We spoke to Noot aka Camille Leproust and Andres Ayerbe Posada about their project for Unbinding The Book. Entitled ‘Desk & Bench’ their piece includes a book whose pages turn black as it is read, rendering the text and images invisible.
Could you describe your practice?
We work as artists within technology, or as technologists within art… It varies from project to project.
What encourages you to work collaboratively?
We discovered a common interest in sculpture, technology and installations and decided to start working together a few years ago. We both have different skills and backgrounds, which allows us to be quite versatile, whilst being are on the same wavelength and interested in similar ideas within our respective practices.
Could you describe your project?
It aims to explore the materiality and the value of books as objects through the destruction of the text they contain while at the same time hinting at the frailty of paper as a medium.
We don’t really want to give a single interpretation I guess, we are keen on the audience forming their own opinions and ideas about what the piece is about. When we explained the project to a friend they said they thought it was about censorship in totalitarian regimes. We liked that.
What drew you to Unbinding The Book?
We started thinking about this project a few years ago but we didn’t have the time and budget to make it. The Unbinding The Book commission was the perfect occasion to finally make it come to life.
What draws you to the book as a medium
It has an analogue quality… when creating installations we always prefer to work with actual objects instead of screens and digital. However, working with a book and hiding digital technology within it really interested us.
Tell us a bit about your production process. Did you face any challenges along the way?
The biggest challenge throughout this project has been figuring out the technology and the ‘tricks’ behind the darkening of the pages and the disappearing of the text. We have tried a variety of ways of accomplishing this, using magic inks that react to UV lights for example, but in the end we settled with the original idea which was to use thermal paper that darkens with heat. So the experimentation right now revolves a lot around getting the thing to work at safe temperatures.
How will the work sit within an exhibition context?
We also like to present the book as an installation so we are repurposing and redesigning an old Victorian school desk. We liked the idea of chair and desk being one single entity but we are trying to update the look of it so it’s less Dickensian, which is why we are playing with slicker, more sculptural materials such as plaster.
The project really will only start to make sense while on show, with people interacting with it. The satisfaction when we do more interactive kind of works is in seeing the audience approaching and dialoguing with the piece in ways we would have not thought of. We are also looking forward to feedback from the audience and how they will interpret the whole thing … We like those surprises.
Would you say that the disappearing text serves as a reminder of the threat that printed matter is facing?
The disappearance of the text for us is actually a way to remind the audience of the value of a book as an object of value in itself, beyond the text that it houses. This is something that the advent of digital literature will never take away from the printed matter and that is why we believe people will always buy physical books.
I feel like the physical impermanence of books is being celebrated in this project. Do you feel that the very fact books might become dog-eared or fall apart, means that we can create a stronger connection with them than their digital counterparts?
This project explores the book’s value according to the reader activity, the evolution of this same value with time, the attachment of the reader to the object and the way they used it.
Each individual reader’s connection to their books create different sets of value and meaning; they remain on the object as the traces of the activity of reading, or as a memory, it is why a dog-heared page or a book falling apart probably has more value than any unread book. I think that the value of most books for most people derives not only from their content, but from the traces and marks left on them and the images they represent…. Also the physical story they tell.
What is your perspective on the future of print in a digital age?
From the beginning of the project, we have been very careful not go into nostalgia territory with the whole print vs digital discourse. I mean, we love books and will keep buying them, but personally I think that the democratisation and universal accessibility to literature and information that digital has provided is fantastic and I don’t want it to go anywhere. We really see material books as being something completely different than their digital counterpart.
99% of people I know would never chose to read books on a screen or having to do so regularly. On the other hand I love that if I need to quickly refer to any text, I can do so virtually within minutes.