Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A Book out of Time

The most striking feature of Daniel Kelm's Neo Emblemata Nova is, without doubt, its structure. The book comes enclosed in a cloth covered, red and black, cube-shaped box that gives little indication to the contents, save a cryptic, ancient-looking Latin inscription on the lid. Opening the box reveals a tightly packed set of tile like cards which, when removed, reveal themselves to be linked at the edges such that the form a stiff, unwieldy Mobius strip. The tiles are printed with black and white images, some of them accompanied by Latin text, which were taken from a 16th century “emblem book” – a popular book form containing cryptic imagery meant to convey religious, political, or moral messages that had to be decoded by the reader. Neo Emblemata Nova, like its 16th and 17th century precursors, resists decryption.

Shows the book being opened to form a Mobius Strip.

Going beyond the content – which is as intriguing yet esoteric, if not more so, than it would have been hundreds of years ago – the book itself is physically difficult to read. The stiffly hinged ring of panels is difficult to lay flat, or page, or arrange in any other recognizable position. Even once it is spread out, there is no indication as to the beginning, end, front, or back – and mathematically speaking, the work has none of these familiar qualities, as the Mobius Strip is a surface with one, continuous side that feeds back into itself infinitely. The juxtaposition of ancient content and avant-garde binding makes it difficult even to place the work within the continuum of history. The work feels infinite, both in time and space. The messages conveyed by the imagery, though they can arguably be pinned to specific religious or moral imperatives, are largely left to the reader’s interpretation. It is a work that challenges the reader, physically and mentally, from the moment they open the box to the moment when (likely after much frustration) they manage to fold it back into its original configuration. I would argue that Neo Emblemata Nova is a commentary on the book’s ability to teach us more than the physical contents would suggest – that by reading, handling, and analyzing it we can generate ideas beyond those of the author. It is a book beholden to no time or place, without beginning or end, that must be unpacked (both physically and mentally) by the reader.

Come play with it by asking for Presses W538kene.

Posted for Tucker Lancaster '18

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