The Lightweight / OCTO

The Lightweight / OCTO

At the open Studio/Gallery in Saxmundham this month there will be an opportunity to see a variety of  artist’s books and designer bindings by Arabella Crum Ewing, Joe Lubbock, Eileen M. Clarke, Bob Wakefield and others.

As usual there will be artworks (watercolours, woodcuts, etchings  and lithographs from the LIGHTWEIGHT) and cards for sale.

I  will also be showing some of the unique books I made while working at the Village des Arts et Metiers du Livre, in the Languedoc region of France – OCTO, GOING OVER, GOING UNDER, and maquettes for  the LIGHTWEIGHT, a  playful sequence of  images featuring an encounter between a bird and a pear, inspired  by the French philosopher Simone Weil and the Czech writer Milan Kundera’s book  The Unbearable Lightness of Being.   

At the beginning of the book  Kundera poses the question :  which is positive – lightness or weight?   In OCTO and the LIGHTWEIGHT maquette this question is explored through a consideration of the book form itself. Should we read from left to right, or right to left?  Where and how should a book begin?  Is male positive and female negative, nature negative and number positive etc?

The metaphor offered by Octo and the LIGHTWEIGHT  is that of wallking: we should read (and live and find meaning) as we walk:  just as the one-legged are handicapped, so are the intellectually one-sided, condemned to permanent separation, isolation, opposition and ultimately war with the “other side”.  The reading (or meaning) or pattern suggested by Octo and the Lightweight is that of the walker who wishes to climb a steep hill.  A straight ascent may sometimes prove impossible;  to reach one’s goal the walker may be obliged to cross backwards and forwards over the same terrain, slowly climbing the hill through a series of hairpin bends, like the weaver at the loom. As we criss cross back and forth in our reading from one side of the book to the other, we find ourselves engaged in a dialectical reading that encompasses and supersedes dualities.  Both sides of a duality are necessary for a “true reading” that makes sense.  If one or other is supressed, the book makes no sense.  The meaning or sense can only be found in physical alternation from right to left, like walking – or electricity.


I reproduce here, by kind permission of Milan Kundera, his words that inspired me:


“What shall we choose?  Weight or lightness? Parmenides posed this very question in the 6th Century before Christ.  He saw the world divided into pairs of opposites: warmth/cold, being/non-being, light/darkness, fineness/coarseness, warmth/cold.   One half of the opposition he called positive (light, fineness, warmth, being), the other negative.  We might find this division into positive and negative poles childishly simple except for one difficulty: which is positive, weight or lightness?  Parmenides responded lightness is positive, weight negative. Was he correct or not? That is the question. Is heaviness truly deplorable and lightness splendid?

The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground.  But in the love poetry of every age the woman longs to be weighed down by the man’s body. The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life’s most intense fulfilment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and fruitful they become.  Conversely the absolute absence of burden causes a man to take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half-real, his movements as free as they are insignificant.

What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?  The only certainty is: the lightness/weight opposition is the most mysterous, most ambiguous of all.”