by Diana Damian
Review of Time has fallen asleep in the afternoon sunshine, Fierce Festival, March-April 2012, Birmingham.
Amongst the shelves of Birmingham’s brutalist Central Library, live books are being read; there’s a quiet, nuanced vocal soundtrack underpinning the tapping of keyboards, shuffling through books and puncturing sounds of freshly sharpened pencils. A living book is a play with memory; a smoothly narrated paragraph is interrupted by a pause, a hesitation from the performer, a wink at the deliberate unevenness of recitation, its toying with memory, on the edges of forgetfulness. The book speaks with a personal cadence, the literary fleshed out before the viewer’s eyes, embodied yet discrete; there’s nothing aggressive about this recitation.
A live book is not only an encounter with the narrative, but also a dialogue about saving, transmitting, and recording; about preserving and forgetting at the same time. A book can be safe in someone’s mind, yet it also appropriates that personal history with it in the act of learning and reciting. Capitalizing on both the process of memorizing and that of reciting, Mette Edvardsen’s piece explores the nature of books in an age of immediacy, and what spending time with a memory means. ‘Time Has Fallen Asleep...’ is an intervention into the history of the Central Library, and an examination of the body and the voice as uneven archives and unreliable witnesses. The piece focuses on making visible the mediated experience of a living book, the shift in meaning arising from translating a written score into a spoken one.
Based on Ray Bradbury’s ‘Fahrenheit 451’, ‘Time Has Fallen Asleep... ‘ engages with possible narratives conflated by the contents of the books performed. If in Bradbury’s sci-fi novel, whose title refers to the temperature at which paper begins to burn, the danger of the materiality of books is challenged by their embodiment, in Edvardsen’s piece this embodiment takes on a more lyrical, meditative quality. Against the shelves packed with books, in a building whose future is under question, the living books are testament to the power of recitation as a form of resistance, and a way of capturing the ephemerality of a narrative experience. But it is also an elegy to loss, to the words and stories without record, to voices that slip past documented history. A living book doesn’t simply embody its referent, but hides words, reveals others and breathes life into the literary, displacing authorship in favour of a focus on sustaining cultural memory. Living books are an animate archive ready to be consulted, a vivid encounter and an unreliable document.
A one on one with a live book is intimate, personal, shadowed by the cultural memory of its site and the history of its performer. In the act of reciting a book there is a transference of memory and a visible process of remembering that stains the authority of the original narrative voice; a living book is constantly becoming, welcoming of accidents, toying on the edges of forgetting. From the rawness of JG Ballard’s ‘Crash’, whose trading in the pathology of violence is displaced in favour of a candid appreciation of its literary qualities, to the recalling of forms of oral storytelling through the warmth and cadence of a recitation of Aesop’s Fables, ‘Time Has Fallen Asleep...’ is an intimate encounter with the literary and a gesture towards the ramifications of forgetting.
Article published in this is tomorrow contemporary art magazine, 5 April 2012