“Destroy, and you create”: an Auto-Destructive History lesson for Jack Hroswith

Linda Toigo, Medieval and Modern History
(Suggestions for Further Study for Jack Hroswith), 2013

Linda Toigo, Medieval and Modern History, 2013 (detail)

Linda Toigo, Medieval and Modern History, 2013 (detail)

Here you  have my latest work, a History school book once belonging to a pupil named Jack Hroswith, that I altered using matches, a glass surface, and the pressure of my fingers – Fire being at the same time an element of destruction and creation.

Truffaut Fahrenheit 451

A still from François Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451, 1966

In an iconic scene from Truffaut’s adaptation of Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, a cynical fireman observes with morbid pleasure and irresistible fascination the destruction of the books in his colleague’s house and exalts at the beauty of the burning process, when pages turn into black surfaces before being reduced to ashes. The man will eventually be killed by the same fire, suggesting that books’ and human beings’ destiny is strongly connected.

Inspired and disturbed by Bradbury’s dystopic vision, I decided to experiment with the use of the same violent and destructive element for my new project.

Gustav Metzger, Auto Destructive Art

Gustav Metzger: auto-destructive art. Nylon sheet being dissolved by acid, 1960

The starting reference for this work has been Auto-Destructive Art, a concept developed in the ’60s by Fluxus member Gustav Metzger, based on “Destroy, and you create”, the idea of shaping a work of art through a disintegrative process: in his first public demonstration, the German artist and activist hid behind a glass surface across which was stretched a sheet of Nylon. The artist then sprayed a hydrochloric acid solution to the fabric, that gradually dissolved creating a glue-like coating on the glass through which Metzger slowly became visible.

In the late 60’s he organized the Destruction In Art Symposium (DIAS) in London, “to focus attention on the element of destruction in Happenings and other art forms, and to relate this destruction in society (from a DIAS press release)“, and asked other artists to respond to this theme: amongst them, book artist John Latham created Skoob Tower, chimneys made of books that were set alight in public spaces around London.

Gustav Metzger with John Latham's Skoob Towers on the South Bank for a DIAS (Destruction in Art Symposium) promotional event, June 1966.John Latham Archive

Gustav Metzger with John Latham’s Skoob Towers on the South Bank for a Destruction in Art Symposium promotional event, June 1966.
John Latham Archive

In my creative process I gave chance a prominent role: with the same morbid fascination that inspired the fire officer in Fahrenheit 451, I let fire burn its way on the pages, and I observed the devastation of words, maps and illustrations.
At the same time, however, I kept a certain level of control on the destructive process developing a quick reaction to avoid the complete dissolution of the book: for every page I waited for the fire to reach a chosen sentence or a specific image before pushing the paper down onto a glass surface with my fingertips.

I created this short video to better describe my process:

The result of my intoxicating fight with fire is a complex and organic form carved into the volume of the book: History is visible from the first page as a delicate texture made of fragments of faces and words where centuries whisper to each other from the edges of the burned pages.

Linda Toigo, Medieval and Modern History, 2013 (work in progress)

Linda Toigo, Medieval and Modern History, 2013 (work in progress)

Linda Toigo, Medieval and Modern History, 2013 (work in progress)

Linda Toigo, Medieval and Modern History, 2013 (work in progress)

Linda Toigo, Medieval and Modern History, 2013 (work in progress)

Linda Toigo, Medieval and Modern History, 2013 (work in progress)

Linda Toigo, Medieval and Modern History, 2013 (work in progress)

Linda Toigo, Medieval and Modern History, 2013 (work in progress)

Linda Toigo, Medieval and Modern History, 2013 (work in progress)

Linda Toigo, Medieval and Modern History, 2013 (work in progress)

Linda Toigo, Medieval and Modern History, 2013 (detail)

Linda Toigo, Medieval and Modern History, 2013 (detail)

Linda Toigo, Medieval and Modern History, 2013 (detail)

Linda Toigo, Medieval and Modern History, 2013 (detail)

Linda Toigo, Medieval and Modern History, 2013 (detail)

Linda Toigo, Medieval and Modern History, 2013 (detail)

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