Continued from History of the Book.1
After that bleakest of Bellingham winters, I moved to New Orleans, into a Mid-City warehouse where all the rooms were only half built. On more than one level, I was entering a place about which I knew very little. That’s the thing about picking up someone else’s old book, right? Sometimes there is marginalia, which gives you a peek at the lens through which past owners have read it. Other times, a book has been so cared for, you’d swear it had never been opened. Either way, there’s a deliberate ignorance in choosing to destroy a book—even with the intention of giving it new life.
The few windows in the warehouse were new, recently installed by my roommates, my friends. I even put one in myself—that soul-sucking sound of the Sawzall, then the light coming in, at last—and there were vines on the other side, stretching out across the corrugated roof next door. Beyond that, graveyards, which sprawled in almost every direction.
There seemed to be a few ghosts in this building, too, which for myself, mostly manifested themselves in dreams: My dad and I, putty knives in hand, urgently trying to repair a warehouse wall. Inside the wall, there were ghosts, increasing in sinister pressure, always on the verge of leaking out—which they did, at last, with the sound of a hellish scream. When they escaped, it meant certain death—one of the few times a dream allowed me to die.
These are the sorts of things that happen, according to Wikipedia, when you alter a book: “cuts, tears, glues, burns, folds, paints, adds to, collages, re-binds, gold-leafs, creates pop-ups, drills, bolts, and/or beribbons …” And this, I think, is what makes it such an appealing art for for me: its interdimensionality. On one level, a book (and when I say book, I mean the traditional non-e sense) strives to lay flat; it purports to be there to display a readable page. Yet the pages refuse to stay constrained to the second dimension: they demand to be touched, to be lifted and turned, to rise toward the reader and be sculptural, to inhabit an infinite number of angles before again pretending to be flat. And with altered books, all those add-to's and cuts only complicate the interdimensional confusion.
In one of those warehouse walls I built—this is in waking life now—I installed dioramas, which merged scenes of caveman with roses and chunks of polished glass I’d found on the beaches of Bellingham Bay. Remember: to obtain those pictures of cavemen was barbaric. New Orleans, too, had a good source of cheap books: a large Thrift City only blocks from my new home. Soon, we at the warehouse began hosting art shows, which gave me deadlines, which inspired me to create (re-create?) more books. One of those art shows, parasite-themed, inspired Tiny Monuments (They start eating you long before you're dead). I still have Tiny Monuments today thanks to Michelle Embree, who talks about its rescue over at her blog.
Stories change. Sometimes they merge and sometimes they haunt one another. They’re taken apart and re-ordered. New Orleans was where I first finally came out of the closet, a moment that had been building up for way too long. Once that ghost was released, I tried to ride with it, and was manic about it in the shyest sort of way: I wrote all the necessary people, and told the ones who I most hoped would tell everyone else. Then returned to the West Coast for what I thought was a summer trip. While I was there, though, my roommates all fled as well, and the warehouse was evicted and then looted. This was all several years before Katrina, so who knows what’s happened since, with those less than watertight windows, and those fragile dioramas which probably only weakened the walls. I have not been back to where that warehouse stood; I guess my ignorance has remained deliberate.
Click here for Part 3!