Hummingbird Heartbeat: Explorations in Book Art, Part One

Hummingbird Heartbeat: Explorations in Book Art, Part One, Mark O’Connell@2015, no reproduction without permission

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“And what is language? Language is what speaks to us as well as what we speak. Through our neurons, genes, and gestures, shared assumptions and personal quirks, we are spoken by and speak many languages each day, interacting with ourselves, with one another, other species, and the objects-natural and man-made-that populate our world. Even in silence there is no complete escape from the world of symbols, grammars and signs.”

Robert Bringhurst, The solid Form of Language, Gaspereau Press (2004:10).

“…Therefore I create a secondary book binding that also functions as a cloak. I can adorn, preen, or hide, depending on how I am feeling at any given moment. My thoughts and feelings are the substance of my book, therefore I am in essence, a book to be read as well….”

Mark O’Connell

Images from the first performance of “Hummingbird Heartbeat” at the Ryerson School for Graduate Studies, “Special Topics Fashion Studies- Avant-garde and Conceptual Design” class. Oct 8, 2015.

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In my bookwoork I explore alternative ways of reading what a text is. When one is handed a book, the flow and structure of your experience will be is prescribed by the formatting of the book itself. Books impose order on the reader and are presented as a complete ordered object. Open, look at the dedication, scan through the table of contents and then start at chapter one and move through the piece in numerical order.

With a non-bound series of loose images the viewer (reader) is free to re-arrange, juxtapose and create a personalized narrative. The viewer can participate by shuffling the images. This aligns with post-structuralist theorists as they ask what a book is and can be. The subsuming of the power of the author allows an ascendancy of freedom for the viewer, as Barthes says: “the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the author” (Barthes, 1977: 147). Barthes describes the capital “A” Author as an arbiter and mediator of the experience of the reader: “To give a text an Author is to impose a limit on that text, to furnish it with a final signified, to close the writing” (Barthes, 1977: 148). To free the reader is to create a larger shared collective experience of the creative work. Something greater is experienced is when a prescribed strict viewing is released and multiple interpretations are allowed.

In “The Creative Act” Marcel Duchamp reflects on the creative process of the creation of a new art piece. Highlighting the difference between the intention of an artist and the realization of the final piece and the differences between the two. There will always be a space between what was envisioned by the artist and what has materialized, sometimes it is a hairline other times a chasm. There can never be a perfect realization of what is envisioned:

“In the creative act, the artist goes from intention to realization through a chain of totally subjective reactions. His struggle toward the realization is a series of efforts, pains, satisfaction, refusals, decisions, which also cannot and must not be fully self-conscious, at least on the esthetic plane. The result of this struggle is a difference between the intention and its realization, a difference which the artist is not aware of” (Duchamp, 1957).

Allowing the viewer to re-interpret the piece, by physically interacting and manipulating the art piece can open this interpretation even wider, creating in fact a second “Author” or artist. Co-creator, the viewer creates their own experience guided by their own curiosities and subjectivities.

This subversion of the latent passivity of an audience interaction of an art piece, is exciting for me as an artist. It short-circuits the process wherein an audience is summoned to view an offering. The ecclesiastic laying forth of something new, and pre-ordained. Susan Sontag addresses this notion in “The Aesthetics of Silence”:

“As long as art is understood and valued as an “absolute” activity, it will be a separate, elitist one. Elites presuppose masses. So far as the best art defines itself by essentially “priestly” aims, it presupposes and confirms the existence of a relatively passive, never fully initiated, voyeuristic laity which is regularly convoked to watch, listen, read, or hear — and then sent away” (Sontag, 1969).

The experience of the audience is subordinate to the planned presentation of the “Author”. I seek to create an interactive experience wherein the viewer-through their own interpretation-becomes a significant collaborator. As many viewers as there are of the piece…that’s how many artists worked on it.

As Bringhurst was exploring in the Solid Form of Language (Bringhurst, 2004: 9), I endeavor to apply to the solid (pictorial) form of narrative; the power of signs and symbols and the inter-mediated processes of interpretation. The book I would like to expand on is my volume “Gutted”:

The book I would like to expand on is my volume “Gutted”:

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In it, I have explored feeling and numbness, and a non-linear exploration of grief around an unexpected death and my reactions to it.

Some thoughts come up around my proximity to my own work. How tightly I hold onto the content that is difficult. The things I am uncomfortable shining the light onto. Revealing myself to myself in my art process is not the same as publishing and exhibiting. To reveal myself is to let go of my own authority of the process of viewing the work.

I am author and artist, but I no longer control the narrative of this bookwork. Truly:

“And they knew then they were naked” Genesis, 3:7

Releasing my control of this sensitive material, I open myself up to vulnerability, but I also affirm strength. By allowing others their own interpretations and views of my work I am paradoxically affirmed within the uniqueness of my voice.

Books also carry with them a prescribed hierarchy of design and construction. I have continued my de-construction of a book through an examination of what goes into the making of a book. Through tactile research, I have also explored via block printing, collage, and mixed-media what core material, end papers and binding can constitute.

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As a container for the storyline I originally created a folio by scavenging an old book and borrowing it’s binding like a hermit crab taking over an abandoned shell.

I would like to expand on this.

Pursuant to this expansion I chose to use the symbolic avatar of the Hummingbird as a new point of creative inspiration:

Irridescent
Shiny bright
Aggressive
Territorial: male Hummingburds will kill each other by spiking with their beaks.


A color plate illustration from Ernst Haeckl’s Kunstformen der Natur (1899), showing a variety of hummingbirds

Hummingbird’s are also fast paced
Heart beating very fast: 1,260 beats per minute, a rate once measured in a blue-throated hummingbird, with a breathing rate of 250 breaths per minute, even at rest. (2015: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hummingbird).

I can relate, sometimes my anxiety is palpable…

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This dichotomy of messaging appealed to me as the expression in the original volume encompassed two incongruent streams.

Using paint, iridescent medium and gloss varnish I applied a surface treatment to various grounds

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And came upon my favourite: black sequins

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I also am curious about what forms a book containment can entail: container, garment, binding. I created various folded paper containers that could enclose the manuscript.

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Folding paper and other materials, I create containers, physically embodying the containment principles that bookbinding entails. Explorations in, concealing and revealing:

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Scale…

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And texture:

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My new binding:

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Hummingbird heartbeats at 1,260 beats per minute, I can relate, sometimes my anxiety is palpable…

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Therefore I create a secondary book binding that also functions as a cloak. I can adorn, preen, or hide, depending on how I am feeling at any given moment. My thoughts and feelings are the substance of my book, therefore I am in essence, a book to be read as well….

Mark O’Connell

Images from the first performance of “Hummingbird Heartbeat” at the Ryerson School for Graduate Studies, “Special Topics Fashion Studies- Avant-garde and Conceptual Design” class. Oct 8, 2015.

Bibliography:

Barthes, Roland. “The death of the author.” Contributions in Philosophy 83 (1977), (2001): 3-8.

Bringhurst, Robert, The solid Form of Language, Gaspereau Press (2004:10).

Duchamp, Marcel. The creative act. Edited by Marc Dachy. Sub Rosa, 1994.

Sontag, Susan. “The aesthetics of silence” Styles of radical will 3 (1969): 34.

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