Books On Books Collection – Marlene MacCallum and the “Shadow Cantos”

Shadow Canto Series (2018-2019)
Marlene MacCallum

Shadow Canto One: Still Life (2018)

Shadow Canto One: Still Life (2018)
Marlene MacCallum.
Handbound artist’s book with slipcase, pamphlet binding with gatefold structure, digital pigment print on Aya. H237 × 175 × 10 mm (closed dimensions). Edition of 15, of which this is #3. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Opening the book’s gatefold. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Leafing through the book. Top view of binding and folds. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

According to the artist, Canto One had its dual inception in the death of a cedar waxwing at one of her windows and an image from Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire (1962), a novel consisting of the fictitious poet John Shade’s 999-line poem of the same title: “I was the shadow of the waxwing slain by the false azure in the windowpane…”. While MacCallum’s Canto One appropriates and overwrites Nabokov’s text and, in her images and constructions, alludes to Shade’s imagery of the viewer seeing reflections and doublings of the interior and exterior spaces, the work stands entirely on its own but, in light of what follows, also as the opening movement to what feels like a long poem or symphony.

Shadow Canto Two: Graffiti (2018)

Shadow Canto Two: Graffiti (2018)
Marlene MacCallum
Hand bound artist’s book with slipcase, accordion binding with hard covers, digital pigment print on Aya (bird images) and Niyodo (music images), slipcase constructed of stained Tyvek wrapped around eterno boards, H237 × W160 × D14 mm (closed). Edition of 15, of which this is #3. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Unfolding side one of Canto Two. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Canto Two layers images of a dead bird lying on the ground with photos of anonymous graffiti art depicting birds in flight against the concrete walls of an underpass in Rochester, NY. The sense of counterpoint raised by the images carries over to the reverse side of the accordion structure.

Unfolding side two of Canto Two. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Between a single bird image across the two end panels, MacCallum has overlaid further bird imagery on musical notations from Bach, Mendelssohn and Satie that are merged into composite images across the interior accordion panels. The way the images of birds, ground and wall, and musical notation dance with one another foreshadows another intricate play in Canto Three.

Shadow: Incidental Music (2019)

Shadow: Incidental Music (2019)
Marlene MacCallum.
Hand bound book work with image accordion suspended over text accordion. Images are digital pigment prints on Digital Aya, hand-set letterpress poem and blind embossed soundscape letterpress. Case bound with digital pigment print covers. Dimensions: H237 × W159 × D11 mm (closed), H236 × W30o mm (page spread). Edition of 16, of which this is #3. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Just as much as do the images, the structure of this work’s binding amazes — repeatedly. The top views show its intricacy but only partially.

Circling around the standing view from left to right, the view of a room unfolds and a dancer’s shadow appears and disappears.

After the standing view concludes and the horizontal view is to be indulged, yet another structural surprise comes from the printed text at the foot of the panels behind the folds and still another surprise at the head of those panels: single lines of embossed text evoking sound. Together, the images on the exterior panels and the printed and embossed texts on the interior appear to be reminders to look not only in the corners but to the floor and ceiling of the room as well.

With MacCallum’s other works (see Further Reading), the Shadow Cantos put her work in the same class as Michael Snow’s Cover to Cover (1975) and Abelardo Morrell’s A Book of Books (2002). If Shadow Cantos is an open series, a fourth volume has high hurdles to clear, which are perhaps raised even higher by the next work.

Shadows Cast and Present (2019)

The artist gratefully acknowledges the Canada Council for the Arts Digital Originals grant program for funding this project and the CBC/Radio Canada for partnering to provide a national platform for this new work.

Given the conceptual and synesthetic play within the three cantos, this digital re-imagination of them follows on with a natural ease. With the assistance of Matthew Hollett and David Morrish, the artist has created an online variation of the long-poem format. Images, text, video and soundscapes come together in an interactive presentation of shadows cast in domestic spaces and by daily activities. Click on the image above or here to view.

Further Reading

Marlene MacCallum“, Books On Books Collection, 2 September 2019.

Levergneux, Louise. “New Year, New Work“, Half-Measure Studio Blog, 5 January 2021.

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