Saturday, 25 February 2012
Daniel Rapley has spent the last 18 months writing up the entire King James Bible, by hand, on standard feint ruled notepaper with a ballpoint pen. Or so, at least, we are told. Because when we enter the white cube space of PayneShurvell, what we see is a sturdy sheaf of feint ruled notepaper, each sheet sitting exactly one atop the other, beautifully presented in a tall glass vitrine, the uppermost page of which is, apparently, a hand written reproduction of the beginning of the King James Bible. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth...” in a tidy, non-nonsense hand.
We are being asked to believe something we can't see with our own eyes and for which we have no proof. Has Rapley spent the last 18 months reproducing the entire bible by hand or has he written up the first page and then made it look as though what's beneath is the rest? Will we choose to have faith in what we are told? Will we sit in the space of not-knowing? Or will we invent an entirely different story and choose to believe that instead? It's a poignant metaphor for life.
On the wall to the left of Sic, as Rapley has entitled his 'bible', we see seven framed text works that purport to offer us behind the scenes tales about the production of Sic. Recounted in modern, mock biblical style, they remind me of low budget television programmes about the making of a television programme; there's also something of the quasi-confessional, a religious zealot desperate to find meaning in everything.
At first glance I assume these works are printed, Times New Roman. I probably wouldn't even have questioned that thought if it hadn't been for the Canadian intoned words that floated from the PayneShurvell office, “they're hand drawn too.” Evidently I was not the first to make this erroneous assumption. I was being offered a guiding hand and I took it gratefully.
As I peered in closer I began to detect tiny pencil markings in the otherwise flawless copy. I remembered the thing I'm constantly forgetting - that things are rarely, if ever, as they seem. The mistake now would be to make further assumptions, based on this new information, without reference to the fact that there are probably other illusions through which I have yet to see. Seeing through these other misconceptions may, or may not, shift the picture entirely. But how can I know?
It occurs to me that it's possible that the first page of Sic, the one that I can actually see, isn't even hand written. Perhaps Rapley designed a font after the style of his own handwriting, had it transferred to a computer programme and some further piece of software then printed out the 'bible' to look as though he'd written it. It sounds unlikely, of course it sounds unlikely, but how can I know it's not the case. Far stranger things have turned out to have basis in reality. And isn't that the point? That we simply don't know. We don't really know anything. Everything we think we know we only think we know because we don't know any better, but we stick with those beliefs because the thought that we don't know is too hard to swallow.
There's so much depth to this exhibition one could write a thesis never mind a 600 word review. There are profound questions here about authorship, authority, faith, meaning, about reproduction and authenticity, about God, even the nature of reality. But for me, the most important thing it questions is belief and not just belief in divinity (whatever that might mean?) but belief in our own thoughts. What would life be like if we didn't project such authority onto the flotsam and jetsam of own ever changing minds? What would life be like if we had faith in something other than our thoughts? Is the answer to that question available in the 3,116,480 characters of the bible? The answer to that is - I just don't know. But I doubt it.
27 January to 3 March 2012
written for and reproduced here by kind permission of NY Arts Magazine