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Illuminations, a Book of Letters
CDROM, 2002

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The CD-Rom Illuminations: A Book of Letters models book form, specifically, illuminated manuscripts. The twenty-six “pages” or screens, one for each letter of the alphabet, contains video material put into quick-time movies, graphics, and still images and text with interactive potential.

The pages of the "book" are comprised, like illuminated manuscripts, of both images and text. The text has a main body and supplementary diverging quoted passages from the realms of the arts, science and religion. These sub-texts can be opened by a viewer selecting the “author bar.” The line of "main" text seen on each page lays out themes and questions about how we perceive reality, understand creation, live with contradiction.

On each page, two video sequences with sound are edited side by side and play in a continuous loop. Along the left side of the screen, three still images can be changed by the viewer clicking on them. The multiple images on the page are arranged so as to be reminiscent of both illuminated manuscripts and the computer screen itself. Images will function differently than text exploiting the more bodily nature of perception in contrast to the conceptual aspect of language. Interconnections exist between the images and text on each page and between pages, though the work does not have to be experienced sequentially. Ideas relay throughout, unifying the work and making connections.

While encyclopedic in approach, organized by the letters of the alphabet, the Book Of Letters is not an encyclopedia. It focuses on and makes connections between religion, art and science, three disciplines that inform so much of contemporary life and interface in these times. The work in science on the beginnings of the universe, on DNA/genomes, "blueprints for human creation," and on fractals, the science of chaos, are ripe with counterparts in Genesis and Apocalypse of the Bible and creation myths of other cultures. Physicists speak of divine plans and the history of art is full of sacred imagery. Art is regarded as a spiritual expression by some, as a making of material objects by others. Computer printouts of fractals are seen as art, and artists are engaged with technology and scientific concepts. In all three disciplines the question of reality, its perception and its representation, looms. The Book works with contradictions and paradoxes seeing these as opposing poles of a unified whole. Due to its interactive nature, the CDROM can offer a great deal of textual material.

The imagery in the videos comes from daily life, what's around us: the morning light in the kitchen, items on a bedroom dresser and repetitive motions such as patting, hammering, rowing, kneading. Also the reverie-inducing motions of flames flickering, leaves fluttering, waves lapping. Included are images that surround our daily lives, that form the lived context, images from newspapers, T.V. and movies.

In this piece, with images paired on each page, certain connections, synchronous moments, will be experienced between the dual images. References in text to something previously imaged, will bind the work together over the twenty-six 'pages.' Important images and concepts in this regard are fire, hand, language (communication). Rhythmic pulsing makes equivalences between disparate images; think of hammering, kneading, rowing, walking.

This piece works with the idea of the union of opposites. The image of a potter creating a vessel on the wheel from raw clay contains both nature and culture; male and female are conjoined in procreation; fire is destructive and nurturing (love and hate). Fire forges links between science and religion which are often thought of as opposing conceptual frameworks and, via alchemy, between science and art.

The relationship between language and experience is acknowledged: the analytic, conceptual aspects of language and the bodily, felt nature of visuals. In the Book, the main text uses concepts, abstract nouns such as 'love', 'hell', 'creation', 'presence.' The images, apprehended visually, bodily make the concepts tangible, felt-hand carressing cat, men wrestling, the raw material of clay being formed into a vessel—(this last image might be seen to reference the Biblical image of man as molded by god and at death returned to the mud).

“Barbara Sternberg’s Illuminations reflects both the genre of engraving and Arthur Rimbaud’s book of poems of that title. Essentially delightful and uplifting, all three depict vast and deep subjects as approachable and fathomable. By creating an alphabetized dictionary of images, films and quotations — under themes such as G stands for God, gooey and good — Sternberg is able to weave between the issues and artists that have impressed her. Presented on CD-ROM, viewers are invited to browse this expansive work, creating their own associations in the shadow of the artist’s.

The poetry in these sequences, verses and songs is amplified in Barbara Sternberg’s media-work, Illuminations. Like Rimbaud, she examines the values of our time with wit, sophistication and optimism. And, like in many of the other works, she fuses still and moving images, music, text and a carefully contrived sense of order, but in this case adding an element of interactivity.

In the end we are left with the poetic voice of each artist ringing clear, revealing an aspect of themselves that we could see no other way, and allowing us to walk along side them for a little distance, in measured step, even if it is to an unfamiliar beat.” (Geoffrey Shea, Durham Fringe Festival)

Illuminations: A Book of Letters credits
Producer/Director/Writer: Barbara Sternberg
Length: continuous loop, 26 pages
Year of Production: 2002
Sound: Barbara Sternberg
computer interface: Michelle Gay
programming: Richard Conroy
letter drawings: Robyn Budd
Country of Production: Canada
Exhibition format: CDRom
Preview format: CDrom

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Barbara Sternberg © 2011
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