Q & A - the Book of Hours
Caroline Langill interviews George Walker about the Book of Hours. First, what made you decide to produce Book of Hours? I have had a long fascination with the picture narrative that stems from my childhood obsession with comic books and later the discovery of the wood engraved wordless narratives of Frans Masereel, Lynd Ward and Laurence Hyde. The Book of Hours came about because I was interested in how certain events in culture change the direction a society is headed. Just as the sinking of the Titanic showed how technology is not invincible; the events of 9/11 changed our idea of how power operates in tandem with economic policies, notions of security and our faith in the concept of nationhood. 9/11 is difficult to rationalize and understand. The events around 9/11 represent the worst of our world . We can write volumes about the circumstances that led to this disaster and still we are perplexed by such hate that seems counter to the religious beliefs that some claim inspired it. For me the only way to explore the complexities of 9/11 is in a wordless narrative. The story becomes about symbol and sign and allows for multiple narratives to exist at once. The picture narrative becomes the symbolic code for the reader to decipher when the traditional text is missing. This type of reading pictures is similar to the idea that Roland Barthes expressed in his essay The Third Meaning. Barthes describes a level of signifier that is beyond his categories of communication and symbol and reaches deeper into a “poetic” realm of meaning. My wood-engraved narrative does not provide the reader with the whole story. Rather, it sketches the story through a visual sequence that relates closely to what one might experience in a dream. The decision to illustrate the hours up to the crashes is brilliant and very moving. How did you choose the images? I am assuming you created them from your own assumptions about the activities going on in those offices, but did you have any other sources? The images are a mirror of the everyday experiences of average Americans. Most of us live day-to-day not expecting disaster to strike us down. Our immediate concerns are with family, friends and co-workers and what will we do about supper? We do not see ourselves as players in a larger political narrative that is unfolding around us. It is impossible for us to be apolitical because our participation in the culture of the American way of life is a political act. I tried to make images that described the social everyday of Americans as they make their way through the work week. I did research into the events leading up to 9/11. I wanted to find out who was working in the towers and what the weather was like on September 10th. Out of respect for those who lost their lives I did not want to identify specific people but I did make an effort to construct the daily narrative around a specific place. My job in an office gave me scenarios that inspired what the working day would have been like in the offices of the twin towers. I even researched the computers that would have been in offices in 2001 for accuracy and imagined the rest. What influenced this body of work outside of the events of September 11, 2001? Any other artwork? Theory? The original Book of Hours? Illuminated manuscripts were definitely on my mind in the creation of my wordless story. As you know a book of hours is a form of illuminated manuscript that was used as a devotional tome in the Middle Ages. A typical book of hours would contain a collection of religious texts, prayers and psalms and a calendar to follow. A timely devotional life that paid attention to the demands of a watchful God was an important aspect of 15th century life. How do we live a perfect life? What does it involve and how do we know if we are on the right path? Would be questions that the devote would be interested in knowing the answers to. All books have a sense of the sacred. Until you’ve read a book from cover to cover, it holds the promise of the sacred and the hope to reveal the unknown and make sense of our place in a complex world. This is the what the symbol of the book as an object holds for us and it is a truth today as it was centuries ago. Today we follow a book of hours that is not written down. The cultural habits and norms of a society can be imbedded in the consumption of popular culture. Most North Americans follow a 9-5 job with an hour for lunch. Millions watch television religiously and follow all the popular media in the pursuit of entertainment, truth and meaning. Like the book of hours in the middle ages, the popular media provides a path to salvation known as the American Dream. It is open to interpretation whether the American Dream is the path or the salvation or both or neither. George A. Walker AOCA, BEd, MA, RCA Associate Professor —Faculty of Art Ontario College of Art & Design University 100 McCaul Street, Toronto. Canada M5T 1W1
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Caroline Langill PhD interviews George Walker about the Book of Hours.