The photographs of books in Simon Brown’s new show, The Weight of Knowledge, lend an unexpected materiality to language, that most insubstantial of cultural endeavors. The books in these images are tattered, misshapen, spotted with mold. Bindings are frayed, ink washed away until it’s nearly invisible. Everything testifies to the tangible existence of language: to the human labor required to create and maintain both books and the words in them. The tactility of Brown’s battered volumes reminds us that the physical world is constantly assaulting and altering language, but they also, more subtly, show us that words change the world as well, a fact Brown acknowledges by binding his books in bricklike units or stacking them up in towers that recall both ancient ziggurats and modern skyscrapers. Meticulously composed, richly nuanced in their use of color and what the artist has called the “perfect imperfection” of daylight, these images give us the book as objet d’art without stripping it of its textual status.
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