For this project, the haudenschild Garage, Spare Parts produced an homage to “the book” in the age of the conquest of the Kindle. Steve Fagin wished to resuscitate the magnificence of the illuminated manuscript as the world turned toward darkness. Perhaps electronic technology could be used, not to leave the book on the dustbin of history, but to reconstitute a forgotten past where words and images danced in each other’s arms.
To this end the haudenschild Garage produced and constructed a one of a kind book that included text, drawings, moving images and sounds. Its construction in the medieval, supersized tradition consisted of three illuminated folios each eighteen and a half inches high, thirteen inches wide and three inches deep.
To make this more than a dirge for the dead, a proper Joycian Wake, we incorporated into our project the live and kicking writing skills of Mary Gaitskill (Two Girls Fat and Thin), the macabre visual lyricism of Leslie Thornton (Peggy and Fred in Hell) and YouTube, the MySpace-with-a-twist drawings of Davina Semo, the retro-futurist music mix of Greg Landau, and as the piece de resistance, Shanghai’s notorious and ever so talented bad girl author Mian Mian as one of our performers with Monica Jovanovich-Kelley and the Kindle. This bouillabaisse was concocted by Steve Fagin.
On April 26, 2009 The Last Book was performed at the Schindler House, MAK Center for Art and Architecture, Los Angeles.
Reading aloud to a group of people is an intimate act, which is why readings are among my favorite activities at the Schindler House. The landmark modernist House and Studio (R.M. Schindler, 1921-22) was designed for precisely such kinds of events, and has hosted many avant-garde performances over the decades. The Schindler House embodies architecture as both idea and living organism. For the Last Book reading, a rowdy tale and the human voice activated the space as intimate, artistic, and social.
Experiment was present in the Last Book production, evidenced in part by the project’s ability to generate a fork in the road. Direction was established and planned, then reevaluated and changed just before performance time. In the publicized plan, the text was to have been read aloud in its entirety by Mian Mian. Language differences constituted more of a barrier than imagined, so the book’s three acts were read by three separate readers: Mian Mian first, followed by Monica Jovanovich-Kelley, then finally a Kindle.
The Mary Gaitskill text is a delightful mean girls story – kind of disturbing, kind of sexy, definitely compelling. Hearing and seeing Mian Mian read it was both a pleasure and a tease. The story’s text has a seductive quality that draws in its audience, and Mian Mian is a performer of rare grace, intelligence, and beauty. Yet her public wrestling with the spoken language disrupted the means of seduction, illuminating the separation between the sound of a word, the speaking of a word, and the meaning of a word.
If Mian Mian had continued reading all three acts, the performance would have evolved into a kind of endurance test of limits for performer and audience alike. Instead, Monica Jovanovich-Kelley and a robot, the Kindle, filled in, and Gaitskill’s words traveled through different bodies. The three variations in reading voices again served to highlight the separation between the sound of a word, the speaking of a word, and the meaning of a word.
It’s nice to be privy to an artistic fork in the road. Forks offer an opportunity to visualize and consider two distinct trajectories: the one that happened and the one that didn’t. The spontaneity of the change of direction in the reading of the Last Book at the Schindler House, combined with the intimacy of the event, made for a truly engaging afternoon. It was yet another instance of the convergence of a historical modernist ideal with contemporary urges to question and stage. The spirit of the Schindler House couldn’t have wished for more.
- Kimberli Meyer, 2008
About Kimberli Meyer
Kimberli Meyer earned her Bachelor of Architecture degree at the University of Illinois, Chicago, and practiced architecture in Chicago before moving to Southern California. She received her M.F.A. from California Institute of the Arts in 1995, and has since lived in Los Angeles pursuing art and architecture projects. Meyer has been Director of the MAK Center for Art and Architecture, Los Angeles at the Schindler House since 2002. There she has co-curated the current exhibition The Gen(h)ome Project along with Open Source Architecture. She has also co-curated the exhibition Symmetry (2006) with Nizan Shaked and Showdown! at the Schindler House (2004) with Fritz Haegj. She has directed guest curator François Perrin for the exhibition and publication Yves Klein: Air Architecture (2004) and has organized Schindler’s Paradise: Architectural Resistance (2003), an architectural ideas competition, exhibition, and publication. Click here for the MAK Center for Art and Architecture at the Schindler House, Los Angeles website