Words are butterflies: text erasure and entomology

Linda Toigo, Repair Your Own, 2013

Linda Toigo, Repair Your Own, 2013

Some months ago I was invited to talk about my practice at the Contemporary Fiction Research Seminar titled Reworking the (Non) Literary Object, organized by School of Advanced Studies, University of London.

A video of the event can be seen here.

The seminar included a paper by PhD candidate Kaja Marczewska: her paper focused on the practice of creative writing through erasure, “a mode of writing exemplified by erasure poems that appropriate, as their source texts, non-literary material such as documents, memoirs, court cases” and “on the aesthetics of erasing the non-literary to raise questions about the nature of erasure itself.”

I was particularly interested in some questions she posed:

“What artistic potential does a document as a source present; what constraints might it impose? Do issues of ethics come into play in the context of such a form of erasure aesthetics?”

Tom Phillips, A Humument, 1970

Tom Phillips, A Humument, 1970

Inspired by this concept, and by masterpieces such as Tom Phillips’ A Humument, I decided to respond with a relevant piece that was presented as a work in progress and that I recently managed to complete.

I created “Repair Your Own” to experiment with the practice of the erasure of non-literary text as a form of creative writing integrated into book art.

One page of the original book

One of the pages from the original book

The process started with the choice of the least literary volume I could find in the local charity shop: a DIY manual titled “Repair Your Own Home Electrical Appliance.”

the work in progress, step by step

work in progress, step by step, 1 to 6

The process consisted in analyzing the text page by page and to identify single words that, extracted from their context, would assume different meanings if rearranged with other words on the same page (1)

Once a sentence had been isolated, it was then covered with masking tape (2)

The page was cut away from the book and passed through an inkjet printer (3)

After the image had been printed on the page, the tape could be removed (4), the page could be put back inside the book and the shapes could be cut out (5) so that only the relevant text would be read (6)

Linda Toigo, Repair Your Own, work in progress

Linda Toigo, Repair Your Own, work in progress: removing the tape

Linda Toigo, Repair your Own, work in progress: cutting out the butterflies

Linda Toigo, Repair Your Own, work in progress

Linda Toigo, Repair Your Own, work in progress

Linda Toigo, Repair Your Own, work in progress

Linda Toigo, Repair Your Own, work in progress

Linda Toigo, Repair Your Own, work in progress

Linda Toigo, Repair Your Own, work in progress

This process has been repeated throughout the book for every page that contained some text: the result is a juxtaposition of cryptic, absurd and catastrophic sentences, brought to life by hundreds of colourful insects that seem to want to fly away.

Linda Toigo, Repair Your Own, 2013

Linda Toigo, Repair Your Own, 2013

Linda Toigo, Repair Your Own, 2013

Linda Toigo, Repair Your Own, 2013, detail

Linda Toigo, Repair Your Own, 2013, detail

Linda Toigo, Repair Your Own, 2013, detail

Linda Toigo, Repair Your Own, 2013

Linda Toigo, Repair Your Own, 2013

The illustrations I used represent 169 different kinds of butterflies, found in a beautiful reproduction of  Albertus Seba’s Cabinet of Natural Curiosities recently published by Taschen.

A Collection of Rhopalocera Nymphalidae gathered by Brooklyn Museum Entomologists, Completed in the Mid 20th Century.  (from: http://factory20.com/oddities/vintage-butterfly-entomology-collection/)

A Collection of Rhopalocera Nymphalidae gathered by Brooklyn Museum Entomologists, Completed in the Mid 20th Century.
(from: http://factory20.com/oddities/vintage-butterfly-entomology-collection/)

I chose to use butterflies for two main reasons: firstly because I was interested in suggesting the analogy between the practice of book alteration and paper cutting and the meticulous science of Entomology, where time and patience are essential factors.

And secondly I wanted to focus on the idea of fragility and elusiveness of words, but also on the beauty and magic within them.

Here are some more images of the finished book:

Linda Toigo, Repair Your Own, 2013, detail

Linda Toigo, Repair Your Own, 2013

Linda Toigo, Repair Your Own, 2013, detail

Linda Toigo, Repair Your Own, 2013, detail

Linda Toigo, Repair Your Own, 2013, detail

Linda Toigo, Repair Your Own, 2013, detail

Linda Toigo, Repair Your Own, 2013, detail

Linda Toigo, Repair Your Own, 2013, detail

Linda Toigo, Repair Your Own, 2013, detail

Linda Toigo, Repair Your Own, 2013, detail

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One comment

  1. Linda this is amazing, what beautiful work – you are so talented!! 🙂

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