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Book Objects

Will the Kindle, the Nook, the iPad or any of the other reading devices supplant the book? It is a distinct possibility. The history of documenting our heritage has gone through many considerable changes. We have been telling stories for a long time, by simple scratches on cave walls over thirty thousand years ago, to impressions carved in stone, to embossed notations on clay tablets, to narratives painted on papyrus, to elaborate illuminated writings on animal hide, to beautifully executed printing on handmade paper. With the onset of modern technology the playing field dramatically changed. In less than two centuries a wave of new inventions capable of documenting our existence have become available. In rapid succession new processes began competing with the printed word. Photography, the phonograph, radio, film, tape recorder, television, the computer, the Internet, all the way to the new phenomena of social media like Facebook and Twitter. All add a new dimension to our need and desire to record, to preserve.

Now consider all these latest technologies wrapped into one device. No 7 more clunky camera, no need for a separate radio, the movie screen is right in your lap, the television set becomes obsolete. Want to read? A magazine, a newspaper, a book? With the push of a button you have the desired format. You don't even have to get up. Some of the latest models let you take pictures, use it as a phone, operate it as a computer and let you tweet and text to your heart's delight. It is a fantasy come true. It is totally connected. It is noisy and it is very public.

Against these electronic wonder-gadgets, the intimacy of a book stands in sharp contrast. It is deliberately low-tech, cumbersome and slow. But it has retained its singular advantage. It is private. It challenges the imagination. Almost from the time we began to communicate, there have been attempts to interfere with this dialogue between writer and reader. These measures are commonly cloaked in the parlance of "protecting the public." In truth, they are nothing but unbridled censorship.

Having grown up in a country during a period of political turmoil and savagery, an era notably ushered in by public book burnings, I was confronted with this "doubletalk" quite early in life, first under the Nazis and later during military occupation. The earliest school books I can remember, leftovers from the previous regime, were heavily "edited." They were books with words and sentences blackened out. Chapters were deleted and entire pages happened to be missing. It was information declared unsuitable for a post-war generation, a generation who six months earlier had practically been obliterated by events now deemed unfit to be read. Part of what we had lived through, i.e., our own history, had been blocked out, hidden behind those black marks.

My book-objects have their origin in the ambiguous realm of technological change, super-imposed against my personal concern about censorship. By making books which are deliberately mute, I try to raise questions. Words are lost. They are no longer important. The books take on new forms, they become provocative statements. No longer instruments for reading, they become sculptures, they become Book-Objects. Wilfully altered, they are discharged of their original purpose and turned into relics. But equally important, they are turned into symbolic markers to be visited by future generations, who might not know the intimacy of a book.

The objects I create are made with real books. They are not casts, nor are they sculpted imitations. Each piece has at its core bound, printed pages. Glued together and painstakingly covered with gesso, a plaster-like coating, they are silenced and sealed for good. I practice this destruction, this obvious censorship, simply as metaphor. It is to visualize, to demonstrate, to provoke. How I arrive at a specific piece of work is often inexplicable. Sometimes ideas surface mysteriously. Sometimes they are provoked by events. Other times it is the act of working itself which generates a new thought. It might be a specific expression, a word or a piece of material, which will reveal a new direction. Or it can simply be the shape of a book, its title or its physical condition, which triggers my curiosity. By probing, testing and investigating a given vocabulary, it will inevitably lead to new discoveries.

—W. P.