memory. language, art. wittgenstein. books. ceramics.

all sorts of thinkings on memory, language, art, wittgenstein, books, etc, while I am getting on with my MA

Friday 5 November 2010

ESSAY. Biblioclasm. Raphael Vella.

Bilioclasm! What a great word to remember!

Book burning, biblioclasm or libricide is the practice of destroying, often ceremoniously, books or other written material and media. In modern times, other forms of media, such as phonograph records, video tapes, and CDs have also been ceremoniously burned, torched, or shredded. The practice, usually carried out in public, is generally motivated by moral, religious, or political objections to the material. (Wikipedia)

Last week I read parts of Raphael Vella's PhD thesis on artistic biblioclasm. It has a very extensive literature review, which has helped me to track down a few valuable names. His own work is rather political. Sure, public book destruction can be an extremely powerful political act. On the other hand, book burning is often a result of spring-cleaning. Publishers pulp away excess copies on daily basis.

Interview with Matt Fishburn from

Abe - Why are books burnt so often?
MF – “People love a celebratory bonfire, especially when it can symbolize a letting go of the past: burning old photos, marking a graduation by burning a hated textbook, or the like. This is one of the things that people I discuss my book with seem to implicitly understand, and indeed are often able to tell a similar story from their own past - just the other day someone told me that they had burned their provisional (driving) license once they properly graduated. Tellingly, in the US (and no doubt in other countries) many universities had an impromptu tradition of turning a blind eye to their graduating class burning their textbooks at the end of semester in a great bonfire. Indeed, when the Nazi fires were first reported in 1933, this was one of the most common comparisons made - the fires in Germany were, after all, organized by students and took place relatively early in the new regime. Nor is it idle to point out that such burnings are always a great spectacle. In Berlin there were marching bands, torchlight processions, group singing and college songs, parades, movie cameras, and members of the cultural elite.

“This is not meant to trivialize the impact of any such bonfire. Most officially sanctioned fires are designed to control, and to announce what they stand for and what will be accepted under their rule. Burnings like those of the Nazis have something in common with the early modern burning of books in Europe. They announced what would be acceptable in future, and in the process shaped the new public sphere. The book burnings are the symbol; the repressive legislation that came in its wake was what enforced it.”

Here is a snippet of an interview with Raphaell Vella by Susan Johanknecht, who is my course leader.

Susan Johanknecht: Can you discuss the word 'biblioclasm' in relation to your practice?

Raphael Vella: I’ve used the word to refer to work that destroys or alters actual books. It applies especially to artists who work with books as a sculptural medium, like the British artist John Latham, who I met in 2005. As you know, I’ve produced site-specific installations and sculptural work using books or book pulp – these are all examples of artistic biblioclasm. On the other hand, drawings of books are not, strictly speaking, examples of biblioclasm, unless they are made on book pages. My relation with biblioclasm has evolved quite a lot: from sculptural work in relief or three dimensions and installations to overprinted book pages. In 2006, I took the process a step further, or rather, I took it back to drawing. But this is not a straightforward representation of biblioclasm. In many cases, it is no longer a type of drawing that expresses directly an object placed before my eyes but a type of drawing that has already passed through other media – like television, or combinations of sculpture, photography and digital software – before ending up on a sheet of paper. The pages from religious books are still there, but the political implications of these drawings do not always permit me to treat them simply as objects of direct experience, but also, or especially, as ideas we learn through other sources. Sources like television and the Internet.