Monday, January 31, 2011

In Depth: (S)Edition

Melissa Jay Craig, (S)Edition, 2010, Handmade abaca paper,
Processed by the artist
The book-mushrooms have infiltrated the blog! Run for your lives!

Putting aside the tongue-in-cheek tone of my over-the-top references to Melissa Jay Craig's (S)Edition, the transcribed panic above may not be too far removed from the message the artist meant to convey with her fearsome book mushrooms. If you find this statement difficult to believe, feast your eyes on the following definition of "sedition":

si • dish • uhn -- noun 1.  incitement of discontent of rebellion against a government; 2. any action, esp. in speech or writing, prompting such discontent or rebellion 3. archaic rebellious disorder.

I don't know about you, dear reader, but I have a new favorite word.

By creating paper mushrooms that take the shape of books growing from the walls, Craig plays with the seedy side of knowledge and its tendency to grow and reproduce in the shadowy corners of society. Mushrooms, for those of you whose parents aren't crazy biologists who are fanatical about fungi, grow and thrive best in  dark, moist locations like the underside of a tree root or--in a more off-putting yet relevant scenario, in a dark basement. By fusing books forms with those of mushrooms, Craig brings to mind such dark, secluded spots and the kind of information that is produced in such locales. There is an element of danger to these ideas, for the implication is that they would not be able to form in the open air of public (or government) scrutiny.

Enter the title of the piece. "(S)Edition" takes the idea of hidden knowledge one step further, playfully side-stepping the issue of subversion by isolating the "s" and focusing on the books themselves. The idea of books being seditious is not new by any stretch of the imagination. One need only look at the eyebrow-raising inclusion of titles like Harry Potter on the banned book list to realized that certain factions of society are distrustful of books. Craig, however, toys with this idea by presenting the viewer with books that don't actually contain information, seditious or otherwise.

This decision can be taken, as with all art, in an infinite number of ways. The two most readily apparent interpretations (to my caffeine-addled brain, at least) are that a) the piece is a reflection on needless paranoia and b) the reminder that information can be seditious is, in itself, dangerous. The first could be a reaction to contemporary occurrences and realities such as the Patriot Act and full body scans while the second could be a reaction to the lack of interest in changing the world through well-developed ideas. Compared to American college campuses in the 1960's our current youth is, if not apathetic, per se, a bit laissez faire. The contrast between todays shrugging college students and the student movements of the 60's is striking--and not necessarily limited to students. There are plenty of complaints being voiced on the internet, yes, but few demonstrations occurring on solid U.S. soil. One can't help but wonder where a revolutionary  readiness to spout ideas and fight against the status quo has gone. Mayhaps it hopped a flight to Cairo?

And there, readers, is the danger of the fearsome book-mushrooms. Once one begins discussing seditious ideas, the ideas themselves, like mushroom spores, take root and grow in our minds. Of course, this begs the question of who might find a given idea threatening and why they feel that way. In being reminded that ideas can be dangerous, we can't help but search for examples of such ideas and, in turn, be reminded of the situations that created the dark shadows in which they formed. We are left, then, with the difficult task of choosing how we will react.


"In Depth" is a series of posts dedicated to taking a closer look at (and maybe completely misinterpreting) individual pieces exhibited by the DCCA. If you would like to nominate a piece at the DCCA for an "In Depth" feature, feel free to write a comment and let me know!

(S)Edition is a part of "The Book: A Contemporary View," an exhibition that will be on display at the DCCA through April 17, 2011.

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