April’s issue (a bit delayed due to Easter and school holidays), Metalanliguistica, is a departure from recent selections – a book of experimental literature by Nick Norton. In his own words, “Metalanliguistica is the investigation as an invention, the dream made as documentary; a work of nights and days hung on the Fibonacci Scale, it is teetering on the edge of paradise while wading through bo diddley hell, and it is therefore humorous in parts.”
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Shi Cheng: Short Stories from Urban China, recently published by Comma Press, gathers ten fictions by writers from cities of varying affluence, nature and distance in contemporary China, not to mention the varying styles of prose and stances of the protagonists.
Dispelling the naive notion of a vast land of unified thinking, Shi Cheng (“ten cities”) tells not the comprehensive biographies of each city, but zooms in further, allowing the reader to connect with individual voices on an almost cellular level. Yet, as the editors suggest, when looking this close it’s possible that we can all relate to the universal human themes.
The stories collected here give a rich sense of the environments and their impact on modern men and women. Acting as cultural antennae, they send back vibrations of what life might be like for those in such places – alluring whispers of real lives. Keep a keen eye out for more from Comma Press.
Instead of featuring a publication today, I’m looking at something which might aid in creating one. Writer, by Information Architects, is an ultra minimal word processing application for Mac and iPad, designed to hold your attention purely on the task at hand – writing. It has no formatting options, one font, one size, and can be set to focus only on the sentence you’re currently working on, fading the rest of the text out, so you “think, spell and write one sentence at a time”. I’ve been using TextEdit recently to compose any creative pieces I’ve been working on (often, handwritten first, then edited in) to avoid distractions, so I can appreciate Writer’s intention. We’ve recently got an iPad 2 in the studio, so I might have a tinker with this – I can imagine it would be useful for writing on the fly during City As Material events or whilst lounging in the studio, free from the dreaded desk and it’s vast, blank screen!
Whilst researching the zine scene, I’ve noticed there seems to be a distinct lack of literary and poetry zines being produced, which pains me as they are my primary loves. It seems odd, as the popularity of the zine owes a lot to the short, self-published books of poetry and prose by the beat generation, known commonly as “chapbooks”. These enabled anyone to distribute their work without the aid of a publisher, which would sometimes be impossible with the strict censorship and decency laws of the time. This D.I.Y spirit is the driving force of the zine community today, but the focus has shifted onto more visual outputs; inevitable with modern printing capabilities and the vast amount (and talent) of illustrators and graphic designers involved in the scene.
There was a lot of interesting points raised during a recent meeting with The Poetry Society, one being the difference between publishing online on a personal blog, and being part of a publication with a bigger picture. Whilst promoting the Pitch In & Publish series of events, I’m hoping writers in particular get involved, as bookleteer has a lot of potential for those who may not be blessed with a wealth of design skills or self-publishing know-how, and being featured in the collaborative zines produced should definitely build budding writers confidence.
Last week I began to draft a post about digital artist Dave McKean’s illustrations. I was planning to return to the half-written post when I got an email from Giles saying did I know that Dave McKean illustrated a piece of writing for COIL (the Journal of the Moving Image which Giles founded and edited) in the late 1990’s? Well, no, I didn’t. But now I do, this makes a perfect focus for writing about his work. All images below are from The Entrapment from COIL 7 | 1998. Thanks for the tip Giles!
Since 1994 Dave McKean’s been producing extensively layered images using computers and digital manipulation. In his collaborations with writers, illustrations and text appear to be intertwined so that the paper becomes part of the content and I was interested to find out how he achieves this effect. In an interview on Apple’s website he describes how his approach has changed with the increasing sophistication of digital technologies.
“The major things that have changed … are the tools and materials I’ve been able to use. When I started on ‘The Sandman,’ I was aiming toward a translucent collage, a layered look, an insubstantial feeling where you’ve just got an atmosphere. I tried to do that with things like double exposures and different printing techniques. To a degree, this approach is always pretty limited by the fact that the illustration has to be a physical object and, if I have to photograph it, limited by gravity.”
The illustrations for COIL were made in 1998 (COIL 7) for a supposedly ‘anonymous’ piece actually written by legendary indie producer Keith Griffiths (of Koninck fame) about a film he produced by Iain Sinclair & Chris Petit called the Falconer – itself about another ‘legendary’ 60s filmmaker called Peter Whitehead. Its a many-layered piece about becoming trapped in the layers of legend and hype spun around Whitehead and the narrator’s (“Darke”) attempt to unravel the story. Darke is a thinly veiled characterisation of the Falconer’s script writer (and 90s film critic) Chris Darke. The techniques of double exposure and layering that Dave McKean mentions in the interview with Apple are clearly visible in the collages of text and images he produced for this.
The process of creating these illustration begins with “endless drawings.” Out of these, one is chosen and painted onto a backboard of colour photographs and paper collages, a basic canvas already with a life to it, containing interesting textures, colours and shapes. Illustration comes next where McKean paints the characters onto the canvas. From here, the process moves onto the computer. “Sometimes I finish it [the painting] quite well and sometimes I leave it open and rough, scan it and make sense of it in the computer. The compositing is the fun bit, really, and dragging all these elements together all happens very quickly.” As McKean writes, it’s an explorative way of working, “I like the fact that I don’t really know what I’m aiming toward completely. I have an idea, but it’s also the shapes shifted and composited in the computer that allow me to find a nice blend.”
In fact, it seems that his process and approach has remained surprisingly constant as tools and materials have evolved. In this article, he suggests this goes back to his college days at Berkshire College of Art and Design, “Before drawing anything we had to have a clear idea of what we were trying to achieve. So to this day, I still write personal briefs for myself. I still need to be clear in my own mind what I’m doing.”
For me, what is so inspiring about this description of the process is that having a clear plan from the outset in no way constrains the experimental, organic nature of the final illustrations. As he writes, “Techniques may change and go in and out of fashion, but ideas are always worth exploring and re-interpreting.” I wonder if we could get him to design an eBook…
Hot on the heels of PU&P5, we will be heading down to Brixton’s Granville Arcade and the Spacemaker’sBrixton Village project to run another special PU&P with the BrixVill tenants. The aim is to introduce bookleteer to the tenants to begin to record and document some of their experiences, stories, photos and artwork using Diffusion eBooks and StoryCubes.
The event will be free to attend – participants are encouraged to bring a laptop or device with mobile internet access and some text/images/digital artwork etc to begin creating your own eBooks & StoryCubes.
RSVP – we will only have limited internet access on site so it is important to send a request for a bookleteer account to bookleteer at proboscis.org.ukbefore Wednesday 10th (mentioning spacemakers or Brixton Village)
It was really inspiring for us (myself, Karen Martin & Stefan Kueppers representing the bookleteer team) to see just how enthusiastic they were about picking it up and using it for different purposes. In not time at all half a dozen eBooks and StoryCubes had been made with bookleteer as we talked about different contexts and types of use the Shareables could be put to.
Matthew Sheret has posted some pictures from the evening on his Flickr site:
Here are some other images of the things they made: