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A Book in the Wonderland

"Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, 'and what is the use of a book,' thought Alice, 'without pictures or conversation?'" And she fell asleep, so she found her new, really fascinating dream book, at first in the rabbit-hole, then in the well, then in the underground kingdom and through the looking glass, too. It is dreaming that prompts us situations as if taken from children books. Through a dream we enter the world of crazy art and thrilling conversation. No matter how old we are we become children. Dream and art have the same quality. Dream and art enable us to see the reality turned topsy-turvy - and who knows, maybe it's good for the reality, maybe it helps us to understand and accept the reality better.

A book, or something we knew before it, what lead to it recording thoughts in many different ways, has always been an unusual fact, an object-phenomenon from the borderland between dream and reality, spirit and matter - even if it referred only to the robust prose of life. Nowadays, with the publishing mass production, this miracle got banal and lost a great deal of its beauty mystery. In the same time the fine arts, having defeated the limitations of old techniques, began more and more often to take a look at a book object and interpret it. The contemporary artist's book, being a result of this rapprochement, has so many incarnations and embodiments that none of them feels good thus labelled.

The script as a system of signs is relatively late invention of our ancestors. The script in a book, in a codex, in a compact mode presuming the reading from the left to the right or from the top to the bottom is even later invention. Taking 30000 years as the estimated duration of more or less organized human existence on Earth, it is but a drop in the sea of time. This is the printing on paper that in the course of our history has dominated the other ways of recording and has become universal, although those other ways were numerous. Cuneiform writing on clay tablets, hieroglyphs in stone, Eastern stamps on textiles, Red Indian string knots. Big eposes not called books were sung and performed, the voice-hand-body language could spin out a tale. Even smoke could say something. A man was once surrounded with the system of signs, not understandable for us today, which was an information, warning, lesson at the same time. Somehow the space talked to us, gave us knowledge.

This elementary record-support of human intelligence was the beginning of the path running further through various book forms. But in the abyss of human memory there have been left those states of meaningful symbols and signs usually placed where circumstances and needs allowed them to be put. The art today willingly uses common things decomposing their forms and contents then putting these parts together in its own way. This is how kids used to play very often, this is how they detect reality and stimulate it to new contexts. And like children artists do play with a letter, word, script, score, print, block of text, block of book. A lot is allowed in the book art. Artists often separate words from meanings, monumentalise, change or blur the meanings. They manipulate words and sets of words as they only like in order to highlight in that way their uniqueness, a separate existence, a sense imprisoned in them or their beauty, or - on the contrary - to present to our eyes their mystery resulting of this isolation. It is the medium itself - a substantial book - that is most often transformed. It can happen that artists stretch the book form into a surrounding space, expose a static thing to unexpected intervention of movements, even transform this surrounding space into a kind of book due to the presence of letters, pages, pictures.

In the case of art, or creating an artificial physical-spiritual situation, the actions mentioned above can result double: either refreshing and rediscovering words or degrading them, wrecking and wasting their substance (although a formal game can be quite interesting). Besides these extreme states there can be a lot of others, middle ones, indifferent for the results. The noble artistic activities around a book and its elements, even the most brave, will not cause any harm to its substance and spirit - even in the opinion of fundamentalists - having the advantage of reorganising and cleaning things creatively. Less benefits both to visual art and word will be given by those activities which make their subject banal and vulgar, although they are applied intentionally as a part of our life and art nowadays. Having as a background such a variety of artistic achievements we can see primarily the most interesting ones and they decide about the entire shape of the phenomenon. And they are numerous. It is quite interesting that this territory has been grasped more and more evidently by young artists.

However, having at the front of the stage so many successes, delights and attractions, it's good to repeat like an old and experienced man can do: a book has always been a synonymous of wisdom - let its new artistic incarnations never forget about it.

Danuta Wróblewska
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