Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Nobody has ever seen the time

Sonja Danowski, winner of the Young Illustrator Award 2007, on illustration, book art and analogic structures.

Hello Sonja! Everything OK in Regensburg?

Yes, greetings from Bavaria. What are you doing in Berlin?

I am wondering about something. For instance: If I look at the book you just sent us, 30 x 50 cm, nearly a folio. Why did you make such a sumptuous book? Money can hardly be the reason…

Sumptuous books take time. And this is exactly what makes them so exciting. I did not have the feeling that I had to take time for this project; I just invested time in the book. It was not a bad investment: A book and the pictures it features will remain for me and the others.

It is an opinion shared by many, that book art was dead. It is hardly taught at universities any more. Why do you think it still makes sense to keep book making alive as a medium?

Books leave much space. At a closer look printed sheets of paper unfold three-dimensional images of thought. This makes sense. To me book art starts where something is or is emerging inside. An artistic book shares its content with the beholding reader or the reading beholder and encourages him or her to free thoughts from static bounds.

What development do you see in book art? It is the year 2008 and we do not live in times of Henry van de Velde, who – as far as I know – did not only revolutionize Art Nouveau but cover art as well…

Though much has been done in the fields of formal development in cover art for example, there is still much to do. I find the prospects of books (that is books as objects of art!) in expansion and the dynamic of space. Illustrations are more generous than text; they can be read top to bottom, from the left to the right, from centre to borders, as a single picture or as sequences of pictures. The chronology of perception remains open, which gives a special dynamic to it.

So basically the formal development is no longer that important?

No, and it’s not decisive either. In my view it is not the medium but the content which is responsible for development. Media is a data carrier providing a certain capacity for content. In particular a book never stands apart; its character is formed by the media text and picture. Texts contain letters, pictures become apparent to us by form and colours. It all leads to a complexity that offers countless possible combinations.

This combination is decisive for book art and leads to new outcomes time and time again, as a result of interdependencies between the selected media. Illustration is vintage and the media as such is not new; but this does not apply to motifs, characters and sites presented, the combined form and structure. Sometimes new trails can especially be discovered in ordinary motifs and words, which we do not deliberately perceive because their presence seems artless.

The form of a book parallels our perception of presence in different aspects; by turning the page things of the past disappear and remain in our thoughts, while the future is hidden in the following pages. Furthermore a book can be flipped open at any page as often as you like. A book is a ubiquitous archive.

This is where the content takes effect. What one has read and beheld, will influence viewpoints outside of the book as well. That may be nothing new, but still innovative, for it broadens one’s views.

In your latest book “Nebelnudeln” which I have here, you develop a reflexion on time from the portrait of an old man. Or say: on the perception of time.

My book “Nebelnudeln” provides an insight to the compilation of an analogy-archivist – Ernesto. Ernesto is a likeable greengrocer with Italian roots. There are many things which Ernesto likes best, for instance shop-windows, Italian ice-cream, raw-fruit-customers, snail-weather, dogs, and pasta.

Ernesto is gifted: as an analogy-archivist he puts things into order in endless juxtaposition. At first sight this may appear boring, but Ernesto is good at combining and as a director – better: as a prop master.

And this is how he restructures his own perception of time?

The human memory works in chronological order. Not surprising that much gets lost as elements are continuously overlapped by later impressions and therefore loose presence and importance. Ernesto’s archive in contrast works with analogic systems of a dynamic character. In the moment of being archived, objects loose their bonds to time and become versatile elements, ubiquitous, and can be combined in any order and used at any time.

Drawing has a particular advantage to other formats, for example literary texts or photography, doesn’t it?

Definitely! Drawings are of analogic structure which makes them available to any combination and opens access to any element. Drawn image-worlds are timeless and available at any time. Illustration has no intention to resemble reality (as photography does). Nonetheless they can appear real. As soon as I had found an interesting combination of objects I replaced elements of a picture by similar, analogue ones. I change sparrows to cats, ladies to gentlemen, white haired men to poodles or Granny Smith to turnip cabbage.

Chronologic perception defines single objects by their relation to others. What is perceived together therefore belongs together. Order and fix points are static and keep together key-pictures in a hierarchical manner. Unchronological perception in contrast gives equal meaning to any object. It defines each element as such, handles it available at any time and makes nothing disappear though time passes.

Analogic structures are not subject to chronologic hierarchy. In my choice of words and motifs I did not follow a binding pattern but have been inspired by appearing objects. In doing so I kept open every possibility to continue pictures and text in any manner I wanted. The result was a collection of illustration-objects; 289 water-coloured drawings with comments which I archived in a large-sized book.

Let’s return to the illustrated book: What do you think is special about illustrated books?

Illustrations comment a text in a very unbinding manner and enrich a book by another approach of perception. Illustrations transport atmosphere-plot and present characters and sites which agree or disagree with one’s own imagination, therefore they broaden imaginativeness. By doing so, images and text can go parallel without rivalling each other.

This is the case in comic-strips as well.

In a comic-strip image and text are on one common ground, an image-ground with text. The analogy is more binding. Films are similar; sound is an integrated part of the scene. A single picture acts in a frame and stands for itself. For lack of fix points it can be pre- or back-thought within restricted limits.

This neglecting of an order, of the tendency and chronological order is one of the topics of “Nebelnudeln”. Content and display seem to correspond. Do you see a current problem in bounds of time which possibly define us to much?

Yes, I think we overestimate time. Nobody has ever seen time; nonetheless everybody seems to have an image of it. Time is a superior system of orientation to our society; everybody takes part in this, be it consciously or unconsciously. Therefore time is a topic that can only be dealt with in a rather abstract manner. Maybe time can be seen like a book, as a medium which can store an infinite number of impressions. Chapters and pages, years and days, create a new formal order. How the content is proceeded remains an open question.

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