Academic journal article Afterimage

Reversing the Catastrophe of Fixed Meaning: The Bookworks of Scott McCarney

Academic journal article Afterimage

Reversing the Catastrophe of Fixed Meaning: The Bookworks of Scott McCarney

Article excerpt

Mary 18 - July 9, 2012

Visual Studies Workshop

A letter from Cyril Reade, Guest Curator

Dear, Scott,

It's always a pleasure to see your work, which I last saw at Syracuse's Light Work (1), an astutely curated, and delightful, overview of your bookwork. Curator Hannah Frieser's introductory essay in the center's full color publication Contact Sheet (2011) (2)--given over entirely to your work--rehearsed the innumerable approaches that characterize your artmaking: creating new books, deconstructing old books, interrogating the tradition of the book itself; from reprising traditional bookbinding techniques to formatting online downloadable publications. This journal/catalog, which you designed, extends your book and design work beyond the exhibition into its reproduction, documentation and dissemination. This and previous exhibitions and our discussions about your work, have introduced me to the delightful (re)inventions of artists' books.


My entree into your artwork has been the physical manipulation to which you subject the books--"library discards, thrift store finds, or throw-aways rendered obsolete by time and/or space," as you write on your website. (3) I recognize the out-of-dated ness of the altered books--the encyclopedias, dictionaries, atlases--that for me as a child acted as a portal to the rest of the world beyond the boundaries of my home life. I still peruse these kinds of books--compendia of knowledge--that we now recognize as snapshots of knowledge, fixed at the time of publication (and not, as I mistakenly thought then, the eternal truth of the world). So my first perception of your incisions and inlays was that they were transgressive, as if you'd cut into my knowledge and my values; these outrages were palliated by the delight of experiencing the inventiveness and humor of your manipulations, recognizing in these transformations the reflections that knowledge is not bound to the medium that distributes it, and that the field of knowledge is constantly shifting and expanding.

I continue to be enraptured with the Doubleday Hypertext series you began in the mid-1990s; its playful transformation of a book into a sculptural object respects the original form's material and information. The pages, cut like a woodcarver approaching a block of wood, are incised with an imbricated pattern of squares. This grid is animated with images culled from the discarded pages and reintroduced to the diamonds of sequestered text. Much like a librarian or an encyclopedist, each treated volume becomes the repository of a category of images: military men, animals, buildings ... The process seizes the book, suspending its primary manipulative strategy (turning its pages in a normally sequential manner), creating a destabilized hybrid book, sculpture, print ...

I've taken this detour through earlier works in order to arrive at a more recently engaged and ongoing series that includes Encyclopornia. This series includes works that cut, drilled, rolled, and pulled at volumes of a miniature Funk & Wagnalls, embedded with shards of porn. The book itself becomes the field of sublimated desire, lovingly reworked, manually and visually; it sprouts metaphoric objects as if the book itself had assumed the status of a fetish, the rolled paper pipes erupting from the holes drilled into the paper bed and unleashing raw linen threads. This lends to what has become for me the staleness of porn images a reinvigoration, as you obsessively sized and shaped the images for the receiving orifice. In other words, you transform what is normally the invisible vehicle of erotica or pornography (in this case, print media) into an eroticized field. …

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