Scriptorium: Devout Exercises of the Heart, 2010

September 9, 2011

scriptorium robert kushner
Scriptorium consists of 500 small drawings and paintings executed directly on pages of old books and manuscript. They will be exhibited pinned to the wall with simple dressmaker’s pins. The arrangement is variable as to dimensions and number of images.  The pages have been removed from discarded and damaged books from America, England, France, Germany, Italy, Greece, Russia, Turkey, India, Pakistan, Tibet and Japan. They date from ca. 1500-1920.
Each page supports a drawing or painting of a flower, leaf, or plant drawn from life.  Scriptorium has been executed over the year of 2009 both in my studio and during travels to Rochester, Colorado, Long Island, and Panama. Consequently, there is a wide range of seasonal flowers. They have been drawn on the page using many different techniques and conventions of depiction–from faintest outlines that nearly disappear in the blocks of text, to strongly rendered forms that nearly obliterate the text underneath them. The ink lines or the areas of color react with the absorbency of the paper and the density of the text in an infinitely varying manner.
I am intrigued by the resultant layers of visual connection from one finished page to the next, and also by the fact that this information is, for the most part, dispensable knowledge: an old logarithm table, the text of a Noh play, an old handwritten property deed. But then, some of them are very potent texts: Shakespeare, Homer, Virgil, and religious treatises. All of these pages miraculously survived in one way or another and all of them came into my possession either by gift or purchase of distressed books.
A scriptorium is the room in a medieval monastery where old books were copied by hand. Devout Exercises of the Heart is the title of one of the books whose pages I have used, and is also a metaphor for my sustained activity on this project.
I would like to think that these superimposed flowers in Scriptorium bring the pages back to life, make us wonder who owned and read these books, and through their foxing, notations and even burned areas, allow us to ponder their varied histories.

Robert Kushner, New York

A recent review from Denmark’s Weekendavisen reads:
“In Kushner’s work hundreds of years of testimony and recognition of flowers grow across the typography, the letters and the Babylonian confusion of world languages. It is well thought out, well seen, and beautifully done, yes even moving, to witness how language literally is flowering in Kushner’s scriptorium. Language is being touched, we are being touched.”



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