Reflection on Digestion 2012
Performance Reading at the Small Publishers Fair, Conway Hall, London, with bookRoom
Saturday 17 November, 2.30pm, 20 minutes in length.
Photography: Jolyon Gardner and Emmanuelle Waeckerle
Thanks to Jonathan Jarvis and Emmanuelle Waeckerle
Video documentation can be viewed via vimeo
Reflection on Digestion is an epic work. As book, it is nine metres, folded back and forth into an eighteen-page concertina form. Its covers are of undyed calfskin, and its eighteen pages are made of 410 gsm white somerset satin paper relief printed from photo polymer plates.
It is book but it is also performance: 37 hours of performance. The bodily act of the scribe originated the manuscript, which was then transferred and translated through digital and mechanical technologies at UCA Farnham, and the hand-made, to produce an edition of three book works.
The scribed text stems from a body of knowledge encountered whilst on a post-graduate course in education. Writing, knowledge and the body are explored, and the metaphors of reflection and digestion consider process, processing, and ways of knowing and becoming. ‘Digestion’ stems from the word ‘digest’, which can both refer to an arrangement of written work; and to the processing or making sense of knowledge and experience, as well as to break down and absorb food.
Reflection on Digestion’s concertina configuration makes reference to the image of the digestive system and connotes the meaning of the words ‘reflection’ and ‘reflexive’ coming from the sense of a physical and metaphorical bending or turning back paralleling the visual image of the gastrointestinal tract with its nine metres of twists and turns crammed into the body’s cavity.
Alimentary undulations are further mirrored in the loops and garlands of the handwriting itself which is a joined up text, each word tied to the previous, the next, and to the subsequent line, so that it is a kind of Boustrophedon, a continuous line running from left to right and right to left from the beginning of the book to the end. This continuous script refers to Latin texts from the early Christian era, when there were no spaces between words in a manuscript. In my scripto continua, the language is not easily legible enabling the lettering to hover between word and image, content and form.
The performative aspect of Reflection in Digestion is also embedded in the experience of the audience. It reconnects the reader to a corporeal relationship with the book and reading, in that they are required to negotiate the monumental, physical nine-metre form of the book, as well as the awkward image-text within, reconstituting a relationship arguably severed by the invention of the printing press.
The body and metaphors of digestion are deeply embedded the history of the book, according to Mary Carruthers. Reading, she writes, in The Book of Memory, was ‘a bodily performance’, rather than simply the decoding of words on a page. ‘The medieval scholar’s relationship to his texts is quite different from modern objectivity. Reading is to be digested, to be ruminated, like a cow chewing her cud’ (p164).
Reflection on Digestion 2012 has been exhibited at the following exhibitions:
'Text and Context', English Faculty Library, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, 2012
'Loopart13', Deptford, London, 2013'
In Other Words’ Fringe Arts Bath Visual Arts Festival, Bath, 2013
London Artists Boom Fair, Whitechapel Gallery, London, 2013
'Kaleid 2014: Artists Who Do Books', Book Fair, The Art Academy, London, 2014
Short performance readings have also been performed at the following:
Loopart13, Deptford, London, 2013
Kaleid 2014: Artists Who Do Books, Book Fair, The Art Academy, London, 2014
A five-hour performance reading of the whole book was performed at 'In Other Words’ Fringe Arts Bath Visual Arts Festival, on Saturday 8 June 2013.