Meredith Quartermain’s Vancouver Walking won the BC Book Awards 2006 Prize for Poetry. Books include The Eye-Shift of Surface, Wanders [with Robin Blaser], and A Thousand Mornings, prose poems about old Vancouver’s dockside area. Her work has appeared in The Walrus, Canadian Literature, the Literary Review of Canada, Matrix, The Capilano Review, West Coast Line, filling Station, Prism International, and other magazines.
Klaus Scherübel works and lives in Vienna and Montreal. His work has continually been exhibited in Europe and North America including Fundazio Juan Miró, Barcelona (2003), Landesgalerie am Oberösterreichischen Landesmuseum, Linz (2003), Frac Languedoc-Roussillon, Montpellier (2003), L’Espace VOX, Montréal (2002), Neue Galerie am Landesmuseum Joanneum, Graz (2001). His videowork has been presented in festivals such as Viper, Basel (2003), the Festival international du nouveau Cinéma et des nouveaux Médias, Montréal (2003) and the Transmediale, Berlin (2004).
Within his conceptual practice, Klaus Scherübel questions the status of the artwork, integrating it in a process in which the artist himself is indissociable. He appears in his work in different roles and functions such as the artist at work, a character of a sitcom, a sponsor or as an editor.
Lorna Brown is a Vancouver artist, curator and educator. Since 1984 her work has been shown in exhibitions at Dazibao, Montreal; Presentation House Gallery, North Vancouver; Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver; Gallery 44, Toronto; Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography, Ottawa; Taipei Fine Arts Museum; and Artspeak, Vancouver, among others. Her recent independent curatorial projects include Set and Group Search: art in the library. Director/Curator of Artspeak 1999–2004.
Untitled (The Artist at Work)
January 31–March 6, 2004
Klaus Scherübel examines different systems of cultural production and consumption ranging from the field of the visual arts and literature to the entertainment industry. Untitled (The Artist at Work) is an ongoing series of photographs picturing Scherübel himself in the role of the artist. The transposition of this well known genre into the context of a conceptually working artist leads to an ironic shift of meaning which is typical for Scherübel’s practice. He appears in various places such as cinemas, landscapes, and furniture stores, engaged in activities that are contrary to notions of labour based on efficiency, productivity and performance. The goal of his activities is ambiguous. Without the caption (including the name of the artist, the title, the name of the photographer) the images could be misread as illustrations for products or institutions. Untitled (The Artist at Work) presents a documentary on artistic work that is characterized by the absence of material production. The images rather show Scherübel absorbed by thoughts—emphasizing the conceptual aspect of his activity. While the content of the images seems to state a sort of emancipation of material production, the photographs—perceived from the point of view of their materiality—re-register this conceptual activity in the materialistic logic of art. In a way Scherübel questions the artistic production, its representations and its protocols of inscription in the reality of the artistic context. His conceptual interventions, using various means and strategies, always redefine the status of the artwork and the artist in relation to the framing practices of visual and written language.
During this exhibition, in collaboration with Vancouver Public Library, several special events will be presented:
Mallarmé, The Book
Vancouver Public Library Central Branch
Fine Arts and Music Section
Vancouver Public Library
350 West Georgia
Mallarmé, The Book deals with Stéphane Mallarmé’s complex and until recently almost unknown world-book enterprise. The Book (Le Livre), defined by Mallarmé’ (1842-1898) as the ‘only’ borderless achievement, is meant to be completely detached from its author. It is intended to be the result of every possible book, as the essence of all literature, but at the same time as a ‘very ordinary’ book. The Book is impossible to realize, yet is an accomplishment as pure concept.
Klaus Scherübel responds to the paradox posed by Mallarmé in his recent publication, Mallarmé, The Book. Scherübel has produced its cover in the proportions Mallarmé originally intended, using the modes of production and distribution of a conventional book. The Book will be presented as a promotional display copy in the Fine Arts and Music area of the Vancouver Public Library’s Downtown Branch. This new English ‘translation’ follows on Mallarmé, Das Buch, which was published by Walther König, Cologne, in 2001, and was the subject of a number of exhibitions.
Jeff Derksen’s essay, The Impossible Book, was written following a seminar which coincided with Klaus Scherübel’s exhibition Untitled (The Artist at Work). The seminar was lead by Jeff Derksen, Marina Roy, Roger Farr and Isabelle Pauwels and attended by local artists and authors. Funding for this seminar and essay was provided by the Canada Council for the Arts Off the Radar Program.
“The Impossible Book”
While the form of the “book” is now going through a period of general upheaval, and while that form now appears less natural, and its history less transparent than ever, and while one cannot tamper with it without disturbing everything else, the book form alone can no longer settle the case of those writing processes which, in practically questioning the form, must also dismantle it.
—Jacques Derrida, Dissemination (1967)
Following Stéphane Mallarmé’s rigorous architecture for a book, Klaus Scherübel’s project Mallarmé, The Book gives us a thing whose design, modes of production and political economy were meticulously scripted by Mallarmé himself. And despite the digital warning that sounded the death of the book through shifts in technology – from CD ROMs, virtual libraries accessible on the web and books loaded onto Palm Pilots—books as things have remained relatively constant in their form even as their political economy has fluctuated. Like many of the things we use here in Canada, books have become more globalized in their production and their consumption even as they continue to look more or less the same.
The book’s uncanny aspect is located in the tension between its use value (literacy and information) and its value as a commodity in the chain of production as it moves from the printing press and the bindery to the bookstore shelves, folding into reader’s lives and re-circulating as social meaning. During the bookwork discussion at Artspeak, Roger Farr commented that Mallarmé’s Le Livre is a composition to record the political and economic condition in which the book is published, and circulated compresses the uncanny condition of the book and the force of Mallarmé’s project.
Scher¨bel’s styrofoam-filled object fills the impossible center of Mallarmé’s project, producing something that is secondary to its political economy at the same time as it foregrounds that condition. Scherübel’s Mallarmé, The Book is the cipher of the “creative practice” that Mallarmé expended on the project (without which Scherübel’s project would not exist), as well as a commodity circulating in the economy of a standard book and an artist’s multiple within yet another economy and set of social meanings. It is an object whose thingness constantly refers back to the creative, economic and social scaffolding that produced it and gives it meaning.
Roger Farr’s project of translating Mallarmé’s texts also points back to Mallarmé’s original labour. Farr’s act of translating is a mirror of cultural production that does not seek to generate a unique text from Mallarmé’s original, but re-inscribes the materiality of the text. Translation as experiment and translation as process have been a strong part of contemporary Canadian literature (perhaps most dramatically performed through the Toronto Research Group) and these investigations came on the crest of theories which sought to refigure the relationship between reader and writer, between source text and target text, between literary text and social text and the terrain of cultural translation. Farr’s emphasis on the visual and the graphic contests cultural translation by moving away from it, instead pushing the materiality of the text to the foreground as the dominant feature. In this aspect, Farr’s translation project shares something with the Russian Formalists who sought to define the “literariness” of a text in order to take it out of the hands of critics who did not provide any tools to understand how a text works, how it creates its effects. For the Formalists, the literary text was not a mysterious event tied to the genius of the author, but a skilled construct. Likewise, translation has been approached as a mysterious process—one which cannot fully yield the secrets of the original text—in which the goal is to semantically mirror the original text (and this is what facing page translations literally do). Farr does not aim to reproduce the genius of a Mallarmé text, but to produce the skill of the text, and in a sense, the precision of the material.
Mallarmé’s precision was to provide every detail of Le Livre, but of course, without the book itself. Marina Roy’s Sign after the X provides details of the letter X by accumulating a social history of that enigmatic sign. Supported by an abundance of formal book conventions—dedication page, contents, foreword, prologue, introduction, preface, etc. through to epilogue, postscript and appendices—Roy collapses the scale of the book with the scale of the letter. The letter—which is normally integrated transparently into a word, then words to syntax, sentences to paragraphs, paragraphs to chapters, etc. within the normal hierarchy of reading—here becomes the material of the book. But Roy’s project is not a return to the moment of semiotics moved into artists’ production, a project aimed to open the sign to chains of meaning, to free signification from its restrictions. Instead Roy takes what could be the most “empty” of signs—and a sign which stands for a blank—and then fills it in with strings of historical social histories. These histories move from the most “empty” to the most loaded. There are many candidates for both these poles—for instance, the most empty could easily be XFL, The Extreme Football League, which was cooked up by the mastermind of the World Wrestling Federation and lasted only three months (if I remember correctly, the games were shown on the Fox network, which is itself another candidate for the contested sign of X). For taking in an analysis of the history of race, capitalism and property, the most historically replete example is Malcolm X, who refused the name given to his family by slave owners and took X as the sign of resistance and transformation. A pun in the title, Sign After the X, is made when sign becomes a noun, not a verb. This book follows the sign X as it is filled with social meaning.
The spatial metaphor of Mallarmé’s Le Livre as the architecture of a possible book provides an entry into Isabelle Pauwel’s project, Unfurnished Apartment for Rent. If we think of Pauwel’s bookwork spatially, it is a script for architecture. The apartments in which the scenes are placed are represented in the most generic manner through floor plan drawings and computer-renderings at the beginning of the book’s sections. And the fictitious names and addresses of the apartment buildings, which are the subtitles for the sections, are generic enough to be anywhere in North America, or they could be the type of addresses used in films or TV shows, addresses that function in the same way as the fictitious 555 prefix of TV phone numbers.
The lives of the characters that Pauwels writes into the apartments give the architectural space meaning. These represented spaces could also be film sets. In another sense, the scenes provide a view into the production of space through everyday life, but these everyday events are scripted for film, so the turn is that the script engages with the production of architectural space in film. The final script, in fact, is about the making of a movie and ends with the line, uttered by the character The Director, “Film is a powerful medium.” The tensions in the scripts—the dialogue of the characters—is not focused on the spatial aspects of architecture, but in many cases, on the class tensions that arise between tenants and owners. This makes the scripts read more as sitcoms in which the situation has class tension (consider sitcoms such as Chico and the Man, Taxi, Roseanne and King of Queens versus classless, and predominantly deracinated, sitcoms Friends or Seinfeld).
As a bookwork Unfurnished Apartment for Rent shares a formal aspect with Steve McCaffery’s Carnival Panels (1967–70, 1970–75) as the book has to be cut to be read or viewed. McCaffery’s panels necessitate the “destruction” of the book; the individual pages must be torn from the binding to be assembled into the larger panel. Pauwel’s bookwork maintains the untrimmed pages that are made as the book’s signatures are printed and then bound—Unfurnished Apartment for Rent skips the last process of trimming and the reader must do this for themselves, or peek between the pages. This combination of architecture, cutting and destruction draws a parallel to Gordon Matta-Clark and his “cutting” of houses slated for demolition. Matta-Clark would transform the house briefly into sculptures and simultaneously foreground the structure as architecture. The final products of Matta-Clark’s interventions were photos, films and bookworks.
The historical oddity of Mallarmé’s Le Livre was to detail the production and circulation of the book in a way that made the book itself superfluous, and in a sense impossible. In contrast to our contemporary fetishized globalization, Le Livre privileged production over consumption. Part of the materiality of the bookwork has been to reveal its production in some way, to roughen up the commodity by leaving traces of its making. It is this imagined space—between the impossibility of completion and the insistence upon materiality—that Sign After the X, Unfurnished Apartment for Rent and Farr’s translation of Le Livre seek to occupy.
Postscript 13: Meredith Quartermain on Untitled (The Artist at Work) (PDF)
February 10–February 28, 2004
During Klaus Scherübel’s exhibition Untitled (The Artist at Work) held at Artspeak, several special events related to the artist’s new project Mallarmé: The Book will be presented in collaboration with the Vancouver Public Library:
Installation on February 10–29 at the Vancouver Public Library Central Branch – Fine Arts and Music Section.
Lecture on February 21 at the Vancouver Public Library Central Branch – Peter Kaye Room.
Book Signing on February 28 at Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design – Read Bookstore.