Three thin texts to parallel an exhibition
I had much fondness for LEGO, Lincoln Logs and such. Weekend trips to see
relatives precluded bringing too much stuff, so often a book was purchased
for me as a substitute: my ersatz construction toys were pages of
cut-and-assemble-yourself paper models. The standout was the Farm set, of
which the cylindrical red silo with its conical roof was the jewel. I
relished these trips because I preferred my paper house to my very bulky and
awkward plastic Fisher-Price one, whose only saving grace lay in the utterly
unconvincing and thus intriguing “trompe l’oeil” stickers adorning its
plastic sides. The incorporeality of the model paper farmhouse, on the
other hand, helped to transfigure it from clumsy, mute material to something
more like a purely mental construct: a spectral, illusory space.
Such models benefit greatly from squinting. Also, looking through a tiny
peep-hole formed by one’s fingers adds to the illusion. Rightness of scale
can be achieved by simply laying one’s head at the level of the cutouts.
Much of the enjoyment of such constructions arises from the games of editing
and vantage point required to endow them with life. Of course these games
would not be fun if it were difficult to locate the seams, tabs and blank
insides of the models, or if the whole contraption did not move with breath.
One might be tempted to characterize this as the sublime transformative
power of the imagination were it not so easily (sometimes even dangerously)
externally manipulated, contingent as it is upon cheap props, prompts and
It is now common for the product displays of stores such as the Brick to be
decorated with similar paper props: televisions, computers, books. If I
were running these stores I would think poorly of this arrangement, which is
ruinous to two illusions. The illusion of the cardstock books cannot stand
up to the materiality of the furniture; the reverse is also true. Knowing
that the paper membrane of the books is merely filled with air reflects
badly upon the ugly, dense particleboard beneath the veneer of the shelf. I
thus always find displays of paper models to be melancholic.
Currently, my bookshelf is a mess. I have had a number of different systems
to give logic to my bookshelf, including one that was particularly
irrational and difficult to maintain: order on shelf by date of publication
regardless of subject. Strangely I was able to maintain this system the
longest of any. After deciding upon this a priori ordering logic, I
rearranged my books and experienced a kind of epiphany. “So that came after
that” and so on. As hoped, my system endowed my collection with an
intelligibility, or perhaps readability, that I subsequently fantasized had
some connection to reality. I also used it, cheaply perhaps, as a mnemonic
device: a kind of giant heavy flashcard.
As time passed however, it became apparent that the middling number of texts
I owned could not live up to the extravagant system into which they were
inserted. The twentieth century was interminably long, for example. Some
eras only had one person living in them. The only answer was a good
My arrangements of books are usually modeled upon either archaeology, as
above, or librarianship, as evidenced in other efforts based upon alphabet
or subject. It is rare that I have ordered texts by any formal
characteristic, excepting when packing to move. In this case I work from
stacks of small, medium and large texts, fitting them puzzle-like within the
confines of whatever box is on hand. In other disciplines this method of
installation is termed site-specific.
It does strike me that a purely formal or mathematical system,
self-contained within clearly set limits, would not fail in the manner of my
archaeological one, striving as it did for sense. Consider an arrangement
of texts by size: small to large or thick to thin. The unnaturalness of
such a configuration of books would imply that I didn’t read them. Yet the
dumbness and frankness of such an installation might be condusive to other
kinds of narratives. Hallucinations might be an example. You could run
your eye along the shelf, imagining you were getting larger as the texts got
smaller. A second option would be to buy only the same book repeatedly.
This would surely dispel any of the pretensions of the bookshelf.
Artists such as Donald Judd introduced a set of strategies to sculptural
practice in the 1960’s that subsequently and quickly ossified into a
now-familiar model: serial or mathematically ordered structures, elemental
forms, the disclosure of the hollow interior of sculpture to thus render the
form as all surface. Above all, professed is a disavowal of illusion and
I have owned a number of spectacular boxes, including cigar boxes full of
relationship tokens and a massive box for a dryer that I, as a child, turned
into a small house. Boxes are ideal containers for such nostalgia, and the
emptier the box the better. Perhaps Judd underestimated this. Yet it is
true that minimal boxes were not meant to contain but rather to be contained
by larger boxes, hence the ease of their transition to (overtly) commercial
spaces, against which they are defenceless. I thus always find displays
at Zara, Caban or Holt Renfrew to be melancholic, though I suppose no less
so than those at MOMA. Perhaps this is a good thing. Shoes, sweaters and
bar utensil sets haunting minimal boxes, the impossibility of the utopian
minimalist position haunting the store: the dream of things without
Trevor Mahovsky is a Vancouver-based artist. He has written for Art and
Text and Canadian Art, and last exhibited at the Vancouver Art Gallery and
the Queens Museum of Art, NYC.
Rhonda Weppler constructs sculptural works out of fragile surfaces to create domestic objects that are precariously dark and humorous. Furniture pieces made from pieces of paper-thin wood veneer are adhered together with various types of taping mechanisms. These pathetic sculptures twist, mutate and sag over time causing them to take on animated poses and personalities. The work has an element of tragic comedy that is reflected in their failure to exist as real objects of domestic value. Despite their flimsiness, these sculptures are painstakingly constructed, fueled by a seemingly desperate, and persistent hope.