Dutch artist Annesas Appel is in the process of re-envisioning the covers of the 429 books that comprise her personal library. In one project she is organizing them according to color and in the other by the letters in their titles.
For the work Colours_a mathematical tale (Fig. 1), Appel has scanned the covers of her books and broken them down according to the CMYK color printing system. Every printed color can be described in percentages of four basic colors: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and “Key” (black). She transposed the results to grids—four (one for each of the basic colors) for each print, arranged vertically. Each grid is comprised of 100 small squares, representing 1%-100% of C, M, Y or K. One clearly sees how this is a mathematical endeavor, but it is a narrative one as well—an exploration of alternate ways to read one’s library. Despite their rigid formulation, the prints are wonderfully animated, appearing to be pixels arranging themselves on a screen as though about to become legible letters or images.
429 Titles of Books (Fig. 2) is a related project, designed in conjunction with her current exhibition at de Hallen in Haarlem, for which she has broken down the titles of her books and grouped their comprising letters in the order in which they appear on a computer keyboard, the arrangement looking at times like concrete poetry and elsewhere like computer code. The edition totals 60 prints, each in a unique color derived from the Colours project. In both works, books have been stripped of their text, but the viewer’s compulsion to read, or at least interpret, remains. Playing with that compulsion, Appel has given us an alternate exercise that is nonetheless linguistic: though the original syntax has been blown apart, an order and even a form of legibility is still imposed.
Other artists are parsing words and texts out in a somewhat similar manner, isolating them in order to invert, convert, distort, or otherwise render them other than their original selves (an upcoming exhibition at MoMA, “Ecstatic Alphabets/Heaps of Language,” showcases artists’ historic and contemporary endeavors with this). However, whereas many others are taking a satirical approach towards language’s inherent complexities, Appel’s tactic is more earnest. In her meditative process—a laborious one laid bare in the works themselves—she is realizing a new way to go about the storied, Benjaminian task of unpacking our libraries.