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ceremony of innocence : the in-between book
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The In-Between Book of In-Between Desire
Ceremony of Innocence: The Mysterious Correspondence of Griffin and Sabine
by Daniel Canty
Donald Evans's (1945-1977) eccentric pop art consisted wholly of sheets of stamps from nonexistent nations. Shortly before his early death in the fire that ravaged his Philadelphia studio, he devised a plan to use his imaginary postage: it would serve in a no-less-imaginary correspondence.
Who knows what forms the letters of this miniaturist would have taken? In his
Griffin and Sabine trilogy, Nick Bantock (who signs an admirative postcard-shaped
blurb on the back of The World of Donald Evans1), adopted that minimalist
form of correspondence - the postcard - as his answer.
What the postcard pictures often weighs more than the caption at its back -
"Sun. Waves. Beauty. Wish you were here..." Arguably, the story of Griffin
and Sabine resides more in the collages that grace the front of its pages
than in the elliptical narrative that binds them from the back. The namesakes
of the trilogy are a couple of (gender-compatible) insular artists who have
never met but who share an inner sight on each other's work. In retrospect,
the story - like that of any collage - is simply that of the chance meetings,
across the pages, of their art and lives.
The story is that of the chance meetings, across the pages, of their art and lives.
It would be tempting to suggest that the "real" interlocutors of the Griffin and Sabine trilogy are Bantock and Evans and their respective art - one answering in his own way to the process initiated by the other. But I think a more seductive approach consists in asking ourselves how Griffin and Sabine tempts us into becoming voyeurs of an emerging romance.
The success of the book (and herein might reside the catalyst of our desire)
lies in the sensuality of these encounters: a sensuality that depends less on
the writing than on the arrangement of found objects on the postcards, less
on the materiality of the book itself than in the imagined activity of the artist
and his alter egos. But this sensuality lies also in the perceived limits (and
conjugations) of writing, collage, paper, and authorship under the reader's
avid thumb and eye. In other words, the art - and the emotion - of Griffin
and Sabine always manifests itself in between its various elements rather
than through their individual identities.
The lone fact of its commercial success would not be enough to explain the
choice of Griffin and Sabine for an interactive adaptation by Peter
Gabriel's Real World Multimedia. Real World's artists have consistently shown,
since the emergence of this composite medium, a particular eye (and ear) for
its multisensoriality. (For lack of a better, noncomposite term.) And they have
understood that multimedia, notwithstanding the recurring morality tale that
identifies it as the harbinger (utopian or dystopian) of an encompassing virtuality,
works best when it stops trying to be better than life, or (more importantly)
better than 41itself. (Case in point: the technologically simple, garage-created
game Myst, which uses perspective instead of three-dimensional wizardry,
is infinitely more elegant than its extravagant sequel, Riven.) Yet
multimedia must also strive to be (brace yourselves for blasphemy) better than,
or at least different from, the book. (If it comes from a book at all,
We are asked to understand through "free" association.
Ceremony of Innocence does just that. It integrates the original Griffin
and Sabine trilogy as one of its many dimensions, then lets the tale unfold
into others. The story is read to us through the combined artifice
of images, sounds, and play. In Ceremony of Innocence, Nick Bantock's
original artwork becomes animated in both senses of the word: it moves and makes
noise (courtesy, mostly, of the denizens of the London Zoo). It also moves us,
providing us with an analogue to Bantock's process of collage. We are asked
to understand the interactivity through a process that is very close to that
of "free" association, following the intuitive logic of Bantock's images back
to its purported origin.
Each postcard is in effect an intricate collage obeying its own symbolic logic,
and in order to progress through the narrative, we must now "solve" the postcards
- explore their surface, recognize puzzles, and work them out through intuitive
exploration. Once solved, every postcard is "turned on its back" and we are
invited once again into the presence of Griffin and Sabine, who read
to us the words they have written to each other. Our voyeurism mimics their
supernatural relationship, and proves once again the power of their art and
desire to distort both place and time.
This multimedia interpretation of Bantock's work provides a new context for our own interpretations, which are displaced into a realm where they must translate into action. Page-turning (or postcard-turning) is exalted into a creative activity, and we must read along with the cd-rom's interactivity. Of course, in this "programmed" medium, our associations are controlled (or at least suggested) by the interactive designers. But there is plenty of room within the confines of this collage zoo for some playful subversion, and for us to believe that we are following the chance logic of every collage back to its source.
In places, Ceremony of Innocence is also suggestive (and manipulative)
enough that it achieves some of the emotional pungency of film, whose advantage
has always been its ability to sweep us into tidal wakes of light and sound.
This is not only the prerogative of the cd-rom's several art videos (transfigurements
of the occasional letters which punctuated the books), but also of the arching
associations - visual, narrative, emotional - that link the postcards into a
kaleidoscopic, multiple identity.
Ceremony of Innocence is also resilient enough amongst our explorations
- offering all kinds of unexpected treatments to our thumb-turned cursor - that
it consistently fuels our desire to feel our way from postcard to postcard until
we reach the end of the story. In this way it also brings us that much closer
to Griffin and Sabine. In the end, isn't this the same tale of desire
that can be read between the pages of any book?
Daniel Canty is the director of HorizonZero.
1. Willy Eisenhart, The World of Donald Evans, New York: Abbeville Press Publishers, 1980.
Ceremony of Innocence (1997). Real World Multimedia Ltd., U.K., a Windows 95/Macintosh cd-rom.