On Kawara


A 12 million-page book.

All the hope and promise of producing something beautiful fuels me along and then collapses once I’ve made it. It’s exhausting and disappointing (I’m talking about creative process only here). Maybe it points to some kind of essential conflict — the impossibility of communicating pure experience and feeling.

I’ve had terrible difficulty locating myself in this place. A place that presents overwhelming evidence of meaning, value, history, relevance. Moments of connection (to the past, to other, unknowable times) are everywhere in Rome. There’s no escaping the past here. And yet I struggle to find myself — it’s the entanglement problem. What I’m left with are pictures documenting lines of inquiry. Nothing more, nothing less.

Do the images hold any value? They help me understand the structure of the place. Maybe they give me some control over my position, locating myself by tracing paths. I make sense of myself in the place by finding lines — structural guides that resonate and conjure meaning. I’ll call them desire lines.

  • Tracing the neighborhood lines of 1744 (boundaries)
  • Tracing the Tevere river, a geographical line (a cut)
  • Tracing the St Peter story line (a story)

What do these desire lines have in common? Each one presents a tension — the crazy friction when time, geography and story rub up against each other. They don’t relate, except in how they’ve helped me understand Rome.

If I could say I’ve found anything in Rome as an artist/thinker/whatever, it’s these three concepts (entanglement, relic, anamnesis). S suggests I put everything into categories. So all morning I’ve been thinking about relic.

Ex indumentis (“from the clothing”) — second class relics of saints or blessed individuals. A cut-up piece of clothing worn by the saint. An intangible, supernatural idea that affects the object. Access to an uncanny, mysterious power (through faith only). Meaning is invested into a part, as a way to remember the origin. The essential story is carried within every piece.

For the faithful, the logic should carry through to anything meaningful, regardless of what it is. So, an idea:

Book as reliquary

Cut up one of my images into pieces. An image that has meaning for me, something that I struggle to explain (like the 3,000 x 4,000 pixel St. Peter’s image, above). Each piece becomes a new image, a relic that carries over the meaning of the original. How many pieces? Maybe the pixel is the smallest piece. So from that — create a 12 million-page book, each page filled with the color of a single pixel. Inspiration. Pixels as relics of an original view, a fragment of an unknowable moment. Solid color as the carrier of pure meaning. For the faithful, the book becomes a reliquary of meaning. A reliquary of lost meaning (the impossibility of accessing anything through a photograph — be it the saint, the basilica, the old man’s bones beneath the floor of the basilica, the importance of this place to Rome, to faith, etc.) and an explosion of new meaning (color, story and experiential documentation). I love this.