I’m very happy to be able to report that this week I completed the edition of 10 books for Book*Art*Object inspired by an extract from “Art & Lies” by Jeanette Winterson.(Yes, they are curiously square in shape for books, aren’t they?)
Four are currently winging their way overseas to members of BAO in the UK and the US, so I’m holding off a full reveal here for a couple of weeks until they have arrived.
We’ve also been lucky enough to have the “Art & Lies” edition acquired by the State Library of Queensland. Helen Cole, from SLQ, saw the work exhibited at the Impact conference and that’s where the deal was done! There is also some discussion with Alicia Bailey from Abecedarian Gallery in Denver, Colorado about exhibiting “Art & Lies” there! This is a very exciting possibility and if it comes off, will be my first step onto the international stage.
I realized that I haven’t posted the text by Winterson here yet. So, in case you haven’t seen it over on the BAO blog, here it is.
300BC. The Ptolemies founded the great library at Alexandria.
400,000 volumes in vertiginous glory.
The Alexandrians employed climbing boys much in the same way as the Victorians employed sweeps. Unnamed bipeds, light as dust, gripping with swollen fingers and toes, the nooks and juts of sheer-faced walls.
To begin with, the shelves had been built around wide channels that easily allowed for a ladder, but, as the library expanded, the shelves contracted, until the ladders themselves splintered under the pressure of so much knowledge. Their rungs were driven into the sides of the shelves with such ferocity that all the end-books were speared in place for nine hundred years.
What was to be done? There were scribes and scholars, philosophers and kings, travellers and potentates, none of whom could now take down a book beyond the twentieth shelf. It soon became true that the only books of any interest were to be found above shelf twenty-one.
It was noticed that the marooned rungs still formed a crazy and precarious ascent between the dizzy miles of shelves. Who could climb them? Who would dare?
Every boy-slave in Alexandria was weighed. It was not enough to have limbs like threads, the unlucky few must have brains of vapour too. Each boy had to be a medium through which much must pass and yet nothing be retained.
At the start of the experiment, when a book was required, a boy would be sent up to get it. This could take as long as two weeks, and very often, the boy would fall down dead from hunger and exhaustion.
A cleverer system seemed to be to rack the boys at various levels around the library, so that they could form a human chain, and pass down any volume within a day or so.
Accordingly, the boys built themselves eyries in among the books, and were to be seen squatting and scowling at greater and greater heights around the library.
A contemporary of Pliny the Younger writes of them thus:
[here is a chunk of latin that is never translated. JW at her most scholarly & impenetrable... but would look great in calligraphy, Ronnie!]
There is no system that has not another system concealed within it. [my emphasis] Soon the boys had tunneled behind the huge shelves and thrown up a rookery of strange apartments where beds were books and chairs were books and dinner was eaten off books and all the stuffings, linings, sealings, floorings, openings and closings, were books. Books were put to every use to which a book can be put as long as it is never read.
Jeanette Winterson, Art & Lies (London: Jonathon Cape, 1994), pp. 4-6.
The other lovely news I received is that our wall bed will be installed on December 20th. You may recall this post from a couple of months ago, mentioning my plans for doing up my studio (at last!).
Well, having a wall bed, instead of the current single, will allow me to have a lot more shelf space above the bed. Storage has been a problem in this little room ever since the air-conditioner was installed, which meant that small bookcase that sat on top of my desk had to go. Here’s where some of that stuff has been patiently waiting for a “real” home for some months.
I didn’t want to leave you with a photo of my mess, so here is the plan I’ve drawn up for the studio. I am hoping I might be able to squeeze in a small comfy chair for reading between the bookcase and the built-in, but time will tell.
If you see any glaring problems, please do comment! Your thoughts, as always, are gratefully received.