In A Passage (Granary Books, 1994), Buzz Spector printed the same passage of text on every page of a 181-page book that was bound in a conventional manner. Spector then tore sequential vertical strips of increasing width from each page, so that the first page was a very narrow strip, the second slightly wider, the third wider still and so on, through the book. When closed and viewed from the spine side, A Passage looks like a regular book, but viewed from the side, the book slopes down, in a wedge shape, as if it has collapsed.
If we open the book and look from above, the effect is complex. The integrity of the text is maintained: we can just about read the whole passage: a fragment of a story about an old friend from Hebrew school visiting Spector, and Spector showing him his altered book. But we are reading the passage across the 181 torn strips, as the book plunges down. It feels as if we are reading one page, and hundreds of pages, at the same time.
The page (like the work) is titled ‘A PASSAGE’, which suggests a generic piece of text that could be any book. ‘A Passage’ refers both to a chunk of text that exists the surface of a page – a passage from a story – and also the sense of moving through something, of tunnelling. This flickering between surface and depth is one of the reasons why the book is interesting. It’s also interesting because the tearing out of pages doesn’t (as we might expect) make the passage illegible – we can still read it. But, at the same time, neither can we get beyond it. If we tear out a page from the book we are reading in the hope of reaching something beneath, the next instalment of the story or something more truthful or revelatory, then those graspings for progress are frustrated in Spector’s book.
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"A Passage" like many of Buzz Spector's works makes me think of the passage of time it took to create it as well as its play with the time it takes to experience the work. It flickers through time as well as the surface and depth you mention. He does something similar and slyly -- but in reverse "to the reader" -- in "Between the Sheets", where all the text appears inside uncut folios. At some point, it dawns on the reader that the author is challenging him or her with a dilemma and dual puzzle. Do I try to read this work by peeking between the sheets, or do I alter it by cutting the pages? What constitutes the work of art? What constitutes the act of experiencing/reading it? Thanks for another chance to enjoy this sly and challenging artist.
A Passage, but also Altered K (2015) and Altered LeWitt (1985), shows what a critical art that stems from the cultural significance and history of the book can be. Through an integration between the codex form, the materiality of the book and the page, and the torn pages, A Passage asks essential questions about ‘the book’ as concept and form, as well as about the practices bound with it. One of the questions concerns the reading experience of it: are we to read it or look at it? Other, about the technique of the body: how do we activate the body when we encounter the work? Or in Spector’s very poetic and evocative own words, while deliberating on the practice to be adopted when encountering an artist's book: “We dress up to go out and look at art; undress, in bed, we read.” [Buzz Spector, The Book Maker’s Desire, (Pasadena: Umbrella Editions, 1995), 16.]