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When I was little, I wanted to make big things. I wanted to become an architect and build sky-scrapers, but, as I grew, I gradually became more interested in time than in space, and came to appreciate, for instance, the fact that a lot of time can occupy very little room.

So I studied film-making, building not imposing objects but fleeting sequences of images and sounds. Then, as an artist, my first exhibition of sculpture, at Galerie Sonnabend in 1972, consisted of moving things around the gallery space. I had come to consider objects as events and my main concern, in the white cubes of exhibition spaces, was the flux of time. Later, at the Cartier Foundation and the Paris Museum of Modern Art, I showed monumental site specific works, architectural constructions and wall drawings that temporarily occupied vast expanses of space. Those unsettling installations pointed to the past and the future, somehow caught between nostalgia and project, modernist utopias and rude awakenings too. Very few of these large scale architectural installations were physically constructed. Many of them proliferated on paper and, later on, many more, almost totally dematerialized, on computer disks, from which eventually emerged new tangible forms, among them my recent “bookworks.”

My books, disseminated through the Web’s non-space, bounce off screens and fall into people’s hands, to be opened, leafed through at the reader's discretion and pace, and then closed, saving precious space, tucked away in a corner of our minds.

A question of time

Years of professional experience in the media and then my early ventures in the field of multimedia have influenced my work as an artist. Having become increasingly critical of the mass media to which I once contributed daily, I looked for alternatives, and saw some in the first steps of what wasn't yet called multimedia. I perceived the advent of digital technology as a welcome earthquake and remain convinced we have only faintly begun to register its profoundly devastating tremors. Digital information, virtual reality and global interactive networks are progressively redefining how we perceive space and time, essential social activities like work, play, the economy, education, and therefore certainly art. For better or for worse, as people - and certainly not the technology itself - will ultimately decide, a massive cultural transformation is in the works. It affects the way we relate to people, objects and information. Pixels and bits have shattered the notions of original and copy, interactivity has disrupted linear discourse, e-mail travels at the speed of light, sometimes unsettling authority, questioning legitimacy. The Web can hopefully offer not only new channels of distribution, new pipes for goods and profits, it can also open new directions for the flow of ideas and new spaces for cultural exchange on a global scale. Internet is not only creating new markets and consumers, but new creators, new authors, new citizens maybe.


All this is potentially emancipating, liberating. Only potentially, because we've already sensed the darker negative sides. One of the big paradoxes is that networks designed to connect people can also separate them. There is a risk that we'll end up in an increasingly delocalized, dematerialized virtual environment, in which teleworkers, telecitizens, telepeople of all kinds are screened off each in his or her own little customized digital cocoon. Collapsed distances, virtual mazes, e-things and accelerated information flows can indeed become real-time big-time nightmares.

All of this has brought me to reconsider the book and see it in a new light, as a sophisticated, post-digital, light-weight, wireless, interactive medium. I’m not talking about the latest kind of electronic book or e-book mind you. My books are printed on fibre, on paper if you like. They are the real thing and have no screens. My printed books are highly interactive : you can’t click them but you can jump from page to page at an incredible speed and read their images at whatever pace you choose. In that, books are way ahead of television which, as it is broadcast, you can neither slow down nor accelerate. Real books, with pages you can actually turn aren’t networked in cyberspace, but they will always be interconnected in the physical world at least as long as people can read, write and talk to each other. I like to think of the book as the latest development in digital technology, offering what can’t (yet?) be found in cyberspace, something we have perhaps begun to lose: something we can touch.

No screens

My books would be impossible to make without digital technology. The photographs were taken with various digital cameras, an Olympus C-2500L for a while, then an Olympus 5050, then a Nikon D-70 and now I'm moving onto the Nikon D-200 . The high-resolution images are then transferred to a Macintosh PowerBook G4 and were printed on various Epson Stylus Photo inkjet printers, the most recent being the 4800, using various papers, depending on the project. The books are printed on demand, one by one, and assembled by hand. They are promoted and sold on the Web, as well as through a number of solid brick and mortar bookstores and galleries, places where you may hear about them by word of mouth, places where books change hands.

What are the books about? I'm not so sure. The titles point to a wide range of subjects, but this is sometimes deceptive as there is more in titles than meets the eye. The books are meant to be looked through, which probably means, to an extent, constructed and deconstructed by the reader at every page and at different times. They are photographs, therefore about light and shadow, and the way images speak to the mind and the senses. The books are assembled in sequences of images, one image per single or double page, so that photographs appear sometimes juxtaposed but more often in succession, one after the other, in various rhythms, each image both hiding and announcing another, combining depth of field and depth of time. In their intimate format, the books are also possibly about the body, the hand, the eye and the skin. In a world of increasing virtuality, I have become sensitive to the critical poetry of images you can touch. I don't mean fetishes or religious icons, but images and ideas to be kept close at hand. At a time when pictures are too often passively watched on screens or forced upon us, my current work is meant to be leafed rather than clicked through. Some of it can be viewed in reproduction, on the Web site, but those on-screen presentations can not replace the direct encounter with fragile pages you hold in your hands and turn and turn.

Laurent Sauerwein 


Laurent Sauerwein lives in Paris, where he works, teaches, makes books, sculpture, installations, web-pieces...More