book to be opened. Female reading was frequently eroticised and implicated in the sexual body. The book held to the breast, in the lap, or concealed under the petticoats fetishised both the text and the reader. Male suspicion, even anxiety, variously imagined female reading as a source of ungovernable pleasure, in the eighteenth century even as self-pleasuring. 3
Inaccurate though the image of the idle, frivolous female novel-reader was, the stereotype did not disappear with the close of the eighteenth century1, James Raven says. 

Neither did it disappear with the close of the centuries that followed either.

What fascinates me is that the image of a "sensual reading female" predates the "sexy librarian" by good few centuries. While both images feed off each other in contemporary depiction of books and females (see the very last three images at the very end) the latter one is linked to the erotisation of intelligence as such - the same phenomenon that gives us reading Marlon Brando or reading Gregory Peck as sex symbols (not that they need a book for that!). 
Sensual reading female does not eroticise intelligence. That is sure. She is alone, relaxed, withdrawn and observed. Could she be related to the sleeping nude? If so, what does it say about the role of the book in those image?  Female sexuality? What does it say about the idea of reading? What does it say about the idea of the book?


 Book (reading)(woman)(sensual)   

1 James Raven, Hellen Small and Naomi Tadmor (2007) “Introduction: The Practice and Representation of Reading in England,” in The Practice and Representation of Reading in England . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (p.19)
2 Pointon, Marcia (2013) Portrayal: and the Search for Identity , London: Reaktion Books Ltd. (p. 14)
3 Sharpe, Kevin and Stephen Zwicker (2003) Reading, Society and Politics in Early Modern England . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (p.15)
4 Haggerty, Geroge E. (1998) Unnatural Affections: Women and Fiction in the Later 18th Century . Indiana: Indiana University Press.




What fascinates me is that the image of a "sensual reading female" predates the "sexy librarian" by good few centuries.