Long time, no review, huh. Apologies. I’ve been busy and lazy, in roughly equal measure.
Jason Fulford‘s Contains: 3 Books is exactly what it says it is. It’s a silver box-within-a-box that holds three books: Mild Moderate Severe Profound in a burgundy cover; I Am Napoleon in crosshatched green; and && in grey, with handwriting on the front that reads “The Tower & the Abyss/Agony & Epitaph/Feminism & Psychoanalysis/Trust & Violence/Surfaces & Essences/Symbolism & Creativity/I & Thou/Eye & Brain/Structure & Reversions/Knowledge & Infallibility/Hope & the Future/Language & Myth/The Joke and Its Relation to the Unconscious/Evidence & Inquiry/Ego & Instinct/Psychology & Religion/Playing & Reality/Genes & the Mind,” which I assume is the full title, hence &&.
Mild Moderate Severe Profound is a collection of 33 photographs, each with title and number, and most with an explanatory text. For example, next to a photograph of a hand holding a small, rather crude plastic skull, the text reads:
8. The Prince
Asked whether Hamlet was truly mad, actor Orson Welles replied, “I don’t think any madman ever said, ‘why what an ass am I.'”
Unsure of the veracity of any of the text, I searched for a few of the more easily verifiable bits and they all checked out, so I have no reason to doubt the others.
I Am Napoleon opens with a ‘Prefatory Note.’
I THINK that any book or picture or composition of any sort, once out in the world, so to say, produces a different effect on each person who seriously tries to follow it. I certainly do not think that the author of it has any monopoly on its interpretation.
This appears next to what looks like a mass of green sea grass, lying limp over a rock or clump of sea floor that washed up on a beach. It looks for all the world like an aging punk rocker with a misshapen head, buried almost completely in the stony beach.
Text throughout I Am Napoleon, taken from various sources, seems designed to suggest particular and peculiar readings onto the pictures.
Next to a picture of a ceramic duck, sitting on it’s tail feathers with its feet sticking out in front, propping itself up on its wings, in front of a cigarette butt that’s actually in somewhat sharper focus than the duck, the text reads:
PASSION AND DELIRIUM
According to the footnotes at the end of the book, this excerpt comes from Michel Foucault, Madness & Civilization (New York: Vintage, 1988).
I actually laughed at a few of these. They’re often slightly nonsensical and/or obviously comical.
&& has no text at all and contains the fewest photographs, since each picture is separated from the next by one blank page. The scrawled text on the cover appears to be titles for the photographs: there are 18 pairs of things on the cover and 18 photographs…
Taken together, Contains: 3 Books is something of meditation on the relationship between image and text, and the viewer/reader’s ability and willingness to read closely and make connections.
Also included in the box is a stiff gold card with a cartoon alphabet on it. Each letter has some kind of dog or person or cat drawn around it. ‘S’ is the tail on a cat; ‘Z’ is a kneeling woman smelling a flower. At first, I paid little attention to this card, but I now think it’s integral to the project, in that it illustrates the strange relationship between images and text and the ways we bend both images and text to our will.
Fulford made the pictures in 15 countries over 3 years as part of his Guggenheim Fellowship, and they’re all in the “straight” or “deadpan” photography school. The photographs remind me some of John Gossage and Teju Cole, in that they’re just photographs, not snapshots like Stephen Shore, but just straight photographs.
I’m not sure I can really explain this, but I hope you understand anyway.
Each of the three books ends with a photograph that contains a frisbee ring, thus unifying them in a strange way. If you listen closely, I laugh at this a bit in the unboxing. It’s a little bit silly, but calls to mind the circular, round about image/text relationship that Fulford works with throughout Contains.
The books themselves are tightly bound, making them a little bit difficult to sit and flip through, and the sliding drawer/box thing that holds them is just big enough to contain them, and getting the books out of the box is difficult. The top two fall out easily enough, but the third always gets hung up, for me anyway, and I have to shake and shake the box to get it out.
Overall, Conains: 3 Books earns 3.8 stars.
First edition copies of Contains: 3 Books remain available all over, so search your favorite book supplier or order direct from Fulford.