Wednesday, January 16, 2013

An Odyssey of Literature, Prenotions of Books

To contain a book with words is to bind its possibilities. Although the medium of books is largely stereotyped to written text bound in a physical cover, books can be seen as the culmination of a journey. Be it visual, auditory, olfactory, tactically, or any other sense, the recording of the experience can, theoretically, be considered a book. At a recent art exhibit in the University of Michigan's Art & Design Building, I realized I was essentially walking through the pages of a book by many authors. These authors were faculty and staff from the art building and their pieces were different representations of ideas, experiences, and stories. My initial captivation began with architectural concept drawings of buildings reaching up through the earth like fingers, groping for an invisible and unachievable hold. The accompanying sign read "Plan: Scale to be determined." The design embodied a trait often disregarded by architecture--it told the story of an idea, a dream, and designed it for the sake of that idea, not for a predetermined purpose. The scale was undecided as the future uses were unforeseen. To me, it was the prologue of an unknown odyssey, which, in the essence of an odyssey, is its core--an exploration of the unknown. Crossing into the adjoining room, the next chapter, so to speak, I came across a series of signs of paint on wood. According to adjoining plaque--the footnotes--the more 'permanent' signs were a remembrance and celebration of an old restaurant/diner in proximity to the artist/author's hometown; a place which used paper plates, meant to be thrown away and thus not permanent, to make signs. This chapter set up a prehistory and background for future work. While we may understand pieces of the past and reflect on the days to come, we may never be able to pinpoint where we will land.
In the following exhibit, I was given a chance to reflect--literally--on pieces of myself. There was a blackened reflective pool against a wall and a man-sized marionette made of dowels against the wall. After securing the duct-tape tabs to my ankles and wrists, I danced before the mirror while the marionette rigidly mimicked my actions. I was flipping through the book in a blur, becoming one of the characters and experiencing, not only through my eyes but through my body, the sensations of movement through the journey. Many great exhibits followed, each divulging into new chapters of discovery and stories, but one that struck me in particular was the ending piece I read. It was a collection of ceramic saucers, probably around twenty to thirty, in a line, looking like a backbone, but riddled in breaks and malfunctions. It was a spine of failure, the cracked support of the book I had just read. It reminded me that humans are innately walking failures and all products of their experiences are a piece of it. Each chapter, each piece of the exhibit, was a failure, but we embrace it. For it is human, in its truest form.
Humans ain't perfect. Books ain't perfect. This is where the odyssey of literature has taken me so far. I am on this island preparing to depart on the next expedition. Along the cracked spine of our stories.

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