Navigating the Bookscape: Artists’ Books and the Digital Interface

André Venter

DP: If the artist’s book is an interrogation of the qualities of a book, in what way does your work attempt to emulate or maintain any of the codex’s materiality, structure, shape and literary structural conventions?

AV: This exhibition is about challenging the limits of the ‘e-book’ concept which is stuck in ‘conventions’ at many levels. If the ‘bookness’ of the ‘e-book’ can be analysed in terms of formal and functional properties and relationships then I would argue that the tight relationships between form and function need to be questioned before we can proceed to re-invent or ‘enhance and expand’ the ‘e-book’ as ‘artist’s book’. In this process we also need to be critical of our own reliance on formal attributes as a dominant strategy in visual arts for identification and classification. We may ask if our reliance on formal characteristics is not partly responsible for our blindness to the radical changes in the functionality of new media like the Web.

My work will not accept the ‘bookness’ of the ‘e-book’ uncritically, but will ask intermediate questions at many levels. The state of affairs we are investigating here may be described as: { d { c { b { a }}}} where “a” is the artifact exhibited in this exhibition.

There are four fronts where we may launch an assault in order to free the ‘e-book’ form imposed structures: (d) observer conditions, (c) material conditions, (b) disciplinary conditions and (a) information conditions. This exhibition advances on all four fronts simultaneously. By exhibiting to the public it hopes to transform (a) the observer’s concepts of the artists’ e-book and the ‘artist’s book’ by transforming (c) material conditions, (b) disciplinary practices and (a) the information conditions of artifacts designated here as ‘artists’ books’.

The ‘artist’s book’ is the best choice for a beach head because it is open to re-thinking and relies least, of all books, on the observer’s approval and patronage. By designating an ‘artifact’, ‘e-book’, it may seem that the change in (c) Material conditions from light reflecting paper were the ink dries, to dynamic light emitting technologies have been accounted for. But this is surely not the case. This exhibition lays siege to the bastion of ‘materiality’ with weapons of virtuality. In its conception this exhibition is cast as a politic between static light reflective and dynamic light emitting technologies (or material conditions). It is suggested that the artist questions this level, the level of presentation and its material limits. But there is another level, the level of pre-facture. It is at this level – the level of writing itself – where my work will pose its most significant questions, while also engaging with the level of presentation suggested.

i. I employ the I-Ching method of ‘divination’ in ancient Chinese culture as a writing method. The use of this method allows me to automate the process of writing itself.

ii. I use the I-Ching Hexagram as a symbol for writing, replacing the phonetic alphabet with a symbolic system which is not in use as a general writing system in any culture. The Hexagram is normally used as a system of logic (functioning as keys) leading to text fragments in the I-Ching. My work maintains the link between the Hexagram and the texts as well as its associated symbols.

iii. The Hexagrams are arranged in a regular grid – thus maintaining the planar arrangement of symbols found in Western writing, but the form of the symbols will not express a visual hierarchy as Western convention dictates.

iv. For the web-based work the planar surface will be extended beyond the web page convention of vertical scrolling. It will extend far beyond the width and height of the screen and web browser. The surface will be a grid of Hexagrams which are uniquely rewritten every time the site is accessed. The hexagrams will allow access to Symbols and Texts from the I-Ching.

v. The Print-based work will limit itself to the conventional technologies of paper and printers – whatever is available to us in this case.

There is another level, (a) the level of information conditions. To say that the ‘e-book’ or e-codex functions as a valid form for content, is to say that ‘bookness’ is in fact the primary condition for validity as an ‘e-book’ artifact. If that is the case then the only front open for assault is to show how the original material conditions may be transgressed. Our assault then becomes a critique of the conditions of paper, page and binding not a critique of the information conditions as ‘book’ or ‘codex’ which – along with the book’s material conditions - make the concept of ‘e-book’ possible. This exhibition and my work also assault the information conditions of the ‘book’.

I-Ching for the 'African Renaissance’ | 2006 | digital prints and digital animation | size variable

I-Ching for the 'African Renaissance’ | 2006 | digital prints and digital animation | size variable

I-Ching for the 'African Renaissance’ | 2006 | digital prints and digital animation | size variable

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