by Dr Stephen Bury
Head of European and American Collections, British Library
In 1978, Maurizio Nannucci, book artist and founder of the Zona Archive
in Florence, published his Art as Social Environment: the reader
was encouraged to tear out the pages and throw them away as litter in
the streets. Angela Lorenz typifies the diametrically opposite - the
streets, buildings, shops and markets provide the sources of inspiration
which will become an artist's book: 'As I walk, I pick up playing cards,
buttons, keys, negatives, messages and puzzle pieces. I photograph gloves,
shoes, socks, weeds, signs, posters, partially exposed buildings, and
objects or materials being used in ways for which they were not intended.'
To tour Bologna in her company is to see the city ground upwards and
to see the familiar and taken-for-granted in an unfamiliar light, and
the unfamiliar in a familiar light - and, for me, that is one of the
prime functions of the artist. A lost blue glove lies palm down on the
road next to a bicycle rack with red, peeling paint, near a metal cover
over a service hole: the road markings make a white abstract design
on its surface. What is the story of the glove and its owner? What exactly
can we reconstruct from such a fragment?
|In Bologna the past is ever present. Romanesque buildings
recycle the Roman arch and even the building materials of the Roman period:
cheap, recycled tiles, bricks and columns are transformed into the decorative.
The 'Jerusalem Bononiensis' complex at San Stefano, a sort of theme park
avant la lettre, was intended by its founder St Petronius to recreate
the seven holy sites of Jerusalem, complete with its own Monte Olivieto,
the column to which Christ was tied during the flagellation, a height
gauge for Christ, and the basin in which Pontius Pilate washed his hands:
but, the columns in the San Sepulcro baptistery come from a Roman temple
devoted to Isis and Pilate's basin turns out to be an 8th Century Lombard
bathtub. This syncretism and the recycling of materials, ideas and spaces
fascinate Lorenz. In an unpublished talk for the Oakland Museum, Over
and Over, she examined the history of recycling from the patches on
the 5000 year old clothes of the man found in the ice at Similaun in 1992
to the fascist tract on domestic economy, Do Not Waste. Examples
from Italian street life - such as the 'washer' rings the fascist regime
swapped for gold wedding rings - or Indian or African re-use of 'western'
packaging - the can of DDT made into (less than hygienic) food containers
- contribute to this exploration of objects, their status (as they slip
in and out of being aesthetic or useful) and function.
But her books eschew the collage of realia. Her studio collection of objects and ephemera is large enough to make theoretically possible their incorporation in an edition of thirty or so. But she is much more interested in presenting a simulacrum or representation of them. The panoply of reproductive techniques - die-cutting, silk-screening, rubber-stamping etc. - is used to imitate the effect of these real objects. The use of collage would also interfere in the laborious process of making the books, which is a process of research in itself, where decisions and appropriate techniques are tested continuously over an extended period of time, allowing opportunity for accident and coincidence, and for by-products to be reincorporated in the process - like Rodin did in the construction of The Gates of Hell.
Binding Ties (1997) began with the rediscovery of the children's boardgame, the South America Travel and Trading Game, marketed by Parker Brothers in 1941 and its map of the world serves as the image for the container of the book. The game has commodities - rubber, coffee, wood etc. sourced from around the world. Lorenz takes up this notion of exchange - which binds the Eskimo seal-hunting in his kayak, the nomadic Gabbeh rugmakers of the Iranian steppes and the Amazonian Indian in an inevitable grip of exchange and finally the cash nexus. Nexus elides into 'ties' and these become the neckties of army regiments, the engine of colonialism and imperialism. The outer package takes its form from typical necktie envelopes. Inside the book consists of tie-shaped pages, each coloured in imitation of those of particular British regiments, their pinstripes mimicking the longitudinal lines of the world map. The text, a poem reminiscent of Auden's libretto for Britten's Paul Bunyan, relates to the way we have acquired products from all over the world: some of the words slide up and down. But the reader is not only made to relate physically to the book in this one way: the whole structure becomes alternately a grass skirt or a Native headdress. The book almost becomes overdetermined as accident and a formalist drive for total congruence of means and content take over: Lorenz comes upon a photograph of Fiji natives in regimental ties, a New Caledonian typeface or a Savile Row paper; two of the commodities, rubber and copper (itself used as a currency with exchange value in 19th Century west Africa), are used in the construction of the book - the text is rubber-stamped and the handmade staples holding it together are of copper from electrical wire, fortuitously already pin-striped: the very 'handmadeness' comments on the process of industrialisation that lay behind the search for raw materials and markets. All these layers of meaning interact to give the book a supercharged valency.
We are left with a book that is totally self-contained and could be
no other: and the very construction reinforces the book's theme of exchange
and exploitation, where everything is bound up together, where there
is no innocence once we have begun to think about these issues. One
test of a successful artist's book is whether the idea could have been
conveyed in any other way - a film, video, CD-ROM, painting, sculpture
or installation. Binding Ties
is inconceivable otherwise, as a non-book. The book format, a sequence
of pages, the intimacy of the relationship between artist and reader,
the physicality of the book in the hand, all come together, here as
in her earlier books like Bologna Sample
(1992) or Lay Text (1993). In an
age where the electronic has abrogated to itself the function of communication
from the printed book, the artist's book as evidenced by Lorenz, is
now free to see how knowledge can be interrogated by the very physical
characteristics of the book.