Monday, July 28, 2014

Cranky Book Review: The Cage by Martin Vaughn-James

"...the entire elaborate network of components begins to shudder into wild spasmodic motion, rattling almost farcically within the framework of the machine."

In Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead there's a wonderful character named Lois Cook, obviously built upon the public persona of Gertrude Stein. She's a writer who "refuses" to follow the conventional rules of grammar or syntax. With a bit of a wink, she's actually taking advantage of psuedo-intellectuals who need works of art to point to and feel superior about, without being able to actually state what those works mean.

I think this book falls into that category; it's designed in some way to make us think that something is going on, rather than nothing.

Every page has a wonderful pen and ink drawing of various objects interacting within various rooms. Sometimes they float. Sometimes they pierce each other. Sometimes there are pictures of the objects. Often, there are blots of ink. They are drawn in a style that reminds me of David Macaulay's 1970s architecture books (Motel of the Mysteries could almost be a parody of this), especially in the precise shading of stone.

Every page also has text that usually has no relation to the picture. There are vague descriptions of things that make up some sort of imprecise machinery. Or perhaps some sort of odd sexual practice is taking place. I suppose the whole book could be some sort of metaphor for the creative process as a combination of the two. But there's no way to know.

I guess this is a curiosity, a look into what the 1970s avant-garde thought was a pushing of the limits of narrative. But it's also fairly cold and boring. The descriptions evoke technical scientific text to the point of monotony that mirrors the constant rearranging of objects and rooms in relation to each other. It takes too long to read to just be a surreal amusement. If it wasn't for the fact that this was a small-press offering that couldn't possibly make any money when it was released in 1975, I would think that this must be a joke of some kind, another spot-on parody of artists being weird for the sake of attention.

But I must be wrong, because the "experts" like it. Follow the link and judge for yourself.

As for me, I never thought I'd read an art book that would make me nostalgic for Ayn Rand...

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