Moderne Buchkunst seit 1960 - Eine private Sicht -  
   

Michail Karasik - Russland

Originaltext

 

Aus:
Wulf D. von Lucius und Gunnar A. Kaldewey (Hrsg.), The Artist Book in a Global World. Workshop Poestenkill/NY, Lucius & Lucius Verlagsgesellschaft mbH, Stuttgart, 2002

Abdruck des englischen Originaltexts mit freundlicher Genehmigung der Herausgeber

Übersetzung (Auszug): Cornelia Göbel

 
 

Ein Buch für mich selbst

Ein Buch ist eine konservative, traditionelle, geregelte und unabhängige Form. Es ist auch aktuelle und sich fortwährend entwickelnde Kunst. Die Form des Buches ist für alle Künstler universell. Es verkörpert Vergangenheit und Zukunft, Tradition und Experiment, alte und neue Techniken. Für Bibliophile ist ein Buch ein Teil der Seele, ein Teil des Lebens; für Künstler ist es Beruf und Kreativität. Die Bücher, die ich mache, sind keine Bücher im traditionellen Sinn des Wortes. Sie werden Künstlerbücher genannt. Für mich ist das Künstlerbuch mehr als nur ein Buch. Manchmal verstecke ich mich hinter der Form des Buches, manchmal gebrauche ich diese bewusst, aber ich weiß immer, dass der grundlegende Inhalt Kunst ist. Der Text steht für mich immer an zweiter Stelle. Obwohl der Text wichtig ist, ist er nicht das Wichtigste, wenn ich ein Buch gestalte. Der Text steht für sich, während das Buch ein Ding, ein materielles Objekt ist. Meine Bücher beginnen gewöhnlich mit formalen Aufgaben, mit der Suche nach Bildern, Formen und Ideen. Ich betrachte jedes neue Buch als ein neues Glied in der langen Kette meines Werdegangs. Die bildliche Vorstellung des Buches ist zuerst mit keinem konkreten Text verbunden; erst nachdem es in meinem Geist realistische Umrisse annimmt, beginne ich Literatur dafür auszuwählen. Diese Suche dauert manchmal lang. Der Text "erdet" und verringert die Tragweite des Wortes, (...). Der Text stellt eine Beziehung her zwischen mir, dem Künstler, und dem Schriftsteller, dem Autor eines normalen Buches. Ich mache meine eigenen Bücher, ich dekoriere nicht die Gedanken eines anderen mit meinen Bildern. Der Text ist wichtig. Er ist das Leitmotiv eines solchen Buches und verliert seine Wortbedeutung nicht; er wird Teil der grafischen Kunst, Teil meiner Zeichnung und füllt die Blätter wie die Illustrationen. Deshalb verwende ich zum Zeichnen so gewöhnliche Werkzeuge wie Pinsel und Rohrfeder. Ich habe keine Neigung zu Kalligrafie oder Schriftkunst; ich versuche mit meiner eigenen Handschrift auszukommen. Ich ziehe Handschrift der Maschinenschrift vor (zweifellos das Ergebnis meines lebenslangen Interesses für die litografierten Veröffentlichungen der russischen Futuristen). Im Künstlerbuch ist die Illustration kein bloßes Bild mehr, das den Text begleitet, die Seiten schmückt. Die Illustration kann das wichtigste Element im Künstlerbuch sein, aber sie ist nicht das Einzige, was aus einem Buch ein Kunstwerk macht. Für das Drucken der Illustrationen benötige ich viel Zeit und manchmal drucke ich jedes Motiv sieben oder acht Mal. In bibliophilen, künstlerischen und illustrierten Publikationen führen die Bilder oft ihr eigenes Leben und machen das Charakteristikum des Buches aus. Im Künstlerbuch jedoch kann ein schwaches Bindeglied das ganze Konzept ruinieren. Seit 1987 habe ich Bücher geschaffen; sie sind zu meinem Hauptwerk geworden und haben alles andere verdrängt. Manchmal habe ich das Gefühl, dass ich der Bücher müde werde, dass ich ein Handwerker geworden bin und dass sie mich versklavt haben. Aber heute gibt es für mich nichts anderes mehr.

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A Book For Myself

Lithography or, to be more exact, the printing process, always evokes unwitting reflections on my work. I do not distinguish between the technical (polishing the stone, selecting the colour, printing) and the creative (working on the designs, drawing on the stone) aspects of work. The technical side takes up the most time and effort. I always think the same thing, holding onto the lever pressing the stone and slowly turning the handle setting the roller in motion. I imagine I am turning the handle of an old village well, slowly raising a heavy bucket hanging from a rusty chain and filled to the brim. It is as if I am part of this primitive instrument. My hands are a continuation of the handle and I am a living engine, the power of which depends on how I am feeling and the result of my work. Although such work might seem arduous and monotonous, it gives me a chance to think. I always ask myself the same question. Why do I spend hours polishing the stone by hand, treating it with chemicals, selecting the paints, making trial prints and then printing sheet after sheet, when home computers have now reduced the whole process of graphic art to hitting a few keys on the keyboard? My obstinate clinging to the lithographic press is an attempt to hold onto what is important to me alone. The stone, lithographic ink and the hand-cast paper are the materials of yesterday. I regard lithography and printing as not so much a craft - even though I have spent a long time attempting to understand this technique - as an art. The most important part for me is those chance (generally formal) discoveries which arise in the course of work; grasping the material and its possibilities. As I have been working on a press without a printer for over ten years, the printing and the drawing processes are indistinguishable. All stages of work come together as one. The drawing aspect continues in the printing process, when I add something new or remove something I don't like from the stone.

I turn the handle again and think of the book I am printing. A book is a conservative, traditional, regulated and self-sufficient form. It is also a topical and constantly developing art. The form of the book is universal for all artists. It embodies the past and the future, tradition and experimentation, old and new technologies. For bibliophiles, a book is part of the soul, part of life; for artists, it is a profession and creativity. The books I make are not quite books, in the traditional sense of the word. They are what is called artist's books. For me, the artist's book is more than just a book. Sometimes I hide behind the form of the book, sometimes I actively employ it, but I always know that its fundamental content is art. The text always takes second place for me. Although the text is important, it is not the most important thing when designing a book. It exists on its own, whereas the book is a thing, a material object. My books generally begin with formal tasks, with a quest for images, constructions and ideas. I regard each new book as a new link in the long chain of my career. The image of the book is not at first linked to any concrete text; only after it assumes realistic outlines in my mind do I begin to select literature for it. These quests sometimes take a long time. The text "earths" and lowers the import of the word, which is, in the high sense, literature. The text establishes the relationship between me, the artist, and the writer, the author of a normal book. I make my own books, I do not decorate anyone else's thoughts with my pictures. The text is important. It is the motif of such a book and does not lose its verbal meaning; it becomes part of the graphic art, part of my drawing, filling the sheets like the illustrations. That is why I employ such common materials for the drawing as brushes and reed pens. I am not drawn to calligraphy or the art of scripts; I try to get by with my own handwriting. I prefer handwriting to the typewritten script (no doubt the result of my lifelong interest in the lithographed publications of the Russian Futurists). In the artist's book, the illustration ceases to be merely a picture accompanying the text, adorning the pages. The illustration may well be the most important element in the artist's book, but it is not the only thing which turns a book into a work of art. A great amount of time goes on printing the illustrations and I sometimes print each subject seven or eight times. In bibliophilic, artistic and illustrated publications, the pictures often lead their own lives, comprising the main feature of the book. In the artist's book, however, any weak link can ruin the whole concept. I have been creating books since 1987; they have become the main thing in my oeuvre, supplanting everything else. [1] I sometimes feel that I am tired of books, that I have turned into a professional craftsman and that they have enslaved me. But there is nothing else for me to do today.

The book is a living organism that devours one's strength and time. The appeal of books increases as one grows older. Some write books, others draw. Many great artists of the twentieth century have been bitten by the "book bug". The book is a missive, a revelation from the author, something extremely personal in character. These books tend to be made for themselves. I have recently become increasingly attracted to my own texts. In the artist's book, the strange contradiction lying at the very heart of this weird and wonderful term disappears. [2] The book finally becomes the property of the artist, for everything is subject to his will - the words, images, construction and the material. It is no longer necessary to share the book with the writer or the author of the text. Such books are the most important ones for me. They are always of an autobiographical nature, and sometimes even seem too candid and personal. My first such book was made in 1988 - Butchering Calves. Based on the motifs of a trip to Central Asia, it described the butchering of a calf's carcass before a national holiday - an exotic and frightening sight for the European eye. Later, in 1996, at the request of my French bookdealer friend, Serge Plantureux, I wrote Ruminations on Asceticism. Serge suggested that I create a book on the theme of asceticism for one of his exhibitions. Asceticism is not an idea that is close to my heart. I detect elements of arrogance, obstinacy and methodism about it. Ruminations on Asceticism brings together the main themes of my oeuvre - impressions from trips to Central Asia and constant reflections on my work and art. [3] It was followed by other books - Self-Portrait, Minaret, My Internal Passport, Labour Book and The Suitcase.

Bookishness is a personal facet, a state of mind. Bookishness is an order of the psyche and the universe. The cover is the earth, the terra firma; the lines are the water; the signs and the words forming the image are the air. Books age and die. Each generation has its own books, its own base, earth and ideas - air. Some people are called "bookish" or "bookworms". There are book diseases. I grew up amid books; my mother was a librarian and I collected books. [4] Now that I myself make books, they have lost some of their former value, replaced by another - creativity. I no longer feel any trepidation; now I torture, tear and create them. After graduating from college, nothing suggested my submergence into the book, or my incessant writing and attempts to comprehend what I do. I have long since abandoned painting; books and printing have substituted oil and canvas. Lithography, incidentally, is the least "graphic" printing technique. I prefer colour, bright and painterly. I attempt to resolve painterly tasks in lithography, explaining my predilection for dyes reminiscent of acrylic and gouache. The painting book is the artist's book. In search of painterliness and texture, I often employ non-graphic materials - printing on a primed canvas, introducing easel compositions into the book and using the album form. The main media, however, remain paper and lithography. Paper is a fragile, perceptive, tolerant and capricious material, like lithography, where the drawing can "coarsen" or vanish in the course of the chemical treatment of the stone. A lithograph print can be made on handmade paper, rough cardboard or canvas, breaking all the laws. When printing, I do not make trial versions; I always work on one stone, adding colour after colour to the sheet. Printing is a game and, as a rule, one adheres to its rules. The artist generally resolves purely professional tasks, which are not always substantial or visible to the viewer or the art critic - colour printing both the recto and the verso of the sheet; combining various parts in the one composition; a large volume of text written by hand, in reverse. Lithography joins the text and the drawing. I crossed over from the lithographic press to the book quite by chance, in the mid-1980s, when I discovered Boris Pasternak's novel Doctor Zhivago. First came a series of prints after the motifs of the poems at the end of the book, followed by my first books. I made compositions on biblical subjects and the theme of Central Asia. These are the main themes of my books. The book gradually ousted all other materials and the easel composition assumed the album form.

A contradiction, a facet and conduct of man and art. The main subjects of my books are the Bible, the East and Russian avant-garde culture. This is also a contradiction. It is difficult to see what Daniil Kharms and biblical themes have in common. Such a contrast recalls a hot and cold shower. These themes are united by freedom, profundity, philosophy and inscrutability. They are eternal themes in which every artist hears his own motif. A variation on a theme, the main theme of art.

The artist's book took a long time to come to Russia. When the first exhibitions of artist's books were held in the early 1990s, they were a revelation and a sensation for the public and artists alike. The Western experience was unknown in Russia. The last private publishing houses had been closed down in the late 1920s; anyone wanting to print any text had to first acquire the permission of the state censor. The Russian artist's book began from a blank sheet of paper, from nowhere, as a sensation of freedom and the need to make a book for oneself, outwith the official system of state commissions. The Futurist publications of the early twentieth century by such artists as Mikhail Larionov, Natalia Goncharova, Kazimir Malevich and Olga Rozanova were the prologue to the interrupted history of book experimentation in Russia. The artist's book jumped from Futurism to Postmodernism, just as society had jumped from one formation to another, from Feudalism to Socialism. My first books to the poems of Boris Pasternak, Anna Akhmatova and Daniil Kharms were a link to the Futurist booklets, defining the interest of private collectors and state museums and libraries. Before 1990, the Western artist's book was largely unfamiliar to the Russian public. Three exhibitions at the Hermitage offered an insight into the contributions of three important, yet by no means the only representatives, of the movement - Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall. The aesthetics of the livres d'artistes did not influence the Russian artist's book, owing to the lack of a material basis - paints, paper, scripts and printing studios. Another important period in book experimentation - Pop Art - was passed over in silence by Soviet art historians. Samizdat in the 1970s and 1980s was not only the first attempt at a Russian form of artist's book; it was also the only purely Russian invention bearing an unofficial, political character in those years.

The modern history of the artist's book covers only one decade, coinciding with the history of the new Russia. The artist's book is currently experiencing a Renaissance in Russia. There are two main reasons for this - the appearance of a new generation of artists and the onset of a new phase of development of Russian art. What was created more than ten years ago is now the property of history and the museums. Over its brief century, the Russian artist's book has gone down with the Sots-Art, Conceptualist and Postmodernist bugs, though the vaccines seem to be working. Departures from traditional books are generally perceived as a naïve rebellion of the marginals. [5] This characteristic, possibly, best of all defines my physical relationship with the lithographic press and my spiritual relationship with the book.

Notes to the Text

  1. Since 1990, I have also curated projects and exhibitions, presented the Russian artist's book at art salons and book fairs, printed catalogues and written articles on the artist's book. (back)
  2. The term artist's book might suggest to the uninitiated the existence of such other books as the doctor's book or the baker's book. (back)
  3. Reflections on work are an indelible part of the artist's professional activities. (back)
  4. My private collection of Russian avant-garde books of the 1910s--30s: The Artist and The Book in Russia 1910 - 1930 … Russian Artist's Book 1990 - 2000. Exh. cat. - Art Frankfurt, 2000. In German and Russian. - Catalogue in catalogue: 9. Jahresschrift für Künstlerbücher und Handpressendrucke. Leipzig: Edition Lebensretter 2000 (back)
  5. The Futurist books offer an excellent example of a naïve rebellion against the aesthetics of the printed books designed by the World of Art (Mir iskusstva). The use of the lithographic press in place of the modern printing house, staples instead of automatic binding machines, and wrapping paper instead of high-quality paper, contradicted mass book production and technical progress. (back)
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