Bookmarking Book Art – Ana Paula Cordeiro

Body of Evidence (2020)

Body of Evidence (2020)
Ana Paula Cordeiro
Artist’s book. Bound on meeting guards, covers in full leather lacunose panels with tree bark and mother-of-pearl onlays. H16 x W9 in, 30 pages. Somerset, Magnani and Zerkall papers with gampi and mulberry inclusions. Edition of 9; this copy commissioned by the Bodleian Library.
Photos: Books On Books Collection, with thanks to Alexandra Franklin, Jo Maddocks and Sarah Wheale of the Bodleian.

When I encounter works of book art, I often recall another collector’s comment — “you don’t collect these works to read them” — and shake my head. Every one of these works expects you to try — even the ones nailed shut, submerged, cast in concrete, burnt to calcification or otherwise hermetically sealed. At their end of the spectrum, those are challenging your expectation that a book is meant to be opened. At the other end are those that “mess with” nearly every material and metaphorical aspect of the book such that they challenge nearly every expectation you might have. Starting with its title and shape, Body of Evidence falls at this end of the spectrum.

From its folder or opened-envelope outline, you know that, if this is a murder mystery as the title implies, the shape, the gridded endpaper, spotted with drops of red and blue, the flimsy black liner and stiff sheets of the title and subtitle pages are telling you: read with caution, read with unease, read to detect. That the front cover falls away from the book block to show the inner spine to be lined with the same spotted grid as the endpaper tells you: look as you read.

Another urging to look and read is the faint and embossed stamp with not-so-faint red X’s indicating the source and type of evidence presented on the page or spread. The opening text relates a violent assault, but one that occurs in a dream. The X’s in the stamp designate the source as “Journal”, the type as “Note”, the language as “English”, but says nothing about the shaping of the text into a pen nib pointing to a square fleuron, or is it a dagger ending in a drop of blood? The next body of text occupies the same place on its page, the categorizing stamp indicates that it, too, comes from a journal, and its language is English. But its type is “Quote”.

Like the first text’s italicized date headline that suggests its journal origin, the second text’s inverted commas identify it as a quotation. So why then the categorizing stamp? The journal writer is the artist, as the colophon will confirm, but the categorizing stamp and the envelope/folder form of the book identify the artist as collector, categorizer and shaper of the evidence. Is the artist implying “heteronyms” like those invented by Fernando Pessoa, another source of quotations?

This out-of-context quotation from William James’ The Varieties of Religious Experience seems to describe the preceding dream as a “genuine first-hand religious experience”. The dream extract is a piece of evidence. The commonplace extract from James is also a piece of evidence that contextualizes the dream extract. Read them.

Other pieces of evidence include

  • a “To whom it may concern” document on Center for the Book Arts letterhead, folded inwards from all four sides like a deed or secret letter. The letter supports an immigration application. The paper is mulberry tissue paper; so initially the text appears in reverse. Attention is drawn to that view by blocks of black redactions in which right-reading text appears in white (a reverse-out on the reverse side of the letter).
  • a display of SMS texts between the artist and her mother, made to appear like a print-out that had been folded then sealed with red sealing wax impressed with a sigil.
  • two Turkish fold maps, both with the same geometric emblem printed inside, one that pops up in the gutter of a double-page spread and one hidden under an inward-folded flap.
  • a medallion of gampi impressed with the image of a crouching leopard and placed within a journal extract set to surround the medallion. The pressure on the silk-like gampi causes the image to flicker iridescently.

But of what is this a body of evidence? The photo of an empty negligee and the insert of part of a nylon stocking raise the questions – of what body, whose? The empty clothing points to the wordplay on “body” in the categorizing stamp’s own label — “Of Body Of Evidence Of Body”. Perhaps it is missing. Perhaps it is outlined or staring at us from the strobing abstractions over the quotations from Rebecca Solnit and Pessoa. Perhaps it is the artist whose name appears only in only three places — in white against one of the black reverse redactions, in the SMS texts and in her signature in the colophon.

From the artist’s website. Accessed 8 July 2021.

From the artist’s website. Accessed 8 July 2021.

Despite its usual place of culmination, the colophon is just as unusual as the shape of Body of Evidence and its treatment of almost every other material and metaphorical aspect of a book. The colophon comes as an unbound folio, enclosed in a deed-fold sheet that is bound to the book. It is much more than the usual brief assertion of creation by scribe or printer. It is an outpouring, a venting. As the last piece of evidence, it answers the question “Of what is this a body of evidence?”

It is the accretion of the immigrant artist’s tensions and unease in the context of anti-immigrant feeling and, on its heels, a pandemic requiring isolation and its further inciting “fear of the Other”. Like the material aspects of Body of Evidence, those tensions and the unease are complex. In its ambiguity of heteronymy and near anonymity, Body of Evidence invites the reader/viewer to be an empathetic witness to the tension between a desire for privacy and a desire to be open and welcoming. The tension between wanting to belong and not wanting to lose one’s self. A tension arising from hurt inflicted under the guise of intended empathy. The tension of selves.

Whether the reader/viewer can empathize is answerable only from reading, looking and feeling.

Further Reading (and Looking)

Produced by Thomas Gallagher and uploaded 15 January 2021. Accessed 8 July 2021.

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