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Friday, 17 April 2015

Don't ask for the meaning, ask for the use!

EVA-04 by Sabine Schr√ľnder is a book about identity and how it is constructed. It's quite conceptual in some ways because it's based on a series of polarities (individual and the social, location and studio), but it has a heart and it tells a story that is both sometimes puzzling but also visually engaging. The clues click together, which is part of the point of the book and the way it has been sequenced..

There's a  Wittgenstein quote at the back of Sabine Schrunder's book, EVA 04. 'The meaning of a word is its use in the language'. That sums up what the book is about; how people function in (Japanese) society, how they are suited and booted by the world around them, by the social constraints, the architecture, the planning, the way of thinking, everything. That's the book explained in verbal form.

The book starts on a grey sand beach with a woman in jeans sticking pieces of straw into the grey sand of the beach, sand that she is patting down with her right hand. She's not looking a happy camper, but does have a slightly wistful air as seen from the back. It seems like she's dreaming of another life, that there's a conflict between what she is and what she is supposed to be. That's the book explained in visual form.

A grey framed window appears next and then we're back on the beach with schoolgirls whose grey socks match the grey sand. Their shoes are brown and they stand pigeon-toed on this rather joyless looking beach.

By the next picture, the schoolgirls are gone and we have two attendants of sorts. Maybe they work in a car park, maybe they work in a hotel. We don't know but what we do know is their shoes are black and they are not pigeon toed. And we can see one of the attendant's face. She's got ill-fitting gloves to go with her ill-fitting jacket but the skirt has stayed the same. And it's grey. The world doesn't fit and the world is dull!

A child watches his mother blowing bubbles. She's wearing a grey skirt too. She's standing under a roof and behind her is a grid of panels. Never mind the bubbles, the child's world is being shaped already to fit into her socially-moulded template.

We see that world taking shape in a rooftop panorama of a city's rooftops. There are squares, there are grids, there are lines that are straight and everything is in grey order.  It's a kit world, one that you put together with steel and screws and concrete.

To emphasise that point there are pictures of a plastic robot kit (the kind that Airfix or Revell make), though these might be pressing the point. The architecture and the grids get the point across. Mixed in with these are black and white studio portraits, Japanese men and women pose deadpan for the camera, but now you can see their faces and (even when there are lines) the lines that society seeks to impose are broken through a particular vulnerability. The organised chaos of uncombed but not unkempt hair, the intimacy (or intrusion) of a hand holding a forearm, and a subtle sense of the androgynous (the skirts have disappeared by the end ) add to the disruption.

By the end of the book we're back where we started, with the sticks in the sand on the grey beach. Only now there's no hand to pat the sand down and without that nod towards scale, the sticks look like driftwood cast onto a wild landscape because that, ultimately, is what we are.

Buy the Book here.

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