Everything in the world exists to end up in a book. (1)
Codex was an exhibition and a series of three public presentations that took place last October in the outdoor gallery of the Head Geneva (School of Art and Design, Geneva). Codex had both one and many objects and goals; the main one was “books,” as the title suggests, but rather than creating a specific approach in the field of art, the space presented a broad sampling of how books, emptied of their content, could be represented or used as an image, as a frame, an object, a concept, a document… Thus, although Codex functioned mostly as a répertoire, the apparent standardization of its references could be reconsidered by a more accurate approach of its content.
In the process of quotation, books that appear or are even quoted in art works are used to prove the value of conversation that it (the book) effectuates in terms of the “already said,” through the repetition and through meta-gloss (commentary of commentary). The quotation possesses the status of a criterion of validity, of control of enunciation, and a framework of regulation, and even auto-regulation. The quotation represents a significant stake, a strategic place and even a form of politics among the entire practice of language, in that it assures or refutes its validity.
In that sense, Bruce Nauman’s Burning small Fires (1968) is obviously one of the pieces of the show that most clearly put into practice this quotation process. By re-using not the “already-said” but the “already-done,” Nauman deploys the principle of quotation and the potential of its deconstruction by transferring it into the iconic field. Here, Nauman refers to Ed Ruscha’s Various Small Fires and Milk (1964), an intentionally nonsensical collection of trivial photographs, which features small fires and a glass of milk. In Nauman’s version, all of the pages of Ruscha’s book which depict fires were burnt and photographed again by Nauman and published in a series of printed posters folded into small books.
The redundancy in Nauman’s title– you don’t have to burn a fire, it’s already in flames– gives the artist an idiotic appearance, despite or perhaps in virtue of his longstanding admiration of Wittgenstein and his proclivity to take an argument to the point of logical absurdity. Codex does not feature the last step carried out by Jonathan Monk with Small fires burning [after Ed Ruscha after Bruce Nauman after], 2003, a 16mm film burning Nauman’s book, continuing the quotation deconstruction process– a process which both increases the cultural capital and the commercial value of a given work (for instance, the value of Ruscha’s original book tripled after the Nauman’s made a work out of it)– of Nauman’s autodafé by enlarging the list of artistic references for other artists.
But at this level of understanding of the exhibition, it should first be remembered that Codex is an exhibition conceived by professors– artist Pierre Leguillon as curator– and students from the “Appropriation” department at Head Geneva (School of Art and design Geneva). Therefore it also has to be understood as an exercise of praxis and critical distance, while welcoming several, sometimes even incomplete, discursive orientations, given that the “appropriation” department was created out of an academic conception of art disciplines and based on the plurality of practices potentially used by an artist and not on the classical division of specific medium.
“After a year of renovating the school library, Yann Chateigné Tytelman, Dean of Visual arts Department suggested we take this opportunity to make an exhibition around books,” said Leguillon. “With the book’s digitalization, development of the library is now flattened,” he added. It is above all a simple, formal observation born from this collective inquiry, an inquiry from which was constituted a selection of works, which represent but a small, subjective extract of a territory far too vast to be fully represented.
But far from any dogmatism, Codex essentially proposed to enlarge a great number of questions. Several artworks in the show evoke the idea of flatness such as the photograph “Latence” by Jesus Alberto Benitez, which simply depicts a cylindrical printing press, as if to emphasize the fact that images are objects. Pierre Leguillon himself showed a series of frottage prints of book covers selected from the Prelinger Library in San Francisco. The Prelinger is a private Library created by Megan and Rick Prelinger, now open to the public. Its collection features books from many different horizons as well as those discarded by other libraries. But what is especially unusual about the Prelinger Library is its innovative method of book classification (by discipline, theme, title, and then author) in order to open up a possible new exploration to the reader.
If one considers the Prelingers’ project through the work of de Certeau, books must be considered as a place of subversion toward the authority of the Everyday, as a space in which everyone can practice and develop his or her imaginary. In a lecture held in the exhibition, Martin Guttman mentioned his project Open Public Library, realized in collaboration with Michael Clegg. It was a project that consisted of installing an entire personal library in a public space, thus making the library a kind of portrait. As such, they underline the fragile slip from the value of an image toward a “becoming-image”, a subtle shift that Codex just renders visible.
With art works by : Matthew Bakkom, Erica Baum, Lætitia Benat, Jesus Alberto Benitez, Alexandrine Boyer, Clegg & Guttmann, Claude Closky, Moyra Davey, Mario Del Curto, Arnaud Desjardin, Marina Faust, Vianney Fivel, Mathis Gasser, Rodney Graham, Marie-Ange Guilleminot, Thomas Hirschhorn, Ana Jotta, Ernst Heinrich Landrock et Rudolf Franz Lehnert, John Latham, Louise Lawler, Pierre Leguillon, Urs Lüthi, Benoît Maire, Ella Maillart, Jean-Baptiste Maître, Rémy Markowitsch, Barry McGee, Ceel Mogami de Haas, Aurélien Mole, Jean-Luc Moulène, Bruce Nauman, Damián Navarro, Marylène Negro, John Philipps, Conny Purtill, Didier Rittener, Allen Ruppersberg, David Scher, Yann Sérandour, Maurice Tabard, Roman Signer, Jean-Luc Verna, Martina-Sofie Wildberger, Raphaël Zarka.
An exhibition by Pierre Leguillon, in collaboration with Didier Rittener, Benjamin Stroun,
Jill Gasparina, Damián Navarro, Thomas Bonny, Livia Gnos and the students of Bachelor visual art« Appropriation » Head – Geneva