Selected for the 2017 Manly Library Artists’ Book Award exhibition in New South Wales, Australia, The Future of an Illusion by Helen Malone and Jack Oudyn demonstrates an effective collaboration in a field of art densely populated with — almost defined by — collaborative efforts:
Edouard Manet and Stéphane Mallarmé; Bertrand Dorny and Michel Butor; Dorny and Michel Deguy; Barbara Fahrner and Kurt Schwitters; Ron King and Roy Fisher; Telfer Stokes and Helen Douglas; the Art + Language Group (Terry Atkinson, David Bainbridge, Michael Baldwin, Ian Burn, Harold Hurrell, Joseph Kosuth, Christine Kozlov and Mel Ramsden); Tom Rollins + K.O.S.; Julie Chen and Clifton Meador; and Chen and Barbara Tetenbaum.
That list is by no means comprehensive nor representative – chronologically or categorically — but it flags the strength of the tradition. One pair that is particularly apropos for Malone and Oudyn is Sonia Delaunay and Blaise Cendrars. Over a century ago and half a world away, they collaborated on La Prose du Transsibérien et de la Petite Jehanne de France, also in the leporello, accordion or concertina format. Malone writes that it “has always been very influential generally on my work.”
As described by Claire Kelly of Melville Books,
Cendrars as poet and publisher and Delaunay as painter were interested in achieving what they called simultaneisme, or a “simultaneous book.” They wanted to create a form of art in which painting and text could be united in expression. Delaunay painted the left column of color and abstract shapes guides us through the text, which is set in various typefaces, allowing for movement as the reader mimics the journey across the page as described in the train ride in the poem. Claire Kelly, Melville Books
The Future of an Illusion springs from two imaginations struck by two literary works: Sigmund Freud’s eponymous book on belief in an afterlife and Jim Crace’s novel Being Dead.
It delivers an emotional simultaneity that echoes the different kind of simultaneity Sonia Delaunay and Blaise Cendrars achieved. Malone and Oudyn have the advantage of their subject — death, decay and the afterlife — that provokes simultaneously conflicting emotions and states of mind. Fear, humor, sorrow, hope, despair, etc.
The choices of two texts, the double leporello and techniques — and the way they are applied — play with that emotional simultaneity beautifully. The use of Crace’s text (and the “inverse ekphrastic” influence of the whole novel, which documents the decomposition of a dead body left in nature) adds to the work’s physicality. The choice of title from Freud’s book centers the artwork’s perspective on death — the void toward which the central tunnel leads.
The Future of an Illusion appeared in exhibition at Grahame Galleries in Paddington, Brisbane, and a copy resides in the collection at the State Library of Queensland.