Because I grew up in a country during an era of political turmoil and savagery notably ushered in by public book burnings, it is incongruous for me to think of cutting up books. My natural inclination is to save books rather than to destroy them. That impression does not seem to hold true if one looks at my gagged and tormented book-objects. However, at times one has to play devil’s advocate to make a point. With all this said, I must confess that I do cherish books.
Early in my childhood the slender volumes of picture books were my sanctuary. If nothing else they offered an escape from the harsh realities of a disintegrating world. The trauma of World War II and its tumultuous aftermath had left little intact. The few classics of children’s literature which had survived political scrutiny became my companions. The intimacy and seclusion they could offer and the freedom of the world between the printed pages left an indelible impression.
With the passage of time I found myself ever more seduced by books, captivated by their content. But I became equally intrigued by their structure, their making, their décor, their design, their history, their politics. Countless books with their many aspects touch all of our lives. They are a source of richness to all who have found wisdom between their covers. However, the inherent status of a published book, which seems to bestow “authority” to the printed word, easily makes it an object of abuse. Quite often books are exploited for expedience, to impose, to misguide and to manipulate. On the other hand the power of a book to spread free and unbridled thought renders it equally vulnerable. This is particularly true when political or religious fanatics are troubled by challenges to their orthodox rhetoric. Almost from the time they have existed books and their authors have been the target of self-righteous “moral” guardians. Powerful institutions have managed with impunity, now and in the past, to expunge expressions contrary to their own beliefs. These measures are commonly cloaked in the parlance of “protecting the public.” In truth it is nothing but censorship.
Quite early in life I was confronted with this doubletalk. The first schoolbooks I can remember, leftovers from the previous regime, were heavily “edited.” They were books with words and sentences blackened out. Chapters were deleted; entire pages were missing. This was information declared unsuitable for a post-war generation, a generation who six months earlier had been practically obliterated by the events now deemed unfit to be read about. Part of what they had lived through, their own history, had been blocked out, hidden behind those black marks.
Measured by the perceived fears an innocently bound codex seems capable of instilling, the book is one of the most powerful weapons ever invented. And yet we find ourselves at a threshold where its power and influence seem to be waning.
At this juncture as we are turning a critical page in our cultural evolution, we must survey the staggering new inventory of available resources. In doing so we are putting a renewed spotlight on the book, this time, however, not as an instrument of social expansion and intellectual advancement, but as a symbol of a fading tradition. As in the past, we find at the core of our current socio-political realignment the process of communication. We deal again with the question of how to replicate language economically. The technical solution for this issue forms once more the pivotal hinge of change. The new cultural footprint is a set of digits and their application, made possible by the microchip and the speed of electricity. By reducing our intricate communications formula into principally two states, we have drastically economized. On/off, plus/minus, positive/negative, the electronic yin and yang. Brilliant in its simplicity!
Application of this logic has already expanded far outside the mechanism of linguistic interpretation. Sound, movement, imagery, complex research tasks, and more, are enhanced and made possible by this simple code. The new frontier is projecting a technological and cultural revolution beyond our wildest dreams. Individual and territorial boundaries seem no longer to matter. Massive digital networks operate around the clock, around the globe, with a precision that is intimidating. They are ever more powerful and faster, but also exceedingly vulnerable.
Against this relentless electronic exposure the intimacy of the book stands in sharp contrast. It is deliberately low-tech, cumbersome and slow. But it has retained its singular advantage. It is private. It challenges the imagination. In its elemental simplicity it is a conversation between author and reader; “... it is a dialogue of minds,” as John Updike wrote in one of his recent responses to the growing challenges put forth about books. But as long as we remember that books are still there for us to explore, we hope that we will have that choice.
My book-objects have their origin partly in this ambiguous realm, a period of change as radical as it is dramatic. Superimposed over this perceived uncertainty is my personal concern about censorship. By making books which are deliberately mute I try to raise questions. Words are lost; they are no longer important. The books take on new forms; they become provocative statements. No longer instruments for reading they become sculptures, they become Book-Objects. Willfully altered, they are discharged of their original purpose and turned into relics. But equally important, they are turned into symbolic markers to be visited by future generations.
The objects I create are made with real books. They are not casts, nor are they sculpted imitations. At its core each piece has bound, printed pages. Glued together and painstakingly covered with gesso, they are silenced and sealed for good. I practice this destruction, this obvious censorship, simply as metaphor. It is to visualize, to demonstrate, to provoke. For these acts of violence are not about the damage done to stacks of paper, to books. The objects are about the harm inflicted on the human spirit. The ropes, the nails, the clamps, the hooks and knifes are real as well. They are symbols of pain, of torture, of suppression which are inevitably brought on by the censor’s act.
How I arrive at a specific piece of work is often inexplicable. Sometimes ideas surface mysteriously. Sometimes they are provoked by events. Other times it is the act of working itself which generates a new thought. It might be a specific expression, a word or a piece of material, which will reveal a new direction. Or it can simply be the shape of a book, its title or its physical condition, which triggers my curiosity. Probing, testing and investigating a given vocabulary will inevitably lead to new discoveries.