Books On Books Collection – Johan Hybschmann

Book of Space (2009)

Book of Space (2009)
Johan Hybschmann
A4 sketchbook, laser cut watercolor paper, spray paint. brass and string. Perspex display case made by Hamar Acrylics with a sprayed mdf base, H360mm x W330 x D330 mm; Attachable brass frame and white thread for display. One of two. Acquired from the artist, 22 August 2021.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

If you are familiar with Olafur Eliasson’s Your House (2006) or J. Meejin Yoon’s Absence (2004), you will applaud Johan Hybschmann’s Book of Space not only for its complexity and beauty but its audacious overcoming of any anxiety of influence. Inspired by Aleksandr Sokurov’s film Russian Ark, Hybschmann made Book of Space while at the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London. UCL. The film is famous for being made in one continuous shot with a SteadiCam. It begins with a silent black screen then the voice of an unseen narrator wondering where he is and how he got there, remembering vaguely some accident. Sounds of laughter swell, and a scene of party goers in early 19th century finery decamping from a coach onto a street outside the Hermitage bursts into our view and the narrator’s. They cannot see or hear the narrator. Following the party goers through a basement entrance, we come across another time traveller, Astolphe, the Marquis de Custine (1790-1857), who apparently can see and converse with the narrator and most of the other characters as he and the narrator move through the rooms of the gallery and Winter Palace and a jumble of centuries from one room to another featuring Peter the Great, Catherine the Great and even the 2002 directors of the Hermitage.

While the viewer’s primary sensory experience is the temporal surreality, Hybschmann’s interest lies

in the way that the camera never looks back. Even though the viewer never sees the full dimensions of these spaces, we are still left with a sense of coherence and wholeness. But what if the back of the room was mindblowingly different? It’s as if we constantly use the previous space to create an understanding of what should be behind us. The book is an attempt to spatially prolong that perceptual idea. (From interview with Geoff Manaugh)

Selecting two different spaces from the film sequence, Hybschmann drew layered silhouettes in constructed perspectives for each. Using an A4 watercolor sketchbook, he attached one space’s first silhouette to a page and laser-cut it into the leaf; then, turning to the next leaf, he attached the next silhouette layer, laser-cut it; and so on through the first half of the sketchbook’s leaves. The process was repeated in the second half of the book for the second selected space.

With age and travel, some pages have acquired a foxing-like “patina” of ash marks from the edges of the laser cuts. Previously incomplete cutouts, along with thin bars defining columns, windows, etc., have fallen into the gutter.

Further Reading

Deryabin, Andrey, Jens Meurer, Karsten Stöter, Anatoly Nikiforov, Aleksandr Sokurov, Sergeĭ Dontsov, Mariia Kuznetsova, et al. 2003. Russian ark. New York: Wellspring Media. Viewable here.

Henter, Andrea. 24 March 2011. “Johan Hybschmann: Book of Space“. Fadingpaper. Accessed 12 September 2018.

Jones, Jonathan. 28 March 2003. “90 Minutes that Shook the World“. The Guardian.

Macken, Marian. 2018. Binding Space: The Book as Spatial Practice. London and New York: Routledge.

Manaugh, Geoff. “Book of Space“. BLDGBLOG. 4 September 2009. Accessed 12 September 2018.

Martin, Karen. 1 June 2010. “Johann Hybschmann: Book of Space“. Bookleteer.

Images: courtesy of the artist.