” In the Stone Age, people did their drawings in some cave where they would be seen by no one but themselves. But later, everyone could see them. Everyone passed by the cave. Today, the same is true of men’s toilets in pubs: people leave their marks, and no one knows who put them there, but everyone can see them. There is a tendency not to reveal oneself but to show something nonetheless.”
Hans-Peter Feldmann. Another Book. Koenig Books 2010, p. 58.
Artist’s book Lost Paradise consists only of images. Artwork signed by Žiga Kariž in collaboration with designer Vasja Cenčič doesn’t’ even have classic book binding. No hardcover, no softcover, no binding in the middle. Instead, it consists only of 130 leaves, wrapped in cellophane. Calling this artwork by the technical term book is therefore seemingly problematic, which is underlined by the response of the Slovenian National and University Library that has designated Lost Paradise as a book at first, but has later changed its decision.1 A similar fate has befallen Ed Ruscha’s first cult book Twentysix Gasoline Stations in 1963. The book was rejected by the American Library of Congress because of its “unorthodox form and supposed lack of information”.2 Lost Paradise is in fact an even more unlikely candidate to achieve book status than Ruscha’s gasoline stations.
What has probably ultimately convinced the librarian bureaucracy that what lies on the table of the National and University Library is not a book or indeed any other sort of publication, is the fact that Lost Paradise is a book which contains no words save for the note on the cover. The cover foil bears a sticker which holds an extended colophon that gives basic data in two languages: “Lost Paradise by Žiga Kariž in collaboration with Vasja Cenčič was published by Zavod Projekt Atol, with Marko Peljhan acting as editor at large. The first issue was printed by Littera Picta in 250 copies and published in December 2010 with support of the Ministry of Culture or the Republic of Slovenia.”3 The text reveals only basic information: the title, the names of the editor and publisher, the year and place of publication. The price of the book is printed next to this data and can be compared to the prices of illustrated books about art; therefore the book does not try to label itself as artwork through its value. Of course, save for the title, there is also information about authorship, which is the only relevant and important piece of data for understanding of the artwork.
The book Lost Paradise arose as a new chapter from a project Lost Paradise (Open Code) from 2008 where the majority of the 130 images in the book were already presented. The artwork was done by artist Žiga Kariž, but like his series of images Politics of Paintings years ago, it too was done in collaboration with Vasja Cenčič, a designer who constantly works on the line between design and visual art. Kariž again decided that the designer’s share in making of the project was so great that he assigned him co-authorship. This work principle is somewhat similar to Politics of paintings. Kariž has given the designer a set of ready-made images and the designer subsequently created the artist’s book. He is therefore playing with authorship once again, although in the case of untraditional artwork like the image this is less meaningful; however, it shows Kariž’s giving up and reevaluation of the highly modernistic concept of the author as the Artist.
The book Lost Paradise is, as is the case with most of Kariž’s work, highly evasive in nature. This already shows in its form before we even take off the cellophane and peer behind the altered cover. It is a book and it is not a book simultaneously. It has a colophon and cataloguing-in-publication number, but it is not registered in the database. It has pages, but no cover. When we finally remove the cellophane — if indeed we decide to do so, because this (non)book can also be understood as an object and placed on a shelf/coffee table/in a display cabinet/depo with the wrapping still on — it falls apart into 130 pieces. By removing the wrapping it is in a way destroyed, disintegrated, torn apart. But if we do not open it, we are deprived of its content. This necessary decision on how to handle Lost Paradise on the owner’s part is also deliberate and calculated. A piece of paradise is lost when we desecrate the book cover. However, the story continues as Kariž and Cenčič place the creative duty of use and storage of the book upon us. Will we choose a new wrapper, mix the pages, lose them, use only some of them…?
When (and of course if) we nevertheless decide to tear up Lost Paradise’s wrapping, we find a hundred and thirty pages of paper, a little larger than the classic A4 format. Each one contains a single image. There is no text. The story can only be discerned from the text of the images and their placement. The same is true for Lost Paradise as Ruscha said in an interview: “I have eliminated all text from my books — I want absolutely neutral material. My pictures are not that interesting, nor the subject matter. They are simply a collection of ‘facts’, my book is more like a collection of readymades.”4 Similarly, all the images in the Lost Paradise are ready-made pictures which Kariž only selected from a myriad of possibilities. When we list the pages of the book, it turns out that the selection of images is characterized by time and source. Each one is a preexisting media image and all are dated between 1960 and 1980, from the time of the artist’s childhood. The artist even claims that he remembers some of them from childhood and that he “found them again” when preparing for the project. Like the project Lost Paradise the artist’s book also tells the story of his childhood, of his subjective lost paradise, which Kariž shares through a jigsaw puzzle of foreign images. He asks us what the possibility of total self-expression is. Lost Paradise poses the following question: how do we share the subjective in modernity? What can we do to make the Other feel our life without having lived it? Personal experiences can only be shared through narration. To narrate, we need text, and the text of a contemporary visual artist contains preexisting images.
In modernity even the personal is constructed through mass media and is therefore more uniform than ever. Those of us who were born in Yugoslavia in the 1970s largely share our childhood memories as we grew up with the same comics, cartoons, music, books, films, TV shows and magazines, the same trademarks and equally designed objects. Not only objects, even family photographs are nearly identical. The stories are also the same: as I read the book Janez Janša Biography about the lives of three Janez Janšas, I came upon a story about how TV presenter Tomaž Terček announced Tito’s death and therefore prevented little Janez from showing his parents his new masterpiece made out of letters. I remember being in the waiting room of University Children’s Hospital in Vrazov Square and watching my mother’s fearful expression in surprise as she, along with the other mothers, peered onto a TV screen in the nurses’ room. And when the former Janez Janša, now Žiga Kariž, envied the kids from the Slovenian children’s movie Hang on, Doggy for living at Bratovševa ploščad, I envied them equally.5 Even the photographs published in Biography from New Year’s celebrations, holidays by the sea, childhood walks and school group photos are entirely exchangeable, the only difference being that they sometimes show Petja or Miha, Nataša, Mojca, Marko… These materials, so subjective and so general, form the collective memory of a generation (it is scary, but really we all are Janez Janša!).
Something happens if the reader/viewer believes that Lost Paradise is a book and leafs through it page after page at least the first time. Of course nothing tells him to do so and he can view the images in any order he pleases, but if he leafs through linearly, he will soon discover that the images are not put in a random order but can be sorted into different groups of contents. The first image of a cute Bambi sways us into a world of nature with animals, which changes into images of the urban in nature and nature in the urban. This gradually transforms into images of culture in the broad sense, images of reflection of the lost paradise of childhood.
Those who are more acquainted with Žiga Kariž’s opus will notice appropriation of numerous images which can also be seen in other artist’s works: cities, especially New York in the 70s; images from Taxi Driver, Star Wars and Clockwork Orange, toys, comics, images of nature, artworks and apartments from the 70s, images of ideal families and attractive girls from the same era. We can assume that these images are close to the artist in a way. Yet again, this is not explicit and like in all his works Kariž doesn’t explain whether this is his personal view or the user’s view, whether he uses these images because he enjoys them or because they suit him for construction of the story.
From an endless archive of images Kariž picks movie shots, empty designer marks, reproductions of images of nature in book form from the time when we didn’t think about ecological catastrophes, commercials for Lego bricks and ambiguous photographs of women in Teleks magazine. It’s not only the images of women that are ambiguous; many motifs that Kariž moves from other media into the book share the same quality. Ambiguousness is underlined by intuitive combinations of images that are dependent on viewing order. Eros and Thanatos, phallic shapes and innocent looks, mothers and sex objects… By taking over the images and juxtaposing them the artist constructs possibilities of surreal and even psychoanalytical connections. Childhood images suddenly become ambiguous. Their innocence of the time is now constructed by using sexual connotations imparted by adulthood. The woman as a protective mother or as a sexual fetish? A child didn’t read the images in the same way, of course. At least not consciously. He enjoyed watching Star Wars and even today the shapes and colours of that time seem oddly familiar. But now things are different. He knows that innocence cannot exist on its own, so he constructs it. But even this construction, this desire for naive, innocuous homeliness, bears a shadow of a doubt. The desire and also its immediate doubt are integrated in Kariž’s artistic practice.
What we have before us is ‘a book of photographs’ that is according to their selection somewhat similar to Richter’s or Feldmann’s appropriations of images in their artistic books Atlas or Bilder. Like Ruscha, Feldmann or Richter, Kariž “did not employ photography as a medium to be savoured for its formal picture-making qualities, but as a system, a language or mnemonic that described an idea or event”.6 A photograph is a medium of memory, but at the same time it became clear before the digital age that the reality it presents is constructed. Because of lighting, cutting, colour and other photographer’s decisions, because of the unknown context in which the photograph was taken and because of subsequent digital processing the photograph is never an accurate image of the past. However, a formerly seen photograph works like Proust’s madeleine cookie – it awakes and brings forth a memory of a passed subjective feeling. The photograph collection evokes a set of subjective memories from the viewers. Because the subjective is founded in the collective, only the act of choice is personal. Intimacy is not established directly in the artwork, it is constructed and is always only ‘a tale of’ and not a direct ‘entry into’. Furthermore, Lost Paradise offers an extra twist with numerous reading possibilities and with open intentions. The narrative of the book cannot be worded precisely and changes with every reading. Visuality cannot be transferred into language. We cannot live the tale by talking about it but by looking at it as it is demanded. Lost Paradise is an artist’s book about an artist’s childhood, however the artist never reveals himself. Images of time passed collide with present time and space at the time of our observation. Memory of the past meets reality and shows us that childhood paradise was only fictitious. Was it created only by childish naive views? Is our view of childhood idealised or do the alluvia of bad experiences prevent us from seeing present time in the same way? Does Žiga Kariž’s and Vasja Cenčič’s book tell us that the paradise is lost forever and can only be relived in the present through our memories or does it warn us that we can still bring it to life and maybe even experience it? Of course, the experience is on the viewer’s part.
- “We have received 16 mandatory copies and found that the colophon and cataloguing-in-publication can only be found on the sticker on the foil and that pages with the images are not bound. According to our criteria, this is not a publication.” From the correspondence between designer Vasja Cenčič and head of Collection development and Cataloguing Division, 5th January 2011. / publication (n): book, newspaper, magazine, printed work for public. Slovene Literary Language Dictionary (SSKJ), electronic publication 1.1. DZS 1993 / Cataloguing-in-publication is nevertheless printed on the book as National and University Library’s decision was made when the book was already in print, so the authors decided to keep it. Confusion on the readers’ part and if assigning and taking away of cataloguing-in-publication numbers really serves the purpose of “making work easier for those librarians who have no expert staff to process publications and make catalogues” will be determined by the users. http://www.nuk.uni-lj.si/nuk3.asp?id=388537233, viewed on 6th March 2011.
- Engberg, Phillpot. Edward Ruscha Editions 1959-1999; volume 2. Walker Art Center 1999; p. 60
- Žiga Kariž in collaboration with Vasja Cenčič. Lost Paradise. Zavod Projekt Atol 2010.
- Interview with Ed Ruscha. Artforum, Feb 1965; reprinted Schwartz (ed.). Leave Any Information At The Signal. October Books 2002; p.24-25
- When I later lived at Bratovševa ploščad, the memories floated onto the surface without the help of madeleine cookies every time I crossed the platform on my way to the grocery store. Its special charm is also testified in the fact that painter Aleksij Kobal depicted it as a part of a cycle with a telling title Forbidden City.
- Martin Parr, Gerry Badger. The Photobook: A History, volume II, Phaidon 2006; p. 133