Lake Antiquity: Poems 1996-2008By Brandon Downing
Fence Books, £34.50
There is nothing new about artist’s books composed from pieced together, ironically juxtaposed snippets of previously printed graphics and letterforms. The form is timeworn (and sometimes cloyingly artsy) but what the author / artist has to say and how the material is presented should be fresh.
Brandon Downing, a poet, writer, researcher and business team member at the New York design firm C&G Partners, uses antique and ‘found’ artefacts to convey his abstract poetic messages. Some of his poems are totally unique, while others appear to dip into the big closet of conceptual notions popularised by Tom Phillips’s A Humument (1970) and, most notably, Max Ernst’s Une Semaine de Bonté (1934). But knowing about these precursors does not diminish the pleasure of his latest book, Lake Antiquity, designed by C&G’s Emanuela Frigerio.
The cover, a colourful bare-assed gnome peering at a lugubriously engraved, though serene, lake, surreally punctuated by a slew of small geysers, signals the enigmatic quality of Downing’s poetry. Some of the poems are quite abstract, while others are more overt. Some are recomposed and altered lines from existing books, while others are phrases from the antique visuals. He made poems from cut lines pasted on solid coloured papers, restaurant menus and patterned wrapping paper.
It is fruitless to excerpt any of them here (they must be appreciated in context), but Downing does acknowledge a list of ‘published materials that I excerpted to relieve of their contents over the duration of this project’. And he adds, by way of thanks: ‘This project would never have taken place in its current form without the everlasting and affordable support of the X-Acto brand of cutting blades and cutting products, never mind the ever-improving army of consumer glue sticks by Pritt, Saunders / UHU, Office Depot and the durable, glorious Scotch / 3M Clear.’
First published in Eye no. 75 vol. 19 2010
Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions and single issues.