Thursday, May 8, 2014

Codex: Contemporary Art with Books as the Subject

The space that the exhibition was set in was small, but well utilized. The organization of the pieces was utilitarian, as was the colour of the walls and the lighting. The labeling of the pieces, however was not orthodox, nor were the pieces they had on display. My favorite of the pieces displayed was the one that I am contemplating in the accompanying pictures, which made a reference to Haim Steinbach, another contemporary artist. According to the Codex website, "This project evolved from a collective inquiry which, given the fanatical desire to digitize every book, was based on the premise the library has now been “flattened.” The codex (book or block of wood in Latin), which first appeared during the Roman Empire between the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, was the earliest form of a bound book." ( In the exhibition, all of the pieces had the theme of books. Each one either represented a book, through photograph or drawing, or through a physical book, in the case of my favorite piece. Even the layout of the exhibition suggests books, with the two walls on either side acting like an open book and the wall set behind like the content of the book behind the pages, waiting to capture your imagination. Even the dark hallways leading to the exhibits in the back of the Wattis seem to suggest the possibilities of books that we can't see unless we explore.
The white walls of the exhibition are austere, like you'd expect to see in an art classroom, they are effective. The white walls really allow you to focus on the pieces displayed. There are no bright colours to distract you. The white walls suggest to me the blank white pages of a book. Like in a book, the white is there only as a surface for the content: the words. In the case of the Codex exhibition, the white is the surface for the many pieces. 
The pieces of the exhibition are arranged in a manner similar to the Salons that displayed Rococo art. There are layers of art, each stacked one on top of the other. Although each piece seems to be equally important in this exhibit, it makes me wonder. In the Salons of the 16th and 17th centuries, the pieces that the curators least wanted you to see were placed at the very top. It makes me wonder if that was the intent of these curators. More likely, though, they were just utilizing what little space they had in the small Wattis building. It’s possible that the curators arranged the pieces this way to carry over the common theme of the Codex exhibition: the pieces are stack like books on a shelf.
The lighting in the exhibition was predominantly natural. The large glass windows behind the viewer as they look at the pieces project the light that allows the viewer to see. There was also light bulb lighting in the exhibition. Because the pieces weren’t paintings made of a delicate, easily destructible medium, the lights were bright, allowing you to see the pieces easily. Also, the light was a nice, yellow, warm light, not an unnatural fluorescent light that would have conflicted with the natural light from the windows. My biggest complaint about the lighting was that, if you weren’t positioned just right, you would get reflections on the glass over the pieces. I found it a little hard to focus on the pieces and enjoy them while the reflections showed me the cars, people, and birds buzzing around outside, behind me. 
Of all the things that I really loved about the exhibit, I did have one serious complaint. The pieces that I particularly liked, I could identify. There were no labels next to the pieces, so that I could see who the artists were. If there had been plaques next to the pieces, it would have been possible for me to remember another piece that they had made. It also would have made it easier for me to look up more of their work and to get a fuller appreciation of the piece that was on display. It wasn’t until after I left the exhibition that I found out that the labels for the pieces had been on the glass behind me. I have several problems with this method of labelling. The curators did try to make it easier to identify the pieces by arranging the labels in the order of the pieces on the wall and by giving a rough, thumbnail sketch next to the label. Inspite of this effort, it would have been hard to see the names and titles. The

cars, people, and birds buzzing around would be distracting and make it hard to focus. As a person with the attention span of a goldfish, I think you can see how this would be a problem for me. I suspect, though, that even someone with the patience of Job would have a difficult time reading the labels. These are the same sort of issues I ran up against when looking at the pieces themselves (as I mentioned at the tailend of the previous paragraph). Also, it’s very hard to read little, black lettering with out a contrasting background. This is the reason that books are generally printed black on white. It’s just too much of a strain to try and read anything else. For example, think of the most annoying website you’ve ever been to. It was probably built and designed by an amateur and they probably tried to define the feel of the website with a unique background. This would be great, if they didn’t superimpose words over the top of the beautiful, unique, and complex background image.
Of all the wonderful pieces on display (only a few of which I captured on photo), my favorite was a dual object piece. This piece captured my attention at first because the piece consisted of two dust covers. One dust cover, that I believe to be invented by the artist, was white. It said Haim Steinbach on the spine and 0% on the cover. The other dust cover was that of an actual, published book: Ho Bags, by Harmony Korine and Bill Saylor. Ham Steinbach, in short, is an artist that arranges objects, generally everyday object, into a certain order. Much of his work can be considered Consumerist or Pop Art, since most of the objects he uses can be purchased easily. Ho Bags is a book of visual art, the combined effort of Harmony Korine, a film makers, and Bill Saylor, a visual artist. The meaning of the piece is a bit obscure. When I analyze, it seems to be a lot more than a couple of dust cover dropped on to a frame. The piece makes reference to three contemporary artists, all of which are commercial in some respect. Haim Steinbach, as we discussed earlier, is an artist that makes Consumerist art. Bill Saylor is a visual artist who appears to be very successful. He has published multiple books, curated many exhibitions, and has participated in many more exhibitions. I would assume that he makes a decent living, which would imply that he is at least partly consumerist. Harmony Korine (very much a male, in case you were wondering), is a film director by profession. As a film director, you have to finance your films, and so have to work with those that have money. This would also imply that Korine is consumerist, at least in some respects. This would seem to indicate that the piece we ar looking at is a commentary on Consumerism, where artists, as pure as their intentions might be, get pulled into the American culture of consumerism, commodity, and economics.
Unfortunately, before I left the Codex exhibition, I did not get the name or title of the piece, for the reasons I listed above, namely because the labels were not at all obvious, even though I looked at and through the window multiple times. I did as much research on the piece as I could.  I think I probably spent 12 hour scouring Google and artist review sites. This could be because the artist is not yet well know, either because he/she is new on the art scene, or because he/she intentionally keeps a low profile. If the artist is intentionally keeping a low profile, this could support my analyse of his/her piece: that it is a commentary on the consumerist nature of arts and artists. This artist could be trying to maintain his/her integrity by refusing to enter into the consumerist culture that many capable, well-intentioned artists have fallen into.
In conclusion, the  Codex exhibition was a wonderful experience for me. The setup was just about perfect, inspite of some minor flaws. All of the art works presented made me think critically about books and their influence on society. In the case of my favorite piece, I was fascinated enough to try ans dissect the intended meaning. I would happily recommend the exhibition to anyone that would enjoy contemporary art, if the exhibition were still on display. This exhibition has really given me a deeper appreciation of contemporary art.

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