For this year’s World Book Night United Artists project we were invited to read and respond to the short story “Watching God” by China Miéville (from the collection – Three moments of an explosion). This was not an author I had encountered before, and was an interesting introduction to his work and I certainly intend to read more. I decided I wanted to play around with a sea of ‘deep grammar’ and also engage with the book, Their eyes were watching God, which cannot be found in the library within the story, but a quote from which is framed below a window, and also forms the words on the town’s metal flag: “Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.”
As with most projects I found it difficult to realise the ideas I had in my head. I played around with some letterpress type and rubber stamp type, but neither turned out satisfactorily. Then by some serendipitous twist of fate I caught a fragment on the radio which mentioned the author Zora Neale Hurston and her book Their eyes were watching God. So, it turned out that the missing book was a real book! I tracked down a copy of the book online which was originally published in 1937 and found it to be beautifully written (I’ve since purchased it in paperback too). The idea for the sea of ‘deep grammar’ clarified and I used text from the first and last paragraphs of this book to create the sea, alongside pictures of wrecked ships.
Meanwhile, as a cataloguer who also gets to work with rare and antiquated books as a small part of my job I wanted to create the impression that the book in the story had indeed once been in the library but had since gone missing. so I played around with ideas of old catalogue cards, and dusty old books in the stacks, and this piece became a photograph.
Working on a WBNUA project is always great fun, and I love that we get to engage with a story, a book, a piece of writing to then produce an art work.
All the pieces were collated, put in random junk shop frames, and exhibited at UWE Bristol’s Bower Ashton Library throughout April 2018. They have also been published as a paperback “ur-text” in harmony with the books in the town library from the story.
For more details see:
I’ll write about my response to the exhibition in another post.