JC273

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Installing the book.

So how does one install a book?

This installation is only one instance of 273 Relics for John Cage. The book is present and the book is an object — to be touched and handled. To spend time with the book: so the special tables elevate it (39 inches from the floor), making it easy to view, giving it an honorary position.

30 images were extracted from the process as a slow 30-minute projection, and two audio recordings of the 52 texts (ordered randomly) are on the headphones. And Relic 241 is there, leaning back — kind of like a spectator to the whole thing.

These events form a particular instance of the project, as it was installed in North Carolina on October 7. But the project is alive, and I imagine other permutations are possible — I like to think that a future installation might produce different works, different configurations. What if all 160 photographs could be installed. Scattered on the floor, leaning against different walls. A giant, immersive video projection, in a darkened room. And the beautiful Untitled Pixels, which didn’t even make it into this installation (there wasn’t room).

Within a few hours, one of the books (#1) had been taken. It’s a small edition of 10, so this came as a surprise, but then I loved that its new owner, unknown by me, had chance determined something entirely new for the work. In an almost Cage-ian move, the disappearance is now part of the work. I gave book #2 to Beverly Plummer. Book #3 will be sent to the John Cage Trust, and #4 will be donated to the Black Mountain College Museum and Arts Center.

273 Relics for John Cage, the book, represents each part of the project, but it also is the project. The book is an index — it’s both a catalogue of the work, and the work itself. I hope to produce a second, larger edition soon.

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Book object

A name change. I liked “JC273″ but the longer name feels better as a title for the project. And this morning I realized why — “273 Relics for John Cage” is precise and accurate. I like the explicitness. The book is just a reliquary to hold all 273 relics (texts, photo extractions, and yes, blank pages), and the name reflects this simplicity.

Now, after uploading the book files to the printer, I’m starting to think about which relics to realize at a larger scale. And as they’re selected and produced (a single gigantic digital print, a series of screen prints), each one will take on the “JC + number” structure. Following this logic, JC273 would be the last relic, which in fact is a blank page.

And I really love this logic. It’s a system that’s revealing itself to me as the process unfolds (“a series of actions”).

“A likeness is an aid to memory” is one of my favorite phrases from Aristotle’s On Memory and Recollection, and makes several appearances within the texts of “273 Relics for John Cage.” Aristotle’s full passage refers to the exact process of remembering, as an act of imagination. Memory as the internal production of an image, which is both an object of contemplation in itself and a mental picture of something else. Aristotle asks:

“What does one actually remember?

Is what one remembers the present affection, or the original from which it arose? If the former, then we could not remember anything in its absence; if the latter, how can we, by perceiving the affection, remember the absent fact which we do not perceive? If there is in us something like an impression or a picture, why should the perception of just this be memory of something else and not of itself? For when one exercises his memory this affection is what he considers and perceives. How, then, does he remember what is not present? This would imply that one can also see and hear what is not present. But surely in a sense this can and does occur. Just as the picture painted on the panel is at once a picture and a portrait, and though one and the same, is both, yet the essence of the two is not the same, and it is possible to think of it both as a picture and as a portrait, so in the same way we must regard the mental picture within us both as an object of contemplation in itself and as a mental picture of something else. In so far as we consider it in itself, it is an object of contemplation or a mental picture, but in so far as we consider it in relation to something else, e.g., as a likeness, it is also an aid to memory.”

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A likeness is an aid to memory

A few spreads from JC273, and a draft of the introduction. Or, this text may appear at the very end of the book.

Photograph
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.

Pixels
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.

Texts
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.

Book
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.
273 operations.
273 openings.
273 opportunities.
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.

Performance
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.

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Of contemplation or a mental picture

Relics 14, 202, 182, 123, 119, 74, 173. From JC273, Relics for John Cage.

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Chance design

The appearance of the book. I feel kind of high watching (making) the process form itself. My tables of random numbers are determining much of what’s happening, and with every decision I give over to chance operations I stop to think about my own intentions, present or not. The work begins to take form and it feels like I’m receiving a gift — a strange sensation that I’m half-blind, one eye open towards the thing and another closed and wishing for the best.

The hurricane gave me a few solid days to focus on creating the texts and the layout of the book. I’m plodding along, numbers 1 through 273, letting chance operations tell me what’s on each page and where to put it. The texts are smash-ups of language and voice spanning 2,350 years — 52 poems in all. Like the image relics — pixels lifted from a single photograph — the texts are also extractions. Four voices (Aristotle, Cage, the 1908 mushroom expert, and my conversation fragments from the driveway at the John Cage Trust) are woven together into scenes of possibility. The poems are clues, hinting at meaning. More like open doorways. Here are two: numbers 30 and 43.

Random numbers from 1 to 24 tell me where to start the text on the page, using a 24 x 24 grid, and how far to indent each line. As lines spill over I let them and then continue to indent.

I’m starting to realize that the work I did in Rome (the Memory Palace book) was like a draft of this thing. Ideas that first appeared in that project are manifesting here in JC273.

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John Cage’s Circle of Influence: October 7–9

Details have been posted for ReViewing Black Mountain College 3 — John Cage’s Circle of Influence, “a 3-day gathering of scholars, performers, and artists presenting ideas and performing works related to John Cage. The weekend program includes music, performances, installations, exhibitions, films and scholarly presentations. Keynote address by Laura Kuhn, Director of the John Cage Trust. Co-sponsored by the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, University of North Carolina at Asheville and the John Cage Trust.”

I’ll be presenting JC273 at John Cage’s Circle of Influence as an installation at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, October 7–9, 2011.

Press releaseschedule and registration.

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Dummies

Hand-crafted blanks from Edition One Books. The flexible linen binding (top) isn’t in their repertoire but they offered to try it and it’s gorgeous.

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Book operations

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:

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Image relics.

The thing was selected by Laura Kuhn, at my request. Something near and dear to John Cage. I photographed it outside, on the porch. Laura was generous with her time, putting careful thought into the collaboration. I took a single photograph, because I didn’t want to have to edit. The image is singular.

Today, I feel like I’m writing code. After dividing the image into 4,096 groups of 4,096 pixels, I wrote manual instructions to select a single pixel from the 16.7 million, via coin-toss and I Ching hexagrams. That single pixel becomes one of the corners of the relic, like an anchor. Then I ask what dimensions the relic should be, sort of like an extraction (anywhere from 1 x 1 to 64 x 64).

Clumps of pixels, like mushrooms in a forest. It’s exacting work. Here are two: the red one is relic # 7; the blue-ish one is # 1 (they’re shown at different scales). I extracted 8 today. 265 more to go (one for each second of Cage’s 4’33″).

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Chance operations

John Cage’s centennial will be observed in 2012 and celebrations begin this year with a three-day conference in early October (co-sponsored by the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, the University of North Carolina at Asheville and The John Cage Trust). Black Mountain College is a sweet spot in the history of the American avant-garde; Cage spent the summers of 1948, 1952 and 1953 there and the origin of the happening is sometimes traced to Cage’s performance of Theater Piece No. 1 at BMC in 1952 (Rauschenberg, Merce Cunningham, David Olson, M.C. Richards and David Tudor also participated).

So I submitted a proposal (PDF) to participate in the conference and it’s been accepted. Here’s my brief description —

JC273 is a book project investigating chance, memory and representation. The printed work, to be published on the occasion of ReVIEWING Black Mountain College 3, is conceived as a reliquary of pages — a bound container of color fields and image relics selected and designed by chance operations. The book will be at once a translational work, an experimental portrait and a performative tribute, using 273 seconds (4’33″) and individual pixels to slice open expansive views into the John Cage mythology. JC273 will explore the impossibility of the image — dismantling the photograph to render it irrelevant, as it disappears. The viewer is left with faint traces of source material and the freedom to investigate phantom images, imagined narratives and other associations.

JC273 will be presented as a limited edition printed book, an unlimited edition PDF download and an on-site performance.

I’m going to use this space to document the process as I create, publish, present and perform this book during the next two months (the conference is October 7–9 in Asheville). It’s a good way for me to continue the investigation I began in Rome and to keep my book work moving forward, as I begin to think more and more about publishing.

Several questions/investigations seem to come closer together with JC273 —