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.
I find myself thinking of artist Steve Fagin’s amalgam of criticism, fiction, visual arts, and numerous other disciplines as a productive model for a contemporary art curator working within an encyclopedic museum. I’ve been in discussion with Fagin ever since my graduate student years in the Visual Arts department at the University of California, San Diego. Fagin is exemplary of the hybrid and genre-bending artists that have created and sustained that department in the sunny beach town of La Jolla. (San Diego and the Origins of Conceptual Art in California, a fascinating show at a local gallery, recently chronicled this history.)
Recently, Fagin has been contemplating the next life of the book. In this age of the Kindle and E-Ink, there is an increased technological mediation of our reading experience. Fagin’s romantic, frenetic, and intellectually challenging response to the rebirth of the book as electronic (illuminated) manuscript—impishly titled The Last Book: This Ain’t Your Grandson’s Kindle—is a live performance involving an international roster of writers, artists, and filmmakers that will take place at the MAK Center at the Schindler House this Sunday. Fagin’s idea is to rekindle (pun intended) a physical and visual relationship to the book.
As Clive Phillpot once noted, “Artist books are distinguished by the fact that they sit provocatively at the juncture where art, documentation, and literature all come together.” Fagin, the wizard behind The Last Book, is staging what might be the future of reading as an amazing voyage into the twenty-first century, and I’m readjusting my reading specs accordingly.
-Rita Gonzalez, Assistant Curator, Contemporary Art / April 24, 2009, published on the LACMA Blog
About Rita Gonzalez
Rita Gonzalez is a media artist, writer and LACMA Assistant Curator who lives and works in Los Angeles. She has produced several short videos that express her interests in the constructions and elaborations of biography and myth. Her videos portray the manufactured transformations of everyday people into cultural icons–Margarita Cansino into Rita Hayworth, Michael Jackson into Peter Pan, and Lupe Velez into Hollywood Babylon celebrity. Gonzalez’ videos have been screened internationally at festivals such as MIX NY/Mexico City, Cine Festival in San Antonio, Women in the Director’s Chair, and L.A. Freewaves.
Rita Gonzalez is currently employed as Assistant Curator in the Department of Contemporary Art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Gonzalez’s curatorial collaboration with filmmaker Jesse Lerner, Mexperimental Cinema, was the first survey of experimental and avant-garde media art from Mexico and traveled to the Pacific Film Archives; the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego; Harvard Film Archives; the Guggenheim Museums (New York and Bilbao), and film festivals internationally. Gonzalez has written for media and art journals including Wide Angle, Poliester, COIL, Signs, and RIM. Recent essays appear in Still Moving: Between Cinema and Photography (Duke University Press), Recent Pasts: Art in Southern California from 90s to Now (JRP|Ringier Zurich), and California Video: Artists and Histories (Getty Publications).