Friday, 7 September 2012

Bookish Art {1} - Biblios by Guy Laramee

Of late, I seem to have stumble upon a series of art installations, monuments and statues which were inspired by books or the knowledge contained in them. But none of them have been as striking or controversial as the altered books by Canadian artist Guy Laramee. 

I have to admit that I'm not a fan of altered book artwork (see the definition of it here) as my heart usually breaks when I see books being destroyed. Having said that, Laramee actually has a point to what he's doing. His art is about the destruction of mankind's tradition and how our endless pursuit for bigger and better things might actually be our undoing.

While I don't really agree with his point of view, I find it quite interesting. I believe progress is necessary up to a point. It makes our lives better, more comfortable. It allows us to see things we would never see otherwise. Before the aeroplane became a commercial venture, people like you and I could never dream of seeing the world or experiencing other cultures. Before books, human history became lost as soon as an elder died. And without the internet you would never have come across me or this blog.

However, I can see where Laramee is coming from. At what point we decided that it's enough. At what point we go back to appreciating things' natural state of being and living the life our bodies were built to live? A very interesting question indeed.

I could carry on talking about it, but I think his artist statement and art say it all. And as if that wasn't enough to get the old cogs moving, Laramee has even come up with a little fiction, almost childlike, to explain the reasoning behind his thoughts. Please read it here

The erosion of cultures – and of “culture” as a whole - is the theme that runs through the last 25 years of my artistic practice. Cultures emerge, become obsolete, and are replaced by new ones. With the vanishing of cultures, some people are displaced and destroyed. We are currently told that the paper book is bound to die. The library, as a place, is finished. One might ask so what? Do we really believe that “new technologies” will change anything concerning our existential dilemma, our human condition? And even if we could change the content of all the books on earth, would this change anything in relation to the domination of analytical knowledge over intuitive knowledge? What is it in ourselves that insists on grabbing, on casting the flow of experience into concepts?

When I was younger, I was very upset with the ideologies of progress. I wanted to destroy them by showing that we are still primitives. I had the profound intuition that as a species, we had not evolved that much. Now I see that our belief in progress stems from our fascination with the content of consciousness. Despite appearances, our current obsession for changing the forms in which we access culture is but a manifestation of this fascination.

My work, in 3D as well as in painting, originates from the very idea that ultimate knowledge could very well be an erosion instead of an accumulation. The title of one of my pieces is “All Ideas Look Alike”. Contemporary art seems to have forgotten that there is an exterior to the intellect. I want to examine thinking, not only “what” we think, but “that” we think. 

So I carve landscapes out of books and I paint romantic landscapes. Mountains of disused knowledge return to what they really are: mountains. They erode a bit more and they become hills. Then they flatten and become fields where apparently nothing is happening. Piles of obsolete encyclopedias return to that which does not need to say anything, that which simply IS. Fogs and clouds erase everything we know, everything we think we are.

After 30 years of practice, the only thing I still wish my art to do is this: to project us into this thick “cloud of unknowing.”

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