Book of Lies

The Book of Lies III, a book that is not a book, is a work of art made of other works of art using the lie to explore our relationship with truth.

At the conception of this project, I imagined the existence of a conversation about truth and lies held through works of art and poetry that could disrupt our dumbed acquiescence to the escalating corruption in which we all exist. At this moment in early 2007, our cultural relationship with veracity is even shakier than in 1992 when the project began. Although art rarely if ever engineers such a direct effect, our relationship with truth operates within a matrix both personal and public–a simulacrum of the territory of the work of art. Along with beauty, sensation and emotion, art depends on complex ideas moving within the artwork, bouncing from one artwork to another, one brain to another. Could it be that our present relationship with truth is such that we can best experience it anchored in the slippery world of the visual and the poetic?

Begun in 1991, the project bears a relation to liars’ contests which take place in the rural parts of the U.S. It was inspired by the SMS Portfolios, which were published in the late 1960’s by Billy Copley. From 1991 to 1995, the concept and form of the project developed, changing and flowering with the inclusion of each new artist. Already a dialogue about truth was being established through the process of the work.

In 1995 The Public Access Press at the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) awarded me a grant to publish The Book of Lies, Volume I which was placed in many exhibitions, including Lois Neiter Fine Arts and the Bobbie Greenfield Gallery in Los Angeles, Artists Books at Brooke Alexander in New York, and the vanguard steirischer herbst festival in Graz, Austria. The Book of Lies has been written about and exhibited internationally and acquired by institutions including The New York Public Library, the Armand Hammer Museum at the University of California at Los Angeles, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

The artists and poets are chosen for the depth of their ideas and their ability to work powerfully in this simple format. Each artist or writer is responsible for his own production. The artworks are made by each individual artist using the materials and methods most organic to his or her working method. The portfolios are created in collaboration with an artist, a writer and myself. Each of the three volumes of the Book of Lies is produced in an edition of eighty copies. There are twenty artworks in each copy of Volume I, twenty-one in Volume II, and thirty in Volume III. Ultimately, there will be four volumes.

Artists and poets in the first volume included Lita Albuquerque, Mirella Bentivoglio, Ed Colver, Georganne Deen, Kim Jones, Julia Lohmann and John O’Brien. Materials of the works of art include ashes of love letters, hand-embroidery, and handwritten and mechanically reproduced image and text.

The second volume, Father Fisheye Startled by a Lie, with collaborators including Pulitzer prize nominee Barry Sanders, Joan Jonas, Matthew Thomas, Lisa Adams, Daisy Zamora, Edgar Arceneaux, Maria Porges and Sally Elesby, was published (again by SCI-Arc) in 1997. The materials of the second book included platinum photographs, oil paintings on vellum and unique drawings. Again it has been the focus of numerous exhibitions, including a mid-project survey at Fullerton College.

Volume III, like its predecessors, maps its own intricate non-linear visual and philosophical dialogue, looping through the individual works of art and the relationships formed by proximity, aesthetic decisions and shared focus. In this third volume, thirty-six superb artists and poets were given the charge to make works of art that address the beingness, texture and nature of the lie. With the collaboration of Clayton Campbell and Michael Sakamotot, this exhibition at 18th Street Gallery, is the first public solo exhibition of the third volume in the United States, following an exhibition in Belgrade in 2005.

The works of art have been carefully ordered to contribute to the coherency of this visual conversation. The compact monumentality of Carolee Campbell’s box and brass panel showing Michael Hannon’s poem, True Dharma, makes its first delivery with Lynn Aldrich’s Dying Star, lying in a physical and philosophical black hole. The Manifesto of the Crooked Branch, a mysterious ticket to ride with an unbreakable numerical code, lifts us to Pi, a number without end. Can a limitless number be true to our conception of number, or is pi the number closest to our experience of the inseparable whole? With the plebian authority of a sheet of stamps, the next work names absolute thinking as a deathly lie.

Astronomical references multiplying, Rita Barnes creates another star-like work, using the unceasing refrain “Who am I?” as its essential unsteady form. A sublimely elegant runny red ‘Watergate’ leads us from the self, to the lied-to-self and the cascading effects of political lies. We then slip into a chilling work bringing history home to lie–lying in its deceptively simple black pocket.

Benji Whalen has embroidered eighty different acts of malicious violence, one for each box, using the ancient sense-making of the constellational symbol, as violence tears sense apart. Seth Kaufamn lies to us face on, leaving us to deal with the unpleasant residual feeling of being lied to–beautifully. Collaboration between mother and a daughter looks for the beginning of the lie in family history, using electron maps to try and get to the source.

“All sentient life moves at ninety degrees to the truth” ends Lies Above What Is, its palimpsestical hum setting us up for the collaboration by Steve de Groodt and Mary Rakow, Music like this heals all my wounds, followed by Richard Haxton’s CD, Mini Vacation at the Last Resort and accompanied by a second CD with twenty-nine brief recordings made by each of the participating artists — aural amplifications of the physical works in The Book of Lies III.

In his own inimitable way, William T. Wiley slips between Mark Twain and the schoolroom blackboard,
bedrock of countless lies, while Minoru Ohira lays it out in black and white. John Outterbridge has made eighty different matchbox ‘books’, culling images from popular culture to bring the lies home. Both of the next two works play on that elliptical elastic boundary between the real and the fictive. James Cobb lets us see matter itself as the biggest lie, while the mysterious Madam X makes a book that tells her particular truth. Schoolroom lies resurge in Kim Abeles’ work, when yet another man gets full credit for an invention shared with a woman. Smarmy lies told as yet another indigenous people are decimated and digested—the subject of South African artist, Garth Erasmus.

Australian artist Jenny Watson’s curious felt piece offers a visual conundrum. Bronislava Dubner, born near KGB headquarters in 1917, takes us behind the mirrors to the folk fantasies stronger than any state. The lies that make us who we are, as told by novelist Janet Fitch, leads to the lie of age, which transports us to the lies we tell ourselves, as mirrored by Xavier Fumat. As she brings the lies home yet again, Melissa Smedley makes reminder of the ecological lies to which we blind ourselves daily. The slippery honesty of a Serbian artist reminds us how duplicitous any of us may become, living with the obscenity of war. Taking off into the darkness that surrounds us all, this final gouache of a small car makes its way, with only the short span of its tiny headlights shedding any light.

Each volume has contained its own quiet dialogue mapping the evolution of a lie. The first explored the lie in love, the second the contingent appearance of the lie, and now for the third Book of Lies, we are reaching to understand the texture of the lie.

Enter with a mind as open as you can make it. My own has certainly become more sensitized to the nuances and depths of feeling that irradiate that unstable field of reality we call the truth.

Eugenia Butler, Organizing Artist
Art resides in the realm of the marvelous. The experience of art is one of transcendence, beyond resemblance, beyond knowing, toward freedom. This collection of fictive imaginings (lies, absurdities, contradictions, impossibilities) are ventures into that wondrous realm.

Meghan Ferrill, from the cover essay for Volume I
This project has been supported by grants from the Foundation for Art Resources, the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc), Public Access Press, the Graham Foundation, and the LEF Foundation.