Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Tom Phillips: A Humument

Thr grand-daddy of altered books would have to be British artist Tom Phillips' A Humument . In the mid-1960s, Phillips took a forgotten nineteenth-century novel, W.H. Mallock's A Human Document, and began working over the extant text to create something new.

" I plundered, mined and undermined its text to make it yield the ghosts of other possible stories, scenes, poems, erotic incidents and surrealist catastrophes which seemed to lurk within its wall of words. As I worked on it, I replaced the text I'd stripped away with visual images of all kinds. "

The revealed text on the page reproduced above reads as follows:

a door opened
on a glitter of fanciful
passages and rooms.
on the net (the net)
his mean
mosaic and
suite of

Over the past four decades, Phillips has continued to revise and re-work A Humument. A version of it can be had as a paperback book, and as a small hardcover miniature.

Phillips also maintains a blog, in which he writes about his creative process. Here is a passage that is fascinating from a neuropsychological perspective:

"At art school we worked in silence. When eventually I graduated to independent studio life it occurred to me that listening to music would enhance the day: my LPs of Beethoven and Bartok string quartets could be just the thing. I was wrong. If I listened I stopped painting and if I painted I failed to listen, hearing just the first few familiar bars but only becoming aware of the piece again as the final cadence gave way to the hiss of needle on vinyl.

But priorities are priorities and I was always able to pay attention to the Test Match commentaries. Far from hindering concentration the spoken word seemed to take up the slack of a brain that would otherwise have inwardly burbled on about money and quotidien anxieties. When rain stopped play it was a double blow, although, as in winter, there was always BBC drama to look forward to after lunch. "

I cannot resist adding this tidbit: In the 60's Phillips taught at the Bath Academy of Art, where one of his students was Brian Eno.

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