100 Novels Project
Overview – Performance and Diptych
I am engaged in the retyping of 100 novels over a ten-year period. I retype each novel on the same make/model typewriter in a location charged with literary significance specific to the subject novel. Each performance is a multi-day, often multi-week event. With my just-completed retyping of John Rechy’s City of Night, I have now retyped 48 novels at various locations in the United States and Europe over a four-year period. The ongoing project has been the subject of numerous museum exhibitions and has received a significant number of positive critical reviews and popular press exposures.
Each novel is retyped on a single sheet of paper, backed by a second sheet, run repeatedly through the typewriter. As the retyping progresses, the top sheet becomes saturated with ink, while the undersheet becomes embossed with indentation. As the top sheet further distresses, ink bleeds through to the undersheet. At the end of the performance, the two sheets are separated, and mounted side-by-side in a diptych. This diptych serves as a formal relic, containing the repeated rectangle within the rectangle geometry present in two pages of an open book. The entire novel is present, but entirely illegible.
The Devotional Act of Being A Good Reader
The performance itself is a devotional and close reading of the novel (the reading is silent, the sound is the typewriter alone). My endeavor is not merely to copy the book, it is to experience deep engagement with the book. As I have come to understand the project, it is at its heart an effort to be a truly good reader every time I sit down, and to become a better reader as I continue to move through the entire 100 novel cycle. Most people have had the out-of-body experience that occurs during the course of an engrossing read. It is a transportation to a higher plane of consciousness, and I think may be equivalent to a religious ecstasy.
The following review of a performance I did at the Louisiana State Capitol Building captures this notion effectively. I think it is one of the most insightful pieces yet written about my endeavor: http://www.countryroadsmagazine.com/culture/southern-‐literature/100-‐novels
Fetishizing the Author/ Literary Pilgrimages
The first novel I retyped was Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear And Loathing in Las Vegas. I was aware that he had retyped each of The Great Gatsby and The Sun Also Rises, in an effort to learn the inner workings of each novel. This served as my initial reference point. As part of this initial exploration, I secured an IBM Selectric similar to the machine Thompson himself used. That first novel was retyped in my Los Angeles studio, before I understood the performative nature of my undertaking. But using the same make/model typewriter became the gateway to the public performance, in the form of an extended and idiosyncratic literary pilgrimage. The whimsicality of the pilgrimage and the seriousness of the re-typing create for me a fertile tension in which to perform.
Related Work – Ribbon Paintings and Typewriter Sculptures
When I am not engaged in a retyping performance, I am in my studio creating work that is related to the retypings. The two main bodies of work are the Ribbon Paintings and the Typewriter Sculptures. There is here, also, an ongoing tension between the formal and the whimsical.
The Ribbon Paintings are made utilizing the residual ink extracted from typewriter ribbons and is a continuation of the formal exploration of the rectangle within the rectangle of the diptychs. A gessoed panel is laid flat, and coated with glue into which typewriter ribbons are placed. Upon the glue drying, the ribbons themselves are pulled up, leaving behind residual ink suspended in the glue. Multiple layers of this process build up to create an almost encaustic like finish, with a significant amount of visual and actual texture. A selection of these Ribbon Paintings just served as the centerpiece of an solo exhibition at the New Orleans Museum of Art
As an extension of my fetishization of the author and the author’s tool, I have built a series of cardboard sculptures that represent the specific typewriters I have used in performance. A number of these sculptures were featured in a solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. One of these oversized sculptures was just exhibited in conjunction with my recently completed overnight retyping performance of John Rechy’s City of Night at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE), Los Angeles premiere non-profit art institution. Written over fifty years ago, City of Night was one of the first gay-themed novels to cross over into the main stream.
of the Mind” Lecture: A
Painting Is Not A Picture: Thoughts on
In March of 2016 I was invited to deliver SCAD’s prestigious Art of the Mind lecture, while I was in residency retyping Flannery O’Connor’s novel The Violent Bear It Away. For my topic, I spoke about the nature of “meaning” in art and literature, through the lens of my 100 Novels project. As a jumping off point I used O’Connor’s own dictum, to suggest that engagement in the meaningful might be a more constructive path than the impulse to extract specific meaning:
A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is....When anybody asks what a story is about, the only proper thing is to tell him to read the story.
Here is the entire talk. Including the Q&A, the running length is approximately 1 hour: