I once was lost but now am found

Due to my laxness in processing the assignment guidelines, I made the first book in this dyad, “Found,” without considering how it might relate to its partner. You might say, then, that one of the things I found during the course of the project was how to make that connection. In the end, what I decided to explore in both books was the way that meaning is gained or lost by context.

For “Found,” I took the title literally and used a found text, which happened to be an interview with a Chinese artist in an old (1999 or so) issue of an art magazine I picked up more or less at random at The Book Thing. I cut the interview up and rearranged parts of it according to an arcane proprietary algorithm (OK, not really), stringing sentences and phrases together out of context to make a new text.

So far, so good. When it came time to create “Lost,” however, I had to deal with the fact that the first book seemed self-sufficient and in no need of visual exegesis. The solution I devised was to continue with the theme of slicing and splicing and de-contextualizing. The artist in question, the one whose words I’d used for “Found,” works a lot with invented languages; for example, he makes installations featuring fake Chinese characters that don’t actually say anything. That seemed like a way in, so I started by borrowing an image of one of his works.

In the same way that I’d “sampled” his words and given them a different meaning by putting them in a new context, I now did the same with his art, surrounding it with my own doodles and a couple random spiritual icons (viz., Shiva and some vaguely African-looking deity guy) which, wrested from their proper traditional contexts, became arbitrary and meaningless. My intent was to play with the idea that a book is supposed to “say” something, to convey some sense of, if not a message, at least a thematic unity or a mood. My book, in defiance of that expectation, is pretty random and inexplicaple. Essentially, what’s been lost is the reader’s (or viewer’s, in this case) ability to read the book.

Finally, a few words on the form of the books: “Found” was a matchbox book because I happen to like that form a lot. However, when I started out trying to use the same format for “Lost,” it felt like too easy and obvious a parallel. So I went with a tunnel book instead. But, in keeping with the overall theme of the project, I fiddled with the conventions of the tunnel book itself, first by making it asymmetrical, and also by gluing random pages together. The result is messy and, to some perhaps, kind of ugly. I like ugly things.

— Matthew

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