…an old technology reinterpreted…
Featuring the work of 11 contemporary artists, “The New Scroll” highlights today’s scrolls and scroll-like artist’s books and prints inspired by the very idea of the scroll form. The scroll was used as the literary format, an art format, and as a communication “technology,” conveying legal (contractual), political, legislative, religious and all manner of inter/personal and spiritual information. These works speak to the relevance of the scroll for present day artists in all media…. book artists, painters, printmakers, digital media artists, fiber artists, even photographers. As we all begin to wonder about the future of the book as we know it, perhaps taking a step back, and examining the impact of the pre-book technology in this small way, can give us some insight.
We - writers, painters, storytellers, readers - discarded the scroll, the first form of information technology, in the first century, in favor of the codex - a bound book. It was far more compact, since its pages were written on both sides. With a codex, one can simply turn to the appropriate page, rather than having to “scroll” through the entire document. Before that, the scroll was the format of choice, a long rolled piece of parchment, paper, silk, etc. One gradually unrolled it, exposing a section at a time. It was coiled into a round tube when closed; it worked "in-the-round," not unlike our vinyl records, CDs, DVDs and spinning hard drives.
In today's world of I-pads, e-readers, e-books and portable computers, it sometimes seems like we've returned to yesteryear. We read on only one side of our screens. We scroll through everything digital. Authoring, designing, illustrating, editing, and publishing software all work on the premise of streams of information ~ upon which pages are IMPOSED, rectangles forced onto a flowing continuum (pagination). The first such technology that enabled home printers to reproduce our writing and pictures was invented in the late 1970s - so for well over a generation much of our creative "flow" has been mechanically paginated.
Reading, writing, picture-making, and viewing is “crammed” into the rectangle of the screen or the ubiquitous 8.5" x 11" piece of paper. But what about the tactile experience of holding the object - or of encountering the genuine article? And when artists create this "real" (not virtual) pictorial or textual story, what is its purpose?
I found artists using more recent technologies (or “re-purposing” 20th century ones) to re-present purposes of the scroll that existed in the 1st century. Finck, Ugoretz and Nagy use the scroll spiritually, for re-telling stories and directives of their religions. Stokes depicts, while Caroline and I (Nobler) visually narrate aspects of interpersonal networks, personal journaling or spiritual introspection. Pyune, Gonzalez, and Stokes also use this format for self expression, both with conscious intention, and unconscious, serendipitous creativity. And dramatically, Lee examines the act of making private stories public, along with Drinkard and Malarcher - using techniques tying her work to ancient methods and materials - which bring us "full circle." These artists skillfully blend the old with new mass-produced substrates or updated technological techniques. We see all manner of printing on silk, embossed papers, and (even within) knitted panels.There is scribing into foil and spraying through or collaging lace doilies with plastic films. There is work with wax and heat, and sound on an I-pod…all of this to bring the oldest information technology into the 21st century.
It turns out that e-books are quite scroll-like, unlike the codex; they are in fact linear, while paradoxically, somewhat circular too. So as we ride this wave of revisiting (albeit in a weird way) classical technology (with terms like scroll, tablet, stylus), these eleven widely varied artists come together to investigate the new scroll - giving us a "hands-on" experience, the pleasure of the "original" and much "information to process."
. . . Leslie Nobler