CORY REYNOLDS | DATE 6/3/2014
In the April issue of Swiss culture magazine Das Magazin, Serpentine Galleries curator and co-director Hans Ulrich Obrist contributes a piece on the monumental new artist's book by Paul Chan and his current solo show at the Schaulager Basel.
"In the 1970s Alighiero Boetti published a book with the prosaic title, The thousand longest rivers. He lists them, portrays them, describes them and analyzes them but can never come to a clear conclusion, because the actual length depends on how many sources one includes. Boetti's work is a so-called artist's book, which differentiates itself from other art books in so far as it is not about art or a particular artist, but is rather designed and put together by an artist. The artist's book is a completely unique form of artistic expression – like the pictures in an exhibition or the sculptures in a public space. And like all great art, the artist's book reflects its medium, the book. Boetti's "indication of source" is one of many great works of this genre. Paul Chan has added another one to the list.
Chan is perhaps best known for his video projections of silhouettes on walls, ceilings and tables. He shows us a world that has been turned on its head, that has come apart, or has fallen out of the sky. But he is also a man of books. In 2010 he founded the publishing house Badlands Unlimited and published his own and other people's texts, including three speeches by Saddam Hussein. For the New New Testament, he took the covers of 1005 books, painted over them and then placed one of his own texts next to each of these covers.
There are more than a thousand books in one book, like a Russian matryoshka, or as the title suggests, the Bible. It appears along with a catalog and an edition of his collected writings, on the occasion of a comprehensive Paul Chan exhibition, to which the Schaulager in Basel is devoting its entire exhibition space.
Installation shot of "Volumes" (2012) and other works at the Schaulager Basel, reproduced from Paul Chan: Selected Works.
Of course the books are no sideshow, they are a part of the works that are being shown and they, for their part, revolve around the book as an art-form: Chan's self-devised alphabets, documents in digitally-corroded formats, and a stone blackboard that reminds one of an iPad, in which he has chiseled a text. This massive blackboard makes perhaps the strongest case for the book—a question in stone that asks us what will remain of us if someday a digital Armageddon gobbles up all our data.
"Tablet 3" (2014) is reproduced from Paul Chan: Selected Works.
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