The Boston Athenaeum, Feb 12 – Apr 25, 1998

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Boston -- Susan Gamble and Michael Wenyon have been artists-in-residence at the Athenæum during 1997 and 1998, and present here a collection of more than fifty images of books from the shelves of the Library. The exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue, with an essay by Norman Bryson.

The word "bibliomancy" is defined as the act of using a passage chosen at random from a book, often the Bible, to provide enlightenment about problems or questions. The physical body of the book thereby acquires prophetic powers. "For us," say Wenyon & Gamble, "the selection of books for these holograms itself involved a kind of bibliomancy of chance discoveries and impulsive decisions, which created meanings we had not anticipated when we brought the titles together. Each viewer will find his or her own readings, following individual associations and interests. A book is always more than the bare contents of its text, and this quality seems to be amplified in holograms that both assert and deny the physicality of the object."
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The artists set up their holographic equipment, including a laser, in the basement of the Athenæum in 1997. For a year they recorded holograms of books on narrow glass photographic plates that they cut to the size and shape of the book spine, producing images that recorded the three-dimensional form and depth of a book, as well as the play of light across leather bindings and gilt embossing. The optical fidelity of these images make the "books" seem uncannily present, yet also remote and inaccessible, existing only as phantoms of light behind glass.

The process of holographically documenting books from the Athenæum's collection involved a slow cataloguing process that investigated the form of the book, its representation, and its transformation into a hologram, as well as the history and culture reflected in the printed holdings around it. In an age when the larger role of the book is being questioned by developments in computers and communication technology, these technologically-based images of books are stimulating reflections of the current and future status of the printed word.

Biographical Note

Susan Gamble and Michael Wenyon have collaborated as "Wenyon & Gamble" for fifteen years, combining backgrounds in art and science to make art using holography, computers, and installations. They met in London at the art department of Goldsmiths' College, London and lived two years in Tsukuba, Japan before moving to Boston in 1993. In that year they were awarded the UNESCO Prize for the Arts for their development of new media. They have exhibited at the Art Tower Mito in Japan, the Tate Gallery, Liverpool, UK, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, as well as in group shows at MIT's List Gallery and at the Fuller Museum of Art in Brockton, Massachusetts. Their work is in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.


The Officers, Trustees, and Director of THE BOSTON ATHENAEUM invite you to attend two talks in conjunction with the current exhibition BIBLIOMANCY: Holograms by Wenyon & Gamble

Thursday, March 19, 1998, at 6:00 PM
SVEN BIRKERTS, "Sense and Semblance: Implications of Virtuality"
Sven Birkerts is the author of four books of essays, most recently The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading In An Electronic Age. He has also edited and contributed to Tolstoy's Dictaphone: Technology and the Muse. A new collection of essays will be published later this year by Graywolf Press. He is a regular contributor to The New Republic, the New York Times Book Review, Harper's, and other publications.

Thursday, March 26, 1998, at 6:00 PM
MICHAEL WENYON, "True Confessions of a Bibliomancer"
Artist-holographer Michael Wenyon has collaborated with Susan Gamble as "Wenyon & Gamble" for fifteen years; Wenyon & Gamble have been the 1997-98 artists-in-residence at the Athenaeum, and he will reflect on their work at the Library. [...]

These programs are open to members and one invited guest. Reservations are necessary and may be made after 10 March for "Sense and Semblance" and after 17 March for "Confessions of a Bibliomancer" by telephoning the Athenaeum's reservation line 617-227-8112.
Press Release issued by the Boston Athenaeum, January 1998.