Hello. For those of you who may not know me, my name is Simon Cardew, and I’m on my second year of MA Fine Art part time. My project for this unit has been an artist’s book called Vectis.
The first question, perhaps, is,
What is an artist’s book?
We could just say that an artist’s book is a book made by an artist, which is a designation that I suppose I might lay claim to. But I’m working with a slightly more precise definition.
In her seminal work on the subject, ‘The Century of Artist’s Books’, Johanna Drucker writes:
“An artist’s book is a book created as an original work of art, rather than a reproduction of a pre-existing work…it is a book which integrates the formal means of its realization and production with its thematic or aesthetic issues.”
Admittedly a definition which she then takes apart at length, but a serviceable one, nonetheless. The artist’s book is not a medium for recording an artist’s work, like an exhibition catalogue or a coffee table book of photographs; it is the finished work itself. Unlike a more conventional book, a novel, say, it uses the nature of the book as a physical object as an integral part of the way it communicates meaning. For me, the artists book is a medium that allows me to blend together a variety of methods of communication into a cohesive whole, with text and images held together within both the conceptual and physical structures of the book form.
The full title of my work is Vectis: A Psychogeographical Enquiry. Its subject is the Isle of Wight, a small island off the south coast of England, visible from Bournemouth on a clear day. The Isle of Wight is where I was born, where I spent my childhood, and where I currently live, and thus perhaps a natural subject for me to engage with. What I wanted to investigate was my personal relationship with the Isle of Wight, how its particular aspects as a place have influenced my personal psychology, and the general culture of the Island.
The key methodology that I have used is called Psychogeography.
Psychogeography is defined by the situationist Guy Debord, who coined the term, as:
“The study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals.”
Psychogeography did not begin with Debord, however. In his book on the subject, Merlin Coverley traces the roots of the practice back to Daniel Defoe’s 1722 novel ‘A Journal of the Plague Year’, and follows it through the work of a number of 19th century writers to a group of present day British proponents who centre around the city of London, two in particular of whom,
the film-maker Patrick Keiller and the poet Iain Sinclair, have been influential on my own work.
The particular methodologies that I have taken on from these artists centre around the practice of Flânerie.
Flânerie is a French word that means ‘to stroll’, and invokes a literary or intellectual archetype who walks for walking’s sake, allowing the impressions of the world to wash over them, undergoing a mental journey that parallels the physical one. What Keiller describes as “psychic landscaping, drifting and free association”
Heather Crickenburger writes:
“The flâneur is the link between routine perambulation, in which a person is only half-awake, making his way from point A to point B, and the moments of chiasmic epiphany that one reads of in Wordsworth or Joyce. Like Poe’s narrators, he is acutely aware, a potent intellectual force of keen observation--a detective without a lead. If he were cast a character in the "drama of the world," he would be its consciousness.”
In my work the practice of flânerie turns the body and the gaze of the artist-as-flâneur into a tool that traces the landscape, whilst leaving its own impression:
“As important as the landscape is the individual within it, the individual which moves within, across and through the landscape; acts upon it and is acted upon by it; and ultimately creates the psychogeographical artwork from it. The artist-as-flâneur becomes, almost by default, a romantic figure, like one of the people in a Caspar David Freidrich painting, the person as a mirror.”
Now that I’ve explained some of the key methodological underpinnings, I can move on to the book itself.
The process of development of Vectis revolved around finding appropriate methods to explore the subject, in the form of a book, using a pyschogeographic methodology centred around walking.
I have documented this development process on a blog that accompanies the project. Vectispsychogeography.blogspot.com.
Vectis is organised around the structure of a solar year, with each page being a day, and divided in to four sections. Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. Each section has its own visual style, which is bought together by the overall design of the book.
Spring serves as an introduction to the book. It contains some information about the Isle of Wight’s culture and history and discussions of the methodology of the project, as well as introducing some of the key themes which are developed throughout the rest of the book, such as:
Panopticism, the condition of social control in which the observer is hidden from the observed, who fears therefore that they may be being watched at any time
Erosion and Decay, of geography, of cultures and of meaning.
The Creation of the Landscape and Place, in both a physical and a sociological sense, through the action both of nature and humanity.
and the Occult, as a framework for understanding the psychic effects of people on the landscape, and of the landscape on people.
Spring presents itself using a variety of formats including, but not limited to,
text quoted and appropriated from other sources,
The other three sections of Vectis are organised around a sequence of six journeys. The first five of these journeys are actual flâneries, whilst the sixth is, borrowing from the French poet Arthur Rimbaud, what I will refer to as ‘Robinsonnage’,
That is to say, a journey undertaken mentally whilst the traveller remains still, either to a fictitious or real place. ‘Robinsonnage’ can be used to describe a body of literature diverse enough to include Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’, Swift’s ‘Gulliver’s Travels’, More’s ‘Utopia’, Darger’s ‘In the Realms of the Unreal’, and Herge’s ‘Tintin in the Land of the Soviets’.
Summer concerns itself with the first three of the journeys.
These three journeys are circular, beginning and ending at my home.
They represent an exploration of a landscape that I thought intimately known to me.
The parallel physical and mental journeys in summer are recorded in the form of a succession of images and pieces of text. In the physical journeys I adopted an approach to image-making that took as its basis photography, as an extension and record of the gaze.
In the summer images, I adopted a free-form approach to altering the photographic images, by drawing over them, tracing and highlighting different forms, applying layers of effects, digital overpainting, overlayed scanned textures, false colours and so on. I was creating a visual language that altered the digital recordings of the camera, creating a personal symbolism, isolating certain forms, altering the mood of images.
Making the banal uncanny.
Taking the vision and making it visionary.
You may notice that the text is arranged in a very particular way, and that these arrangements are supported by simple drawings, boxes or areas of colour. The poet Stephane Mallarme whose 1897 book ‘A Throw of the Dice Does Not Abolish Chance’ has been particularly influential on the development of the entire genre of artist’s book used the metaphor of music to describe how such a work should be laid out. For him, the blank page was pristine silence, and each individual letter was a musical note. The work of the book artist is orchestration. This makes sense when you consider that the printing technology Mallarme was familiar with was based on movable type. Since I create my books on the computer, my individual unit is the pixel and my metaphor is painting. For me, blocks of text can be considered as areas of shading, or individual letters as marks. Everything works together for a visual as well as a literary effect.
The second journey is set to a long lyrical poem called Mountjoy, inspired by the same walk, that I wrote several years ago.
The arrangement of the text in this section has a regularity that works with the rhythm of the poem, and reflects the number of times that I have undertaken this walk.
The third journey returns to the pacing of the first.
There are some subtle changes. The titles of each spread have become more allusive.
Each of these three journeys contains a single double page image at its centre, which marks the point at which the page with the text and the page with the images flip, helping to create a more interesting visual rhythm that echoes the circularity of the journeys.
And summer ends.
You may have noticed certain changes in the colour of borders and backgrounds as we move through. One of the main elements that runs through and ties together the four sections, apart from the metaphor of the year, is the use of colour within the book.
Each month, each journey and each season has its own colour, which helps to locate and ground the reader within the book.
And so on to autumn. Autumn contains two journeys; unlike those during summer, these journeys are linear, entropic, leaving me not safely back at my own home, but marooned, as it were, on opposite coasts of the Island. Since the subject of this book is the Isle of Wight the coast represents the limit of its universe, and the fact of the Island’s unity of place, that is to say that its physical and political borders are identical and concrete, yet slowly shifting with time and tide, is an important theme that is explored throughout the book.
To react to the change of seasons and the nature of the journeys, the books visual style takes a dramatic shift in the Autumn section.
Each journey consists of two cycles of poetry, one literary and one visual. These poems run in parallel, but are separate. The visual poem explores the boundary between the organic and the artificial. The colours represent a conceptual rather than visual separation.
Meanwhile the textual poems explore the natural and human life of the Island and of myself as I journey across it.
Many of the poems are concrete, drawings with words. Most are blank verse, and many explore the effects of repetition, evoking the serial footfalls of the walker, the endless cycles of the tides and seasons.
I find it important to mention explicitly back in the spring section that each textual poem obscures a small part of the visual poetry that it lies over.
On to the final journey on foot.
You will notice the shift in colour scheme, but not in the method used to apply it.
This poem sums up the change from summer to autumn: When you walk in a circle, you think in a circle. When you walk in a line, you think in a line.
You may have noticed some recurring visual themes that have been developing throughout the summer and autumn sections, such as portals and gateways.
And overhead wires.
These allude to the concept of liminal transformation, and the occult theory of ley lines, invisible networks of energy that surge beneath the landscape.
And so on to Winter
In Winter, we find ourselves enacting a mental, rather than a physical journey.
I had originally planned to end the work with a herculean walk, pacing the Island’s entire coast, an echo of Iain Sinclair’s ‘London Orbital’, in which he walks around the entire M25. However, no matter how many different ways I approached it, I could find no satisfactory way to deal with such a walk in the space of the 92 page-days of Winter. It seemed much more like it should be the subject of an entire book of its own, rather than simply one equal part of a larger project. It was when I tried dividing up the coast into 92 and 46 equal sections, in order to see how much distance each page would have to represent, that it struck me that physically undertaking the journey was not actually necessary. It would add no authenticity or meaning to the work.
I returned to an occult concept. The idea of the magic circle, cast to exclude the outside world and create a zone of special influence. I would map the limits of the island using a tool unavailable to the visionary writers of previous eras.
The aerial or satellite photograph represent a profound shift in cartography. There is no longer any need to rely on human measurements or interpretations. Using freely available software, it is now possible for anyone with access to a computer, to see a startlingly close approximation of the world as it truly is, from a perspective once reserved for god, sitting in the crystal sphere of the heavens. Since the edge of the island is a real place, a coast, not a socially and politically constructed border such as that around a city or a country, this form of image seemed extremely appropriate to map it.
At the same time, any good magical ritual must involve a chant, a formula of invocation. Thus, as the airborne electric eye of the robinsonner moves around the Island, interleaved spreads provide a litany of the names of towns and coastal features. Divorced of immediate context, the names begin to break down in to their etymological components, creating poetic allusions that appear to other clues to the Island’s past, present and future.
Meanwhile notice the way in which the satellite pictures have undergone subtle digital processing which begins, as they are repeated, to render them painterly, almost abstract.
Artefacts from where different images have been stitched together become compositional elements. The coast becomes a horizon. The sea becomes a sky. A starless void across which the wakes of boats streak like comets, their passage captured for eternity.
And thus, the circle is completed. the book is at its end. As is my presentation. Thank you.