Photography and mixed-media artwork by Ellen Gallagher. Essay by Caoimhín Mac Giolla Léith.
Scalo, Zurich, 2005. 800 pp., full color illustrations spread across five volumes of varying lengths., 6x5".
Murmur is an unusual exploration of the art book and
book arts that is true to the various dimensions and
modes of Gallagher's work. This catalogue comprises a
five-book set to accompany her 2004–05 show at the
Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh. The several volumes
survey work in various media—film, collage, paper sculpture,
drawings and paintings—that include aquatic themes
intermingled with subtle caricatures of black identity.
Barely decipherable but fabled sea creatures, bobbing
black heads on paper waves, scratchy frame-by-frame
drawings over a scene from It Came from Outer Space,
manipulations of advertisements from old issues of Ebony
all comprise her multivalent output in the show and the
catalogues. They also break the conventions of art books
to beneficial effect. First,
the packaging literally
hinges on a neat but simple
device: magnets in
the spines of these books
cause them to adhere to
each other in a snap. And
for some reason, some of
the first and last signatures
are stitched together
three-quarters of an inch out from the spine, causing
the pages there to open less than the rest. Most of them
function as flip books to convey snippets of the 16mm film
loops from the exhibition, but also contain production ele-
ments that work as conceptual facets. Alternating pages
of the central volume that contains the curator’s text fold
up to double the height of the book, perfectly suited to
feature Galloagher’s barely-there paintings. This act of
unfolding slows the pace of looking at the book, as the
frame-per-page structure of the other four books accelerates
it. Either way, the regular rhythm of looking is interrupted,
causing the reader to look closer—an enforced
change in the viewer’s perspective and attention that
visual artists would delight in. - ALAN RAPP
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