Haris Epaminonda and The Infinite Library, Andalusian Contemporary Art Center

An exhibition is first and foremost a space, as is a book or an archive. As with exhibitions, books and archives, there are a wide variety or species of spaces (to say the least, Georges Perec), including those that deny or go beyond these devices of vision and knowledge. Haris Epaminonda’s fragmented project (Nicosia, Cyprus, 1980) is primarily spatial: an inquiry into how a place is transformed since it is named and then intervened. Therefore, what is displayed is as important as the way of displaying it. Thus, the prop elements are decisive and are repeated over and over again. The space, the archive, the book and the exhibition must be understood, therefore,

Haris Epaminonda’s individual projects are like manuscripts that preserve the traces of previous ones, whose writing has been erased or modified to give rise to another new project. At last his method is to write on what has already been written, intervene on what has already been intervened, modify what has already been modified, exhibit what has already been exhibited.

His work –and the exhibition at the CAAC is a clear example of this– is based on variations, often supported by slight changes that produce small mutations within a never-explicit will of meaning and that sinks his process into a chain of affinities. electives. The remembrance of a close past, be it physical, temporal or biographical, is recreated through images succinctly manipulated and therefore transformed into others. It is, like every act in which memory intervenes, something fictitious because it is based on memories that are not only your own.

Surely in his projects / variations there is an order that, just like in chaos, can stimulate the interpretative will, although perhaps it is also advisable to warn that it is not of much use to unravel it, since perhaps it is only useful to its author. At the end of the day, in the accumulation of any archive, library or exhibition as possible places of knowledge, what results is the image of an abstraction that, as in a musical composition, allows variations of certain combinatorial series.

Haris Epaminonda (born 1980 in Nicosia) is a Cypriot photographer, and video and multimedia artist, who lives and works in Berlin.

Haris Epaminonda studied at the Royal College of Art and Kingston University in London, graduating in 2003. Epaminonda and her partner Daniel Gustav Cramer (born 1975) have worked on their collaborative project, Infinite Library, since 2007. They have exhibited their work on a number of occasions, including in 2012 at the Kunsthalle Lissabon and in dOCUMENTA (13) in Kassel.

Haris Epaminonda’s work incorporates collage, installation, film, and photography. Initially, Epaminonda sourced photographic images from French magazines and books from the 1940s to the 1960s. From 2005, she started focusing on black-and-white collages of illustrations of people and architecture. In 2007, she began concentrating on color images and paper. Epaminonda creates idiosyncratic image compositions, which are created by photographing found photo materials, such as in her Polaroid-Serie (2008–09). Epaminonda also makes films with a Super8 camera, which she then digitally cuts—this, consequently, creates movie loops of different lengths.

The focus of her work centers on expansive collages and multilayered installations, which result from a combination of images, films, photographs, sculptures, and found objects. The room installations have a certain orientation, but can also become a labyrinth, which sets viewers on a particular path. Epaminonda was nominated for the 2013 Preis der Nationalgalerie.

Epaminonda creates narratives based on the objects found: photographs, paintings, individual pages from books, sculptures and even architectural elements. She always builds narratives with a different meaning from the source materials she uses. He creates collages, installations, art books and video art. She is interested in the issues of search itself and also mystification. In his works, he focuses on the emotional form of communication. He usually titles his projects by giving them numbers (Volume). Thanks to this, viewers have more room to interpret them and, moreover, their emotional feeling becomes more important than cold analysis. The reason for such numerical naming of projects is also the fact of their mutual penetration. Each Epaminonda work is derived from the previous one.

Haris Epaminonda met Cramer in 2001. They started cooperation, which resulted in The Beehive – the basis for the long-term library project (The Infinite Library). As part of it, artists create collages / books from illustrations of their choice. On the basis of photographic found footage, giving new contexts to collected photographs and illustrations, they created a collection of more than 50 objects. They use the same practice by creating complex artistic installations in the galleries displaying them. While building exhibitions, they are not limited to photographs and illustrations only, but also create specially dedicated sculptures.

The Exhibition
Complementary documentation for the exhibition Haris Epaminonda & The Infinite Library

The book, at first, is lying down. It is nothing more than a slight elevation of the surface on which it rests, a discreet plateau that rises above the landscape of a desk or table. Unopened, the book has an almost uniform surface, interrupted only by small imperfections or abrasions on its dark covers. He seems not only closed, but somewhat reticent or self-absorbed, as if he doesn’t want to reveal his secrets too lightly. It hardly casts a shadow on the white plain that surrounds it.

Once opened, the book poses a spatial paradox. On the one hand, it continues to aspire to the topic of two dimensions. Instead of admitting its full three-dimensionality, it merely extends laterally on its support; a hand reaches out to him, perhaps, to smooth the pages that have been wrinkled into illegible folds. On the other hand, the directions in which the book could be said to be moving begin to multiply. Pages not seen or unread unfold before us like a succession of rooms to explore; page numbers help us remember the way back. On a single page – or better on two, since the modern book is always a diptych -, the eye wanders the surface from one image to another (because it is, this is fundamental, an illustrated book) or gets lost in the depths of a single image. Rows or text blocks guide your gaze horizontally or force it to slide back and forth to vertically lower it to the bottom edge of the page.

The vocabulary that we use (at least in English) to describe it suggests that the book – this curious object that is never entirely itself – covers a much larger spatial volume than it might initially seem; We talk about it almost as if it were a habitable space. The word “volume” already confirms this: a set of two-dimensional surfaces is associated with a thickness that we never really experience, trapped as we are on the surface of each page. Editors talk about the “length” of a book – they mean the number of pages – and in English printers use the word “gutter” to describe the empty center area between two pages of text. These metaphors have to do with bounded space, with a type of containment; but in reality the book escapes from its margins and its borders and is theoretically infinite.

The materialized and imagined spaces in The Infinite Library are both modest and luxurious, localized and unlimited. Regarding the fantastic expansion of these spaces – the way in which the disparate fragments of the project seem to suggest an infinite unfolding – we can see in The Infinite Library a deliberate tribute to Jorge Luis Borges. In his famous story “The Library of Babel”, the Argentine fiction writer presents a library that is also the universe itself, a vertiginous space that “consists of an indefinite number, and perhaps infinite, of hexagonal galleries, with vast ventilation shafts in the middle, surrounded by very low railings. From any hexagon you can see the lower and upper floors: endlessly. The gallery distribution is invariable”. In this world that rigidly self-replicates and has no end, an infinite number of books reside, that is, all the books that could exist are here in the library. Somewhere in this immeasurable profusion of volumes, there must also be, supposes the melancholic narrator of the tale, a single book that is the sum of all the others.

“The Library of Babel” is but the most obvious of Borges’ stories that could be said to be alluded to by The Infinite Library. The fatal theme of the double appears continuously in Borges’s fiction; sometimes it is directly related to the book as a physical or metaphysical object. The case of “Pierre Menard, author of Don Quixote” stands out, where Borges imagines a writer who plans to write Cervantes’s novel again: not copy or imitate it, but write, as if it were the first time, the same text that the Spanish novelist. The resulting book unravels and rearticulates the original novel in a new (but at the same time identical) way; literary history folds in on itself and swallows its own tail: “Menard (perhaps unintentionally) has enriched by means of a new technique the detached and rudimentary art of reading: the technique of deliberate anachronism and erroneous attributions. That technique populates the calmest books with adventure ”.

The ideal book – the book that contains all the books – has long been one of the favorite fantasies of Western writers and thinkers; animates, for example, the great encyclopedias of the 18th and 19th centuries. But this compendiating eagerness had special resonance in the modernist literature of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A few decades before the appearance of the encyclopedic novels by Marcel Proust and James Joyce, the symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé had dreamed of a perfect book that emulated the openness, diversity, and unpredictability of the modern newspaper. Instead of the monotony of page after page of identical (and “unbearable”) columns of text, the book would be spread out so that its boundaries would be unclear. It would fray at the edges, as it were, in flourishes and digressions; Literature would be explicitly transformed into a matter of graphic layout on and beyond the page.

There are undoubtedly echoes of the fantastic books of Borges and Mallarmé in the objects, installations and films that make up The Infinite Library. But the transformations and expansions that Epaminonda and Cramer effect in the book – its modification until turning it into an almost fictitious library of chimeric or hybrid volumes – have more in common with the anatomy of the book proposed in more specific and prosaic terms by the French novelist Michel Butor. In his essay “The Book as Object,” first published in 1964 – that is, in the decade in which many of The Infinite Library’s books were created – Butor analyzes the proliferation of books in the post-war period and concludes that “We are rediscovering the book as a total object. Not so long ago, the means used to produce and distribute it forced us to speak only of its shadow. The changes that have occurred in these areas are raising the veils. The book is beginning to appear before our eyes again in its true form. ”

According to Butor, the traditional book is nothing more than a “volume” or container for a discreet and uniform content; the narration or the conventional essay must be read from beginning to end and from left to right: “the other two dimensions and directions of the volume – from top to bottom in the case of the column; from closer to farther on the page – they are generally seen as entirely secondary to the first axis ”. It is these directions or secondary dimensions that constitute for Butor the liberated and liberating space of the modern book. He has in mind, above all, those books that we do not read in sequential order, such as catalogs, dictionaries and manuals. We could add to that list all kinds of illustrated texts: encyclopedias, art monographs, technical treatises and books on natural history or remote and exotic places.

Those books, in Butor’s scheme, are expansive and limitless, made up of networks or patterns and not straight narrative lines or clearly defined paragraphs and chapters. The limits of the book, in other words, have begun to blur or, to put it another way, in the contemporary illustrated book we discover once again the original unlimited nature of the book as an object. The earliest modern books, Butor reminds us, were intricately decorated with footnotes, glosses, and resources that pointed outside the volume space. It is this tendency of the book to unfold without end that, in Butor’s opinion, we must recover now; in short, the infinity of the book, which in turn implies the unlimited nature of the library or archive.

The books of The Infinite Library are no longer themselves. They obviously have all the appearance of identical and restricted objects; they are characterized by a special austerity of exterior design: dark covers, without dust jackets, clean guards with discreet colophons containing the names of the artists and the place that each book occupies in the growing series. In reality, the seemingly unified and intact volume has been filleted and opened, turned inside out and revived with insidious inserts taken from anywhere. The book is no longer limited to alluding to references external to it, but has ended up integrating that exterior into its own structure. At the same time, the feeling prevails that the book folds in on itself – confusion reigns between the dimensions in which it has its being – in a movement that lacks logical conclusion.

By dismantling the books and reconfiguring them as bibliographic monsters, Epaminonda and Cramer perform several different operations on the objects they work with. The simplest is to insert images from one book into the pages of another, making the first volume appear essentially intact. In some cases, the interpolations are barely noticeable, just a substitution of one illustration for another so that the graphic rhythm of the page is not interrupted. In others, the inserts are new sheets slipped between existing pages, invaders or undisguised parasites in the volume that houses them. Sometimes a raucous color seeps into the monochromatic distribution of text and image and pushes into the conceptual space invoked by the page.

However, some discretion prevails; The Infinite Library is not exactly a jarring montage exercise. Even in the cases where they are most visually disparate, the books involved seem to respect each other’s design and production conventions; their union is subtle and ironic, almost neutral. However, there is some violence at stake, even if it is not the violence of the modernist juxtaposition. Here is what Butor comments on the graphic representation of one text within another: “reproducing a page, or even a line, within another page generates an optical partition whose properties are totally different from those of the normal partition of a quote. It serves to introduce new tensions in the text, the same ones that we feel so often today in our cities covered in slogans, titles and signs, invaded by the noise of the songs and the words that are relayed, the shocks and shocks that are they produce when what we are reading or hearing is brutally hidden ”. The Infinite Library treats images as if they were displaced quotes: they refer to elements outside the interrupted page and introduce a new distinction or distance in the plane of the page itself.

Sometimes the page is left intact in The Infinite Library, with no image taken from another book placed on it. In exchange, various geometric figures are enigmatically added to the page. The motifs can be subtle enough not to alter the image or page just as much, as in the small circles randomly dotting the wildlife photographs from book no.8 – Im Wald und auf der Heide, 1956 – or the grid of tiny crosses that covers, but does not hide, the athletes from book no. 9, Deutsche Sport, published in 1967. In other cases – book no.11, Praxis der Farben-fotografie, from 1951, is a good example – the intervention is much more extreme: in it, each photograph has been almost completely hidden with a smooth black rectangle that only leaves visible a narrow border with an essentially abstract color. Be that as it may, the effect is in part to suggest a new space – something akin to Butor’s “closeness” – that opens between the reader’s eye and the flat page.

The case of book 11 is illustrative in another sense. Among the properties of the book pointed out by Butor is its intrinsic symmetry. The book is already starting, due to its physical form and graphic design, a kind of duplication: “the first characteristic of the modern western book in this regard is its presentation as a diptych: we always see two pages at a time, one facing the other The union, in the central part of the diptych, creates a zone of reduced visibility, hence the glosses are usually distributed symmetrically: the right margin is the best for the right page, the left for the left ”7. In The Infinite Library, sometimes two copies of the same book are subtly interspersed, a page here and there that repeats unexpectedly. The most ambitious case is that of book number 12, Die Schweigende Welt (1956): the entire book has been duplicated to form a symmetrical whole in which the photographic sequence of underwater exploration advances and recedes as a photographic tide or an example of travel in the time.

It is perhaps no accident that illustrated books modified by Epaminonda and Cramer date primarily from the 1950s and 1960s. Innovations in post-war book design and production – especially the use of color photography and the variety of designs Page use, including the use of bloody images – gave rise, as Butor pointed out in the early 1960s, to an expanded notion of the book’s capabilities to present different types of visual and textual content in the same abstract space on the page. In Butor’s opinion, “newspapers, radio, television and movies will force books to become increasingly ‘exquisite’, increasingly dense. We will go from an object of consumption in the trivial sense of the term to an object of study and contemplation that transforms our way of knowing and inhabiting the universe ”.

This almost utopian project of the book is for Butor both the result, and a necessary counterweight, of the effects of contemporary information technologies; Technology enables, in the era of recorded sound, the moving image and the beginnings of computerized data storage, a conception of the book as an exhibition of simultaneous and total knowledge. The Infinite Library is also in this sense an archeology of the modernist styles of presentation of information and artifacts. Each book is both an enigmatic object in itself, and a fragment in the most extensive network of relationships and reminders that constitutes the museum or conceptual archive of the project.

The title that Epaminonda and Cramer have given to the project is partly ironic, because all libraries are infinite, at least in principle. In his 1974 essay “Species of Spaces,” the experimental writer Georges Perec reflects on what we might call the metaphysics of the page, the way it is nothing at first and then becomes something, if only a handful of signs that guide the reader along the horizontal and vertical. Perec, like Butor, imagines the potentially infinite proliferation of these pages: “If we skin all the printed works preserved in the National Library and carefully extend their pages next to each other, we could entirely cover the Island of Santa Elena or Lake Trasimeno ”9. “Almost everything, at one time or another,” he writes, “passes by a sheet of paper”: the universe is documented tirelessly in letters, newspapers, official texts, shopping lists, train tickets and doctor’s receipts. A vast library shows the trail of every human life and reflects the expansion of the “real” library.

But this profusion of text and image should not be characterized solely by its capacity for expansion nor by its recursions and internal repetitions. There is a kind of materialized hope in the book and in the library to which these late modernist writers – even when they happily dissect the book as an object and the library as a model of all human knowledge, even when they admit that (as Borges writes) the Library is infinite and cyclical and that a single book is little less intricate and indecipherable – they are not yet ready to give up. It is an optimism elegantly expressed in another meditation on the book and the archive from the same period.

In the poetic documentary All the Memory of the World (1956) by Alain Resnais, the National Library of Paris embodies not only the sum of human knowledge, but also a collective project of discovery and liberation: “Here a time is foreshadowed in which They will solve all the puzzles, a time when this and other universes will reveal their keys. And this is because readers, sitting before a fragment of universal knowledge, will find, one after another, pieces of the same secret, which responds to a beautiful name: happiness”. The Infinite Library, in its suggestive and enigmatic reorganization of the remains of an imaginary archive, houses ghosts of this utopian project, even when it assures us, following Borges, that the secret is repeated without end and will never be revealed.

Andalusian Contemporary Art Center
The Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo (CAAC) was created in February 1990 with the aim of giving the local community an institution for the research, conservation and promotion of contemporary art. Later the centre began to acquire the first works in its permanent collection of contemporary art.

In 1997 the Cartuja Monastery became the centre’s headquarters, a move which was to prove decisive in the evolution of the institution. The CAAC, an autonomous organisation dependent on the Andalusian Government (Junta de Andalucía), took over the collections of the former Conjunto Monumental de la Cartuja (Cartuja Monument Centre) and the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Sevilla (Contemporary Art Museum of Seville).

From the outset, one of the main aims of the centre has been to develop a programme of activities attempting to promote the study of contemporary international artistic creation in all its facets. Temporary exhibitions, seminars, workshops, concerts, meetings, recitals, film cycles and lectures have been the communication tools used to fulfil this aim.

The centre’s programme of cultural activities is complemented by a visit to the monastery itself, which houses an important part of our artistic and archaeological heritage, a product of our long history.