Fabra i Coats (Book Lovers 5.0)
Exhibition: The Preparation of the Novel
Fabra i Coats - Centre d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona
C/ Sant Adrià, 20. Barcelona
July 18– September 7, 2014
Artists: Tom Phillips, Alexandre Singh, Cally Spooner

The Preparation of the Novel is the title of a new instalment in The Book Lovers project, which makes direct reference to the transcription of the series of lectures that Roland Barthes carried out at the Collège de France between 1978 and 1980. Barthes approached the process of writing a novel –his own novel- as a fantasy, and he wondered about the conditions under which it is possible to realize the desire-to-write. Barthes turned a solitary enterprise, such as preparing to write a novel, into a collective event. He organized a series of lectures in which all his doubts, hesitations and mistakes emerged, sharing with the public a moment of great vulnerability. Similarly to the writer’s, the artist’s creative process is usually carried out in the isolation of her studio. The spectator typically meets the artwork as end result. The present exhibition, focused on artist novels, unravels the relationship between two processes: the writing of a novel and its visual counterpart, the art project that is created in parallel. Artists will be artists. Although in their novels there might be references to a literary tradition, their approach is fundamentally coming from the visual arts. The creation of an artist novel doesn’t differ from any other artwork. Both processes feed each other as they evolve within the same body of works.

Alexandre Singh’s The Marque of the Third Stripe (2008) is a novella in which each word finds a visual correlation in the second part of the book. An abstract pattern of black and white squares translates visually each employed word, and it’s the base for his video installation. The soundtrack consists of a series of voices that read the novel, while in the screen each uttered word corresponds to its visually codified pattern. Each chapter is read by a different female, Portuguese actor. Since the novel connects its six chapters in a story-within-a-story structure, the video installation repeats this Russian doll-like procedure with a continuous zoom in, discovering new patterns within the patterns.

Tom Phillips began to work on A Humument in 1966, when he bought A Human Document by W. H. Mallock, a novel originally published in 1892. Tom reworked each page by drawing, painting and collaging over its text, leaving out some selected words. Each page has a different treatment, and the resulting ‘surviving’ text configures a new fiction of its own. The artist is thus the author of a novel, of which he hasn’t written a single word. By reworking all its 367 pages though visual means, he rescues a potential text within the text. Several editions, each with progressive revisions, have been published since then, being the most recent the fifth edition from 2012. Nowadays A Humument continues to be a work in progress.

In 2011 Cally Spooner produced a new body of writing over a period of eight months, which resulted in her first novel Collapsing in Parts. During this process, a series of public events took place under the name of Footnotes. Performance, film, a reading group, and a group show organized by the artist acted as footnotes to the evolving text. Cally’s open process strategy echoes that of Barthes in The Preparation of the Novel in that she shared the writing process with her audience, which could follow its evolution throughout. The promise of the novel to be written and the anxiety brought by this promise were integral part of her project. The exhibited film Collapsing in Parts (2012) is the documentary culmination of Cally’s long-term piece.

The novels of these three artists are included in The Book Lovers artist novels collection, displayed at the centre of the exhibition and available for public perusal. The visitor will find the richness in the diversity of artists’ different creative strategies. Complementing the collection, a total of 330 titles are included in the first bibliography of artist novels, which is freely available in an online database. Both artist novels collection and database are generously supported by M HKA, Museum of Contemporary Art in Antwerp.

The Book Lovers outsources this project in collaboration with Librería La Caníbal. A selection of artist novels is on display in this bookstore. They all belong to the exhibition and are available for sale, fulfilling in this way the public dimension inherent to the novel format. Address: La Caníbal, carrer Nàpols 314, Barcelona.

This exhibition is the "Epilogue" of the project carried out at Fabra i Coats, curated by Martí Manen and David Armengol: The Text: First Notions and Findings.

Thanks to the generous support of Mondriaan Fonds (The Netherlands), Cricoteka (Krakow) and M HKA (Antwerp).

Photo credits: Eva Carasol
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