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Re: [BKARTS] WOID XIX-26. The First. Book. Ever.



Fascinating. Thank you, Paul.
The Time Out video "Beyond Babylon" shows this "book" for a fraction of a second right at the end.

Ama

> Date: Tue, 3 Feb 2009 18:25:20 -0700
> From: woid@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
> Subject: [BKARTS] WOID XIX-26. The First. Book. Ever.
> To: BOOK_ARTS-L@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
> 
> WOID XIX-26. The First. Book. Ever.
> 
> Exhibition Review: Beyond Babylon: Art, Trade and Diplomacy in the
> Second Millennium B.C.” 
> Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
> Through March 15
> 
> So nice when you pursue an idea (over years, sometimes), and it turns
> out others are pursuing similar ideas and then you meet up by accident.
> There’s a show like that at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in a way
> predictable, in the same way satisfying, because it ties together knots
> that have been waiting to be tied for a long, long time. Oh, and the
> works on display are of very high aesthetic quality, meaning they look
> real purty.
> 
> About ten years ago I started teaching a course at the Metropolitan
> Museum of Art, “Art across Cultures,” and the happiest has always
> been the “across” part, not that which makes cultures and nations
> and ethnicities distinctive (which is the original anthropological
> ambition of most historical museums), but what connects them: exchanges,
> superficial similarities, universal patterns, perhaps, and our own ways
> of thinking about them. Over the past ten years I’ve noticed the
> Museum itself coming closer to a similar cross-cultural model. The
> Mezzanine area at the Met has harbored a collection of “Export Ware”
> porcelain for a while now; more recently, a few areas have been devoted
> to the Art of the Silk Routes. And a large number of temporary
> exhibitions have driven home the point – like this one. 
> 
> “Beyond Babylon” clarifies a point which has been pretty obvious to
> anyone interested in Bronze-Age Art: that Bronze-Age people were far
> more developed (or maybe regressive) in terms of systematic techniques
> of production and commerce. Bronze-Age Art, like Obama-Age Art, didn’t
> come from the inner spirituality of its makers as much as it came from
> well-organized systems of production and exchange. 
> 
> The lynchpin for this argument is the centerpiece of this show, the
> Uluburun Shipwreck, here on view in a slightly over-the-top design built
> to look like a ship’s prow. The original archeological team that
> discovered the wreck, the earliest-known ship in existence, were
> primarily interested in the enormous copper ingots that sank with it;
> they suspect the captain and crew were Canaanites from the present coast
> of Israel/Palestine/Lebanon, ferrying raw material (either copper or
> glass ingots), across the Mediterranean to be turned into weapons or
> artworks in local workshops.
> 
> However, the cultural diversity of the objects found in the Uluburun
> Ship was far richer than expected: not only raw materials were exchanged
> in the fourteenth century BCE, but also decorative and functional
> objects, or objects so decorative as to move beyond the functional.
> It’s not at all clear how this trade in “artworks” operated, or
> even the trade in raw materials, since exchanges were by barter only
> (cold cash didn't appear for another five centuries or so); but it’s
> obvious from a number of other items in this show that certain objects
> were traded for qualities we’d have to call “aesthetic,” most
> noteworthy a series of highly polished and abstracted Egyptian
> figurines: they have some of the qualities of the Art Deco
> “streamline” look, perhaps for the same functional reasons.
> Likewise, the exhibit attempts to pinpoint the origin of narrative
> subject matter in Western Art: the idea of having images "tell a story"
> seems to have originated with the Minoans, and spread from there.
> 
> II)
> The star of this show, however, is the writing board, or rather writing
> boards found in the shipwreck. By some kind of poetic logic they were
> preserved in a shipment of pomegranates – the pomegranate is the
> symbol of Life in Death in Greek Mythology. These are by far the oldest
> such objects known, and the earliest example of what would eventually
> become a bound book.
> 
> It’s long been known that the type of book used in Europe is derived
> from the sets of wooden boards attached together that were used for
> quick notetaking and sketches down through the Middle Ages: each board
> was covered with wax, and the writer could scratch out a message with a
> fine point or stylus, perhaps erasing if she had to with the other end
> of the stylus. The boards would then be closed, and the writing
> protected. 
> 
> What’s unique about the Uluburun Boards is the hinge: it’s made of
> ivory, which is probably the main reason the boards survived
> more-or-less intact. A number of similar hinges and boards have been
> found in other excavations, but never the two together, and the function
> of the hinges was only guessed at previously. The hinge system is
> particularly elegant, though: the hinge – hell, the binding - is
> composed of three ivory dowels, hollow, and rotating around a wooden
> dowel at the center. There are holes on either side of the
> top-and-bottom ivory dowels, which attach them to the boards on either
> side by smaller dowels, so that the book’s wooden leaves can rotate
> around the larger top-and-bottom dowels. The larger dowels raise the
> book a little when it’s open, so the two leaves can lie fully open on
> a flat surface – assuming, of course, there were flat surfaces circa
> 1360 BCE.
> 
> 
> III)
> In The Red and the Black Stendhal tells a story in passing, about the
> deeply spiritual priest who for years had longed to play with a little
> puppet that happened to be on the mantelpiece of his spiritual director
> – till one day he finally got up the courage to play with it, and that
> was that. This show has received some curious reviews, implying it's too
> "difficult" for the average viewer. That would be true if, like your
> average New York Times critic, the average viewer has never enjoyed
> working with his hands, or taking a clock apart. It would be nice if our
> spiritual aesthetes some day could come down to the level of a hand-held
> booklet just simply to imagine the cool, concrete and practical joy of
> the thing one puts together and takes apart again. Go see “Beyond
> Babylon”: you’ll have the galleries pretty much to yourself.
> 
> - Paul Werner
> 
> http://woid.theorangepress.com
> WOID: a journal of visual language
> 
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