John Cage Trust director Laura Kuhn generously gave my Purchase College Experimental Book Studio an afternoon of her time, introducing the students to Cage and taking us through a chance operations workshop. She demonstrated the basics of Cage’s chance methods using his very own I-Ching, given to him by Christian Wolff in 1951. One of his Ryōanji drawings was there on the table and then she guided us through our own drawings, using 15 stones (we were told to gather them before coming), dice, pencils and sheets of Cage’s own stash of Japanese paper, ordered just a few days before his death in 1992.
Some chance operations basics: instead of looking for answers, ask questions / any answer is as good as any other answer / when choice is a burden, look to chance. All of these ideas are beautifully enacted in the deceptively simple making of a Ryōanji drawing. The result is a drawing of traced stones that the artist receives by enacting chance operations for all of the decision-making (how many stones, which stones, which pencil, where to place the stone, etc.).
Then Laura gave us a tour of an extraordinary thing, The First Meeting of the Satie Society, one of Cage’s last works; in fact, it wasn’t completed until after his death. It’s a gorgeous cracked and stamped steel and glass valise containing eight large books with artwork by Robert Ryman, Sol Lewitt, Cage, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Merce Cunningham and Marshall McLuhan, and texts by Cage.
Cage called the books “presents” for Erik Satie and boxes were made for each of the artists, nine total. They’re rarely exhibited or seen. The thingness of the object, its physicality as an object, is unfolding and giving. It’s an ethereal work that resists capture and consumption. It’s almost too beautiful.
Many thanks to Laura Kuhn and Emy Martin for sharing their time with us.
This book is finished. I’m giving most of the edition of 50 away to people in Skagaströnd this week. It feels so good to hand the object over, to pass it on, to be able to leave it behind.
The experience is similar to what happened with Weymouths, but 530 is different for a few reasons. I created this work on-site, in and around the chance encounters with people in town, so there’s already a familiarity with the work (and me), and certain expectations.
Also, 530 is much more accessible. The entire work is embodied in a single book, and easily communicated. The power of the object. With Weymouths, I could only give away parts. And the mass and expense of the project—12 books in a custom-made box—meant that very few people were able to fully encounter Weymouths. Of course, Weymouths wasn’t really about that total experience—it was more about the value of the ephemeral encounter, conversations, fragments, a glimpse.
530 is a complete poetic work. A place-based book work that serves as a particular expression of my experience with this place. It works as a solid brick of connected encounters that can be recreated or re-imagined by the reader, or not, in any number of ways. Framed like this, I can easily hand over the object-based work and leave the rest up to the recipient, and this feels very satisfying.
The final 39 movement-parts of 530 (Sá veldur sem á heldur), written as a score and ordered by chance:
1 Navigation. 2 Depths. 3 Take three, three cards. 4 1815. 5 Bank sea hermit. 6 The box is a battery. 7 Quota. 8 Light. 9 Fiskisúpa. 10 Island. 11 Einbúi. 12 Outlaws. 13 ____________________. 14 Yeah, we are just. 15 Earth. 16 Just in front of me. 17 Mayor. 18 Hafrún. 19 Mirror. 20 Town. 21 Water. 22 Back to God’s Country. 23 We have our families. 24 Fjords, on the sea. 25 Scientist. 26 Bensín. 27 We have our connections. 28 Those transparencies. 29 1964. 30 Horse. 31 Strong. 32 Old friendship ties. 33 Þórdís. 34 Self. 35 530. 36 There’s one bird. 37 Mountain. 38 Rabbarbarabaka. 39 Grandfather.
This one was for outlaws. For outlaws? Ya in the cliffs… They live in the hidden world. Ya the hidden structures of a place, that’s also what I’m looking for. You know the things that are part of history, but that we’re still living with. That’s why I like this. Yá, yá. I could show me. We go there, if we get the warm weather, more in the hidden structures of a place, that’s also what I’m looking for. You know the things that are part of history, but that we’re still living with. That’s why I like this. Yá, yá. I could show me. We go there, if we get the warm weather, more in the hidden structures of a place, that’s also what I’m looking for. You know the things that are part of history, but that we’re still living with. That’s why I like this. Yá, yá. I could show you something up on the cliffs, because I was brought up under it. Really you lived right there? Yeah I lived just under the cliff there. I’m at 1 Mánabraut. Yá. Behind there. Yes I lived just under the cliff, so I know every stone there. Every stone. Maybe if I come over to the lab, maybe you could show me. We go there, if we get the warm weather, more in the summer hopefully, we could take a walk down there. Because in the harbor, was built up, this here, was an island. See what I wrote underneath? Island. Island, ya. I love the hidden world. Oh, in the cliffs…that that was their residence. And then then they had the outlaws. They put them there. So that’s einbúi. Einbúi means who lives alone. If you are staying alone in your flat, you’re einbúi. Yeah, hermit, right? Hermit. And I think it’s such, such a beautiful structure, you know? It really is. Ya it is. And Magnús said the water used to come up, before the harbor was built. Ya. All here around this building. Ya, down there. Because in the cliffs…that that was their residence. And then then they had the outlaws. They put them there. So that’s einbúi. Einbúi means who lives alone. If you are staying alone in your flat, you’re einbúi. Yeah, hermit, right? Hermit. And I think it’s such, such a beautiful structure, you know? It really is. Ya it is. And Magnús said the water used to come up, before the harbor was built. Ya. All here around this building. Ya, down there. Because in the cliffs… They live in the harbor, was built up, this here, was an island. See what I wrote underneath? Island. Island, ya. I love the hidden structures of a place, that’s also what I’m looking for. You know the things that are part of history, but that we’re still living with. That’s why I like this. Yá, yá. I could show me. We go there, if we get the warm weather, more in the harbor.
Today marks the 14th day of chancewords in my studio in Skagaströnd. Every morning, I generate an Icelandic word from a printed Íslensk-Ensk dictionary that I found, like this—
- The dictionary is on pages that are numbered 15–425. Using random.org I generate a number to choose one of these pages.
- Each page has two columns, so I generate a 1 or 2 to select the column.
- I then count the number of words [x] in that column and generate a number from 1 to x to select the chanceword.
The words are of the language and the meanings are of the place. Icelandic is a notoriously closed system with very few loanwords, and it’s not spoken widely outside of Iceland. The chancewords procedure is a site-specific machine to generate meaning. Slow poetry, or chapters, or maybe this is just another voice in the town. I don’t know what I’ll do with these just yet.
The two colors were chosen from this photograph of einbúi, the rock at the harbor that’s named “the one who lives alone” (from my meeting with Magnús the mayor).
Keker & Van Nest LLP
German ship Totila
Kroa i bø
Long March 9 (rocket family)
Gare de Cérons
Arab Gas Pipeline
Bob Flanigan (footballer)
Taizhou Yangtze River Bridge
Pyewipe Junction engine shed
Red Wing (Amtrak station)
Franz von Gruithuisen
Bartłomiej Nowodworski High School
John H. Wilson (Hawaii)
Tony Martin (farmer)
1720 in Great Britain
Chapmanville Regional High School
Livin’ on the Fault Line
United States presidential election in Minnesota, 1996
List of places in New York: Y
List of islands of Angola
Canada national handball team
Sport in Ethiopia
Vancouver Island Shootout
Lady Anne Smith
Littleton, County Tipperary
Qasr ibn Wardan
Jane Gilmore Rushing
Stuart River (Queensland)
World Exchange Plaza
William Wallace Wilson
Transcription factor II D
John de Robeck
Naan Adimai Illai
Highland Brigade (United Kingdom)
Energy in Common
New work: Chancebooks (Paul Soulellis, 2013) is a publishing-on-demand experiment using Wikipedia and chance operations. Each Chancebook is a one-of-a-kind collection of up to 500 randomly pulled articles from Wikipedia. The selection and sequence of content is generated in real-time as the artist repeatedly clicks the “random article” button that appears on all Wikipedia pages and individually adds each page to the book. The total number of articles is determined by first pulling a random number (1–500) at random.org.
The title is determined by the artist from the list of article titles.
Only one copy of each Chancebook exists, printed on-demand and delivered to the artist. The book’s design is automated and determined by the print-on-demand service. Included within each book are the date of creation, the location of the artist and the exact time and duration of the content generation.
Chancebook #1 (Why Does It Hurt So Bad) was created at 2:29pm on 26 March 2013 and delivered to me 29 March 2013.
Chancebook #1, part of ongoing series
26 March 2013 (Why Does It Hurt So Bad)
Edition of 1
5.5 in. x 8.5 in.
The Ice Break
Santa María Coyotepec
Amos K. Hadley
Liberty Hill Schoolhouse (Gainesville, Florida)
Pratap Singh Kairon
USNS Gordon (T-AKR-296)
Shooting at the 1908 Summer Olympics – Men’s double-shot running deer
Fuzzy Duck (band)
The Legion of Doom (mash up group)
Nottingham Concert Band
Sun WorkShop TeamWare
Judo at the 2011 Pan American Games – Men’s 81 kg
Why Does It Hurt So Bad
Francisco de Figueroa
William Pelham (bookseller)
Antonio Enrique Lussón Batlle
Frederick Bligh Bond
2013 Women’s EuroHockey Nations Championship
Central African Republic parliamentary election, 1964
Lake Chelan AVA
2000 Purdue Boilermakers football team
Ucchan Nanchan no Honō no Challenge: Denryū Ira Ira Bō
The book is out of my hands now and I’m beginning the process of producing some pieces for the installation. This is a photographic archival pigment print of Relic #241. I knew I wanted a large print of one of the pixel extractions, so I used chance operations to select 20 and then tell me what the long dimension should be for each, from 7″ (avoiding prints that would be smaller than the book) to 60″ (the width of the paper roll). Relic 241 was the largest, so this is what I’m printing for the installation.
It measures 21.5″ x 25.5″. It’s a half-size proof; the final print will be 43″ x 51″. It appears in the book as a 5″ x 7″ image in a spread paired with Relic 240 (see below), so the change in scale is dramatic.
When the printer called yesterday to tell me the proof was ready I could hear some doubt in her voice, so I ran over to West 52nd. We talked for awhile about what we were seeing (and not seeing), my intentions, the technology, things she could do to bring out more detail, etc. And I’ve been staring at and thinking about this print now for almost 24 hours. We’ll start the gigantic print on Monday.
While I love the book, it’s important for me to circle back to the photograph now. The essence of this project is photographic. I began with the photograph, and I find myself now, again at the photograph.
And while everything about this process has been digital, I’m interested now in the non-virtual artifacts that are being generated. Actual books, real prints, live readings.
What we’re looking at here is an extremely close crop of the single 12-megapixel photograph of the mushroom basket I took at the John Cage Trust at exactly 10:15 am on August 22, 2011. The crop is an extraction of 1,548 pixels (a grid of 36 x 43), generated by chance operations on September 1, 2011. But beyond these facts, the technical reality, the print asks more perplexing questions.
is it a photograph?
is it photographic?
does it depict?
does it refer?
does it demand?
is it empty?
what is the space of this image?
what is its narrative?
what does it carry?
I fear these questions and the gigantic print that’s coming my way (in a good way). They’re forcing me to confront some basic questions about how I’ve designed in the past, how I create art today, and the relevance of creating this story.
A few spreads from JC273, and a draft of the introduction. Or, this text may appear at the very end of the book.
On August 22, 2011, I drove to The John Cage Trust at Bard College.
I had a morning appointment with Laura Kuhn, founding trustee and ongoing executive director.
To prepare for the meeting, I asked Laura to think of a single item from the archive.
Something that John Cage knew of in his life.
I asked her not to reveal her selection to me until I arrived.
When I arrived, she retrieved the thing; she had chosen John Cage’s mushroom collecting basket.
I took a single photograph.
JC273 begins with the moment that I captured the 12-megapixel image of the basket.
Each picture element (pixel) in the digital photograph references its source (in this case, significant archival material).
If one ascribes meaning to the photograph, then each of its 12 million pixels carries with it some fraction of that significance.
Every pixel inherits the memory of its origin.
Every pixel, a relic.
At the scale of the close zoom, the relics reveal pure color.
These immersive color fields link to lost memory, but also point (paint) to future landscapes.
They open and vibrate with possibility.
Latent, unconscious, phantom imagery, embedded in the relics.
Every pixel, a photograph.
Using chance operations, I generated 160 random pixel extractions from the photograph of the mushroom basket.
Word extractions also carry traces of something lost.
I selected four texts to accompany the photographic relics, and combined them using chance operations.
The texts: Aristotle’s On Memory and Recollection (350 BC); John Cage’s Lecture on Nothing (1950); M.E. Hard’s The Mushroom, Edible and Otherwise (1908); and fragments of my conversation with Laura Kuhn and her assistant, recorded on August 22, 2011 at The John Cage Trust.
52 poems were generated.
There are 273 pages — one page for each second in John Cage’s 4’33″ (1952).
This is the structure I inherited.
Each page is a reliquary.
Using chance operations, I generated a score to design JC273.
The score determined chapter breaks, contents for each page (text, image or blank relic), and layout.
Every reading of JC273 is a performance.
Using chance operations, the performer selects start and end pages for the set.
A fixed duration for the reading of each page is determined, not less than one minute and no more than 4 minutes, 33 seconds.
Whether text, image or blank, each page in the set is performed, in any order.
The performer may speak the text, speak nothing or display images, or any combination of these actions, depending on the contents on the particular page.
The performance may be private or public.
This is my ‘score’ for JC273. I wrote instructions for the content and layout of the book yesterday, using chance operations to determine the content and layout of each page. This isn’t the full score yet, but it tells me a lot about the 273 pages: if a page is blank (b), contains text (t) or graphics, if the graphics are a single-pixel color (c), a pixel extraction on a color background (cp), or just a pixel extraction (p). I also used chance operations to tell me where the chapters dividers are; I was surprised (and happy) to find out that there will be a one-page chapter (page 234).
It also begins to tell me about the layout of the 160 graphics pages; if the pixels are centered on the page or not (if not, the graphics will be maxed to the horizontal or vertical dimension of the page and will align top/left, center, or bottom/right; TBD).
And it tells me that there will be 52 text pages. I’ve selected four texts and I’m using chance operations to choose the number of lines, words and sentence fragments for each page. Not sure how the layout of the text pages will work yet, typography, etc. The four texts are:
- The Mushroom, Edible and Otherwise (Miron Elisha Hard, 1908)
- “On Memory and Recollection” (Aristotle, 350 BC, 1938 English translation by W.S. Hett)
- “Lecture on Nothing” (John Cage, delivered 1959, published in Silence, Lectures and Writings by John Cage 1961)
- 194 conversation fragments recorded in the driveway of the John Cage Trust on August 22, 2011
At some point I decided that the source material for JC273 should be the 12 million pixels contained within a single photograph. Pixels to fill a book. And I knew that these relics would be selected by chance operations, each color block like an open door to a new experience.
But how to take this photograph. Where would I point the camera. Would it matter.
Tomorrow morning I’m driving 2 hours north to the John Cage Trust at Bard College. I’ve asked the director, Laura Kuhn, to select a single item from the archives. Something Cage knew of in his lifetime: a photograph, an object, a score, a piece of artwork, etc. I asked her not to reveal her selection to me until I’m there in person with her, where I will take a single photograph of this thing.
The individual pixel as relic, a potent carrier of meaning and lost memory. A transfer of control, from artist to gatekeeper, and back again. Guardian of the remains of a life’s work. To begin JC273, I will enter a highly charged, significant situation and accept the encounter.
And yet, not exactly random. Orchestrated serendipity. Enigmatic territory, somewhere between chance and intention.
Two colors selected by chance operations on August 19, 2011.