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Artist makes Minutia a real page-turner

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/3/2011 (2339 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The word "minutia" is often used in a derogatory sense, to mean something trivial, mundane, not worth bothering about. By turning a steady gaze onto the small, the slow and the silent, Calgary-based artist Robert Kelly offers another way of looking at minutiae. In this quirky, contemplative show at the University of Winnipeg's Gallery 1C03, the little things in language and life add up.

Kelly, who works as a multimedia artist and art educator, has organized a whole exhibition around one phrase: "the first time I heard the sound of a page turning." A Chinese immigrant writing to his wife in Hong Kong used these words to describe the quietness of his new Canadian home, and Kelly picked up the quotation in a lunchtime conversation at work.

Calgary artist Robert Kelly's Miniutia features 11 conceptual book works based on the phrase 'the first time I heard the sounds of a page turning.' At right, 'The Book of The.'


Calgary artist Robert Kelly's Miniutia features 11 conceptual book works based on the phrase 'the first time I heard the sounds of a page turning.' At right, 'The Book of The.'

Clearly, it stuck with him. Minutia consists of 11 conceptual book works, each centring on one of the 11 words in the phrase. So we have The Book of The, The Book of First, The Book of Time and so on, crafted into leather-bound, gilt-lettered volumes placed on wooden lecterns.

Each volume includes a foreword by an outside source -- there are thoughts from an Anglican priest, an archaeologist, an art student, a mother and writer -- as well as a preface and an epilogue by Kelly himself. Within this strict structure, the books feature free-ranging riffs on language and meaning, sound and silence, time and its mysterious passing.

There are passages of concrete poetry, reproductions of notebooks packed with scrawls and sketches, an extensive sampler of adverbs, one book made up entirely of phrases from other books (The Book of Of, of course), and two whole books dedicated to the word "the." (Kelly enjoys the paradox of the endless, trance-like repetition of a word that is used to denote singularity.)

Some sections are serious. Kelly pursues Magritte-like questioning of linguistic truth and the complexities of personal identity in paired pages that offer seemingly contradictory statements ("I never sleep," and "I sleep a lot," in The Book of I). Other passages are sweetly comic. The Book of Sound includes a chapter on the noises the artist's dog makes when sleeping ("eeuueeuuAAAsssuuu..." ).

Finally, there's an ongoing interactive component to the exhibition. Kelly has transferred each word in grey typeset onto the gallery's white walls and invited viewers to comment and question by writing on the walls with pencil. Because this is a university setting, there's a certain amount of metaphysical musing and semiotic inquiry. (Do the lecterns imply an attitude of authority, or is the artist using stuffy conventions to undermine them?) There's also a scattering of the usual goof-off undergraduate graffiti. (The statement, "I'm sick of routine," is cheekily echoed by the nearby declaration, "I'm sick of poutine," for instance, with a helpful little drawing.)

Minutia does have to deal with the tricky issue of exhibiting books, which demand duration and concentration, in a gallery. Kelly, who's been living with this work for years, suggests taking an hour or two to really experience the show. On the other hand, in the epilogue to the 309-page The Book of The, Kelly candidly admits that even he hasn't read all those "the's." Most viewers will skim here and dip there, and they'll end up reading (and maybe writing) their own versions of this work.

The important thing is to hear the sound of the page turning.

Read more by Alison Gillmor.


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