Viewing calendar pages in A Book of Ours, I realize over and over again how difficult it is to find coherence in the art of the homeless and yet how fundamental is coherence to the project. The calendar form, the daily cycle of prayer in A Book of Hours, the overall organization in seasons and annual cycles, insures coherence at once imposed on and acknowledged by the participants. But read in sequence, the line by line contributions to the days of the month appear to emanate from unexplained sources of individual experience, and each source of life is isolated from every other source; idiosyncrasies of print styles, the colors of print, the levels of generality and specificity scatter rather than concentrate my attention; aesthetically I am unsettled. But maybe I am looking for coherence in the wrong way. On the opening page, January, a rich brown gnarled tree-trunk rises up from the bottom to scatter its branches near the top, crossed by “January” and crossing in front of and slicing through the perfect yellow roundness of a full moon. The tree is a tremendous source of rising energy. From this vantage point, many of the design elements throughout the calendar point to a world of energies, excitations. The protagonist in Peter Weiss’s The Aesthetics of Resistance envisions the otherwise chaotic, often dangerous and apparently fruitless lives of the disenfranchised in terms of the living tendencies of trees: “From root systems reaching out into the earth, these peculiar trunks grew upward and then stretched arms out in all directions . . . . The trees were imbued with growth. Sap seeped upward through the ramifications to the knots in which the germs of the leaves lay hidden . . . . The city was inhabited . . . . Tomorrow, the branches would stretch out toward the light. In a matter of weeks, their buds would open. The trees were palpitating the air, the expanse, they were receptive, like the bird that rose up from the shadows, floating upward and disappearing behind the rooftops. Perhaps, I thought, everything on earth, as it rotates in space, is one big hearkening and sensing of countless nerve fibers and tentacles, of the finest materials and organs of all imaginable forms, that all life is merely there to feel and, in continual excitation, to emerge from blindness to understanding.” Taken as a whole, the designs on the pages of the Calendar reveal a world of excitations and vibration: decoration is continuous movement, often featuring life forms—trees, butterflies and insects, flowers, animals. The anti-gravitational direction of movement here, as in A Book of Hours and Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience, proposes a coherence of a life force heading towards some form of enlightenment and change, “too big for words” to express. Wakefulness is such a tendency. “Birds sing if you wake early / Hopping from place to place” (February); you wake up to excitations.
Wake every morning can’t bloody move
Wake in the darkness of me
Wake with the sun in my mouth
Waking is a rhythm of words warming, exciting the body into life and consciousness leading, in the last line, to a surreality of hope.
A BOOK OF OURS was exhibited at Bury Art Museum May-July 2021, then Manchester Cathedral Oct 2021-March 2022, after which it went permanently into the collection at John Rylands Library, where it can now be viewed. It is the final project by arthur+martha CIC.