Text by Lara Cory
Arnaud Desjardin is a French-born, London artist and author of catalogue: The Everyday Press (2011) and Business as Usual (2010). He is also the founder of The Everyday Press, publishing the work of visual artists as printed matter since 2007. Desjardin’s latest installation The Book on Books on Artists’ Books is showing in The Bloomberg Space as Comma 38, and nears the end of the gallery’s current series of exhibitions called Comma.
Desjardin’s offering seems dry and rather academic at first but on closer inspection reveals a challenging, complex and unexpectedly engaging piece. Walking into the expansive space, the viewer encounters a long desk to the right, two tables in the centre and seven cabinets that skirt the edges of the mezzanine corridor. Everything is white, plastic and utilitarian in design. It is like entering the special reserve room in a university library.
The cabinets and tables display books about Artists’ Books from all over the world with titles like Artwork in Bookform, Printed Matter, Artists Books, Livre’s d’artists and Artists Bookworks, whispering names like Ed Ruscha, Yves Klein, Dieter Roth, Robert Filliou and Germano Celant. On the desk sits a computer, printer and a few stacks of various paper and card, next to which are a manual guillotine, a binder and some rubber stamps. This is the production line that facilitates the installation’s main event – the publishing of Desjardin’s latest book, The Book on Books on Artists’ Books.
But here’s the tricky part, The Book on Books on Artists’ Books is not simply Desjardin’s latest book. It is a working prototype which could also be seen as Desjardin’s own Artists’ Book, sort of…
Desjardin’s contribution to The Bloomberg’s Comma series is like one of those pictures, within a picture, within a picture. The concept is dizzying and profound which comes as a surprise from an installation that looks like an arbitrary and casual selection of art books and a do-it-yourself printing press. This exhibition certainly doesn’t speak for itself, and understanding won’t be gained by simply looking at it. You have to almost enter into it. Look at the machines on the desk; see the stacks of paper and the red-stained rubber stamps. And then pick up the prototype that lies in front of you and take a glimpse through it. Go over to the table and pick up the books. Read them. Evaluate and assess. Walk over to the cabinets and see the rows upon of rows of books about Artists Books, exhibition catalogues, artist monographs, periodicals, publisher catalogues and other examples of secondary literature about the recording, promotion and distribution of Artists’ Books.
You will notice that some are tomes of academia, some are instructive how tos, some are simply photocopied pages that are stapled together and some are ironic or even humorous. The point is there are galaxies of books referenced here, just in this small collection; imagine how many others are out there?
Clive Phillpot describes Desjardin’s work as a ‘three-dimensional bibliography’ where even though we don’t get to appreciate the initial work of the artist, we receive instead the bounty of creative expression and interpretation of the designers and artists who produce this secondary literature. Desjardin is inviting us to look at this genre itself as art. He is bringing a dry collection of lists and printed paraphernalia into focus and giving it inter-textuality by cataloguing the information and making it the centre of an art installation. The Book on Books on Artists’ Books is given further context and semiotic confusion as Desjardin transforms the printing, production and distribution of the book into a piece of performance art.
It’s difficult to see the artistic quality in lists, but Umberto Eco insists that lists are ways in which we give definition to chaos and infinity. In an interview with Spiegl in 2009, Eco stated that the commonplace act of making lists is humanity’s greatest contribution to culture, to art. He suggests it is our way of making infinity comprehensible and bearable. Eco states: “lists allow us to question the essential definitions.”
The Book on Books on Artists’ Books also encourages us to question the essential definition of Desjardin’s list. It is not simply an account of books about Artists’ Books. It is saying something about the tremendous proliferation of art in the last forty years; about the ways in which the artists chose and are choosing to express themselves, about the mediums and shape of art. It reveals the artists’ desire to be democratic in the dissemination of their work, valuing affordability and availability to everyone, their desire to break free from traditional methods, limitations and prejudices. Desjardin’s list tells the story of art in the last forty years.
Desjardin’s installation is underwhelming on first impression but soon becomes overwhelming as you realise the scope and concept of his intention. The Book on Books on Artists’ Books is exactly as its title suggests and yet so much more. It attempts to give shape to practices and a genre that might be impossible to contain but it remains imperative that we try.
COMMA 37/COMMA 38: GEREON KREBBER & ARNAUD DESJARDIN continues until 18 September.
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Install shots of COMMA 37:Arnaud Desjardin for Bloomberg SPACE 2011