Books On Books Collection – Simon Morris

Reading as Art (2016)

Reading as Art (2016)
Simon Morris, ed.
Perfect bound paperback. H297 x W210 mm. Acquired from Information as Material, 22 August 2020. Photo: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the publisher.

Simon Morris and Books On Books crossed paths at the opening of an exhibition at the Meermanno Museum in The Hague. The exhibition was called “The Art of Reading“, and he gave a talk on his performative work Reading as Art (2004), a compiled-stills film of him reading and turning the pages of a book. (Not at all like watching paint dry or grass grow, if you are unkindly thinking so.) Reading as Art (the volume) provides a taste of Reading as Art (the performance) with black-and-white frames from the film appearing at the bottom right-hand corner of nearly every page: just run your thumb down the fore edge and let the pages flip to see the “action”.

Details from Reading as Art (the book). Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the publisher.

That feature of this one volume speaks volumes about Simon Morris as an artist. The idea of “reading as art” is not far off “publishing as art”. Morris’s collaborative publishing operation Information as Material has employed nearly every tool in the “Publishing as Artistic Toolbox“, as the 2018 exhibition in Vienna was called: documented performances, polemics, apps, free downloadable PDFs, prints and broadsides, and a journal Inscription, whose first issue is a sculptural bookwork and comes with a vinyl LP record, poster and chapbook.

Reading as Art (the volume) provides running commentary on all of the exhibition’s entries, which fall into two categories. The first includes works such as that . The second includes works such as that

Do or DIY (2012)

Do or DIY (Information as Material, 2012)
Craig Dworkin, Simon Morris and Nick Thurston
Booklet, saddle-stitched. H137 x W104 mm, 24 pages. Acquired from Cornerhouse Publications, 31 October 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the publisher.

It is strange that this polemic does not mention William Blake among literary history’s do-it-yourselfers. Although their primary message of “don’t wait for a commercial publisher” is for wordsmiths, the authors include the book artist Johanna Drucker among their hortatory examples as well as The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, which can lay a plausible claim to being the first work of modern book art, even before Blake’s “artist’s books”. The authors themselves have even played their parts in book art. So why no nod to the world of book art and its past and current contributions to Do or DIY?

In the 1960s and 70s, book artists’ democratic multiples aimed to sidestep the galleries, museums and art industry. Whether chicken or egg, photocopying and cheap printing brought forth or hatched Siegelaub’s The Xerox Book, Ruscha’s Royal Road Test and many more fair fowl. By century’s end and into the 21st, book artists were still doing it themselves, but the democratic multiple ceded quite a bit of territory to limited editions and unique works. Toward the 20th century’s end, desktop publishing and digital publishing, however, offered up a different, much larger target — the super-concentrated publishing industry — for a much larger cadre of creators — wordsmiths. Perhaps that bit-torrent caught up the authors on this occasion.

Still, the occasion itself — an exhibition that saw the polemic printed on indoor walls and on outside posters — must have appealed to the book art community. Book art makes us read differently, and that clearly happened with this exhibition.

Royal Road to the Unconscious (2004)

Royal Road to the Unconscious (2004)
Simon Morris
Spiral bound paperback. H240 x W160 mm, 80 pages. Acquired from Johan Deumens, 10 October 2020. Photos: Books On Books.

This is the book of the movie. Or the book of the movie “made by the book” of the movie. Or…. Better let the artist explain:

Utilising Ed Ruscha’s book Royal Road Test as a readymade set of instructions, seventy-eight students cut out every single word from Sigmund Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams. On Sunday, June 1st, 2003, the artist, Simon Morris (thrower) threw the words out of the window of a Renault Clio Sport on Redbridge Road, Crossways, Dorset, travelling at a speed of 90mph, approximately 122 miles southwest of Freud’s psychoanalytical couch in London. The action freed the words from the structural unity of Freud’s text as it subjected them to an ‘aleatory moment’ – a seemingly random act of utter madness.

Daniel Jackson (filmmaker), Maurizio Cogliandro (photographer) and Dallas Seitz (photographer) documented the action as 222,704 words erupted from the window of the car. They also recorded the stream of words strewn along the side of the road. Dr. Howard Britton, a psychoanalyst (driver), directed them to any slippages or eruptions of the Real that occurred in the reconfigured text. The poetic act of liberating Freud’s text allows us to engage with what Jacques Lacan called the register of the Real. The concept of the Real is far removed from anything that we conventionally attribute to reality. It is the experience of a world without language. If language names, it is all that escapes the name – an encounter beyond images and words.

Conceptual art can do one’s head in. So, in the meantime, enjoy the aleatory moment.

Further Reading

The Art of Reading in a ‘Post-Text Future‘”, Bookmarking Book Art, 21 February 2018.

Bright, Betty. No Longer Innocent: Book Art in America 1960-1980 (New York: Granary Books, 2005).

Hubert, Renée Riese, and Judd David Hubert. The Cutting Edge of Reading: Artists’ Books (New York: Granary Books, 1999). Annotated here.

Mitchell, Beverly. “Q & A with conceptual writer and professor, Simon Morris“, Blog of the Hamon Arts Library, 22 February 2019. Accessed 2 December 2020. Good coverage of The Royal Road to the Unconscious as well as the exhibition “Reading as Art”.

Partington, Gill, Adam Smyth and Simon Morris, eds. Inscription: the Journal of Material Text – Theory, Practice, History October 2020.

Wisniewski, K.A. “Reading as Art: A Micro-Review“, The Projector, 19 September 2017. Accessed 2 December 2020.

Worth, Zara. “Reading as Art: Review“, This is Tomorrow: Contemporary Art Magazine, 25 November 2016. Accessed 2 December 2020.