The aim of today’s pre-arranged FaceTime conversation was to share and exchange ideas emerging from the two pre-set tasks set four weeks ago, namely the cataloguing of colours within our respective books and the generation of new text matter based on the combination of page 99 from each novel.
Whilst we have both completed the tasks,it was evident, from the individual blog posts produced in response to these, that we are finding it difficult to apply appropriate levels of meaning and context to this project. As we began to discuss issues face to face, we quickly came to the conclusion that whilst the project has enabled us to develop new working methodology, both the process and book content hold no real appeal or significance, and subsequently this lack of engagement is hindering the momentum needed for us to collaboratively drive the project forward. Therefore, at this point, 5 months into the project, we made the joint decision not to pursue this project any further. Since beginning to working collaboratively, 13 years ago, this is the first time that we have abandoned a project.
Once the decision was made, we exchanged ideas around new directions.We both highlighted areas for potential exploration, these included, Vera / evocative objects / women of the walk / celebrating a moment from time / notice boards / the typewriter owner – all themes which have the potential to link back to past projects, or concepts, that have arisen whilst working on other books. Size, scale, processes and working methodology also formed part of our discussion, and some initial decisions were noted.
Our aim now is to locate a new project. The starting point for this is to undertake both a review of previous work and individual research with each of us uploading a blog post to record our progress after two weeks of research, prior to a next scheduled FaceTime meeting in mid-May.
Cataloguing colours within my Blue Book revealed 127 individual references to just 10 colours with black and white being the two colours used most frequently. In the majority of instances each colours is used as a metaphor, with references to age and emotional states being the most common. I have become interested in this symbolic approach to using colour linked to a specific parlance through time and place. Perhaps this is an approach to making with meaning which could be applied to stories and subject matter concerned with domesticity and the everyday?
In order to combine page 99 of both Blue Books, I began by alternating sentences. Whilst not altogether successful, this did get me started, and I began to see the body of text as individual pieces similar to that of a jigsaw. By cutting out words, and smaller phrases I started to group similar words and look for potential stories within the text. Small sentences began to emerge, almost as extracts from some bigger story. Whilst these are a combination of words from both books, I struggled to make one sequential piece of text and instead made 10 short stories taking inspiration from the reference to chapter 10 within P’s book.
As I undertake the two set tasks, I am still finding it difficult to connect with this project. There is no set outcome at the moment – but this isn’t the problem, it’s more that the project seems to lack depth and I wonder if we are trying too hard to find a solution to something that just isn’t there; should we have considered our book choice more clearly and selected a topic around domesticity? Would this have given us a clearer sense of direction? However, there is the realisation that if we DO manage to produce a body of work from this project, then this method of working could enhance our current collaborative practice and become a foundation for developing further work.
Despite the negative comments above, I am enjoying the process of discussion, and the subsequent setting of mini-tasks to advance the project. In terms of the current tasks – listing the colours, although a little tedious, is easy, my final tally is approximately 380; however working with the texts from our respective page 99s is proving to a lot harder than I expected. I have tried various methods of combining the texts and at one point even resorted to an online story generator, which also failed! I am aware that this could be an abstract narrative and so I looked at the work of Raoul Hausmann and Dada poetry – including the Tristan Tzara method of ‘How to make a Dadaist Poem’ – and although this uses a very basic system to produce a narrative, I didn’t like the methodology or outcomes that it generated.
However, I was interested in the idea of applying a system, which is something that began recurring in our work during the Windham Papers. I began by looking and analysing the texts, noting similarities, highlighting pronouns, and isolating specific aspects of the narrative until I developed a system that enabled me to produce a new text. The finished piece doesn’t use all the words as the task required, but I could keep going through the text and apply different systems until they are all used up!
We have had a month to catalogue our respective blue books using the categories we developed through discussion and debate. A FaceTime ‘meeting’ enabled us to report our progress, along with our findings and reservations. We have both found the process of cataloguing rather tedious and repetitive, and have started to question the purpose of the exercise; this meeting came at an opportune time and enabled us to voice these concerns, and subsequently talk through the issues that the process has highlighted.
P: I felt it was important to start by questioning what we wanted to achieve with this project. Was it to further challenge our collaborative practice and working process, or merely an opportunity to produce an edition of ‘sale-able’ artists’ books? Also did the book have to have a purpose? As we started to talk through these topics it became evident that we were both struggling to find a point to what we were doing. T suggested that this could be because we had no personal connection with our particular books, which had been purchased at random, and subsequently we were struggling to relate to the subject matter. Was there then a way forward that would enable us to find an area of common interest?
We discussed and rejected various methodologies, including producing a haiku version of each book; of the 10 categories that we had mapped, we had both gravitated towards ‘colour’ – therefore it was decided to take a more abstract approach, and to start listing each colour with its corresponding page number and any relevant descriptor attached to the colour. In conjunction with this we discussed a project that I have recently completed called Page 99 – there is a theory by English writer Ford Madox Ford, that if you open a novel at page 99 then ‘the quality of the whole will be revealed to you.’ Using this premise we will both use the final sentence on page 99 as the title of our respective books. To enable us to consider a narrative, T suggested that we send each other a copy of page 99, and both attempt to combine the text of these pages to form a new ‘story’. This is not dissimilar to the work of Graham Rawle who wrote an entire novel using words from vintage women’s magazines.
These decisions will now enable us to take the project to the next level, and hopefully by undertaking this set of instructions we will start to gain a greater sense of what the book may become. Without knowingly setting out to develop our practice using a new methodology, by default the nature of this project – and our disconnect with either the text or author – appears to be leading us in a new direction.
P and T: Following a visit to Windham, we took the opportunity to determine our next project. A face to face meeting enabled us to exchange books and view first hand commonalities. We questioned if there were any? and if we wanted to alter, combine or produce by-products of these volumes. A leading issue was the discovery that ‘Twenty Years A’Growing’ is considered a seminal work documenting the Irish language which presents some challenges in making responses which haven’t previously been considered. This, together with some initial reservations around the author of ‘Venture to the Interior’, resulted in the decision not to focus on the main characters in the book but to search out something new.
We started to talk about cataloguing, and how we had both really enjoyed the inventory aspect of the Windham instructions. We were reminded of the Vera project, and spent some time talking through how we had catalogued the seemingly random collection of broken jewellery and the subsequent value this had given to 5 miscellaneous pieces. This seemed to give us a way forward. We questioned – why we can’t catalogue these books in the same way that we catalogued Vera? This could be a new way of looking at the books – a visual examination of the whole rather than the narrative or the leading character. From this point, we began to generate a list of categories to catalogue. These became: colour, transport, animals, clothing, food, drink, occupation, climate, building, equipment (domestic or otherwise).
We agreed on a system and will plan a FaceTime conversation on 15 March to review emerging ideas.
T. A pre-arranged FaceTime conversation provided the opportunity to share and exchange initial observations made individually in response to first readings of our new blue books. Selected independently, it was interesting to note a number of actual and potential similarities as we talked through our findings.
In consideration of this new project, we both agreed that we remain interested in continuing to question our established collaborative practice, and that whilst we had enjoyed our first altered book project, we do not want to repeat Windham, but use what we learnt in the process to move our practice forward. With this in mind, P introduced the notion of the production of a series of by-products at a continuum of the process of altering our new blue books. These may provide the opportunity to further explore scale, text and image in alternative formats.
Beginning to exchange the stories and characters contained within our books, we noted the emergence of content similarities. Both books contain maps and document journeys and both tell stories with male leads and references to other languages. Time and place may be significant alongside characters met along the journey. As a starting point we both agreed to begin to list the characters and geography contained within our books in preparation for our next planned face to face meeting in two weeks time.
P. Considering the random selection of two ‘blue books’, it is interesting how many perceived similarities there are between the two editions, are these coincidences a matter of chance? or could we have found similarities within whatever books we had chosen?
As well as reading the novel, I did some primary research into the author Laurens van der Post – sadly he does not have the same charm as Windham; a friend of Prince Charles, and godfather to Prince William, the story of his seduction of a 14 year old girl entrusted to his care during a sea journey, which resulted in her becoming pregnant, does little to endear him to me; however I should not let this colour my opinion of the book or the potential development of the project.
The Small Publishers Fair in November 2017 concluded the Windham Papers, and enabled us to view both books together for the first time, before delivering them to the exhibition. We also had the opportunity to talk face to face and reflect together on the project; we concluded that whilst we had initially resisted the idea of an altered book project, writing and responding to the instructions through research and making had given us an opportunity to expand individual practice within the confines of a set brief, and the end result was something that we would not have produced within our established practice. Having noted this change, it was decided to further explore this process through the undertaking of a second project based on an existing book.
Using the reasoning behind the Tom Phillips book project The Humament as inspiration, two decisions were made immediately, the first was that the book should be blue (as a gesture to the Windham Papers) and secondly that the purchase would be made from an Oxfam shop (a previous project had resulted in coincidental purchases from Oxfam), so it seemed pertinent. Following these decisions, a series of text messages attempted to formulate the book theme and book price, however before we had the opportunity to complete these tasks, a chance conversation revealed that we had both already purchased an autobiography, so the decision was made to use these books as the starting point.
P: At this stage I had purchased two books – the autobiography for £1.99 – a purchase based purely on the title and name of the author – Venture to the Interior by Laurens van der Post. The other book The Comanche Scalp by William Colt MacDonald costing 99p was a novel and a nicer blue, however it was the title and book jacket design that were driving force behind the purchase. I suspect that if I had the choice I would opt to use the The Comanche Scalp as my chosen book – however, as with the Windham Papers, I like the fact that the decision has been made through theoretical reasoning rather than through personal selection. It is also intriguing that with this project the book size, structure and content is unlikely to align in the same way that the Windham Papers did, therefore there is an even greater sense of the unknown!
T: Around the same time, I purchased two blue books – the autobiography also for £1.99 – contains a map on the end papers, reference to being rendered ‘from the original Irish’ and an intriguing title: Twenty Years A-Growing. The other book – A Constable guide to the birds of the coast costing £3.99 contains photographs, diagrams, maps and factual data. With no idea about the subject matter of the books P was purchasing, I enjoyed the limitation of searching out a blue book – I could have bought loads!