79. r.ed engender.ed – A Conical Chronicle

Edition of 300 copies
8 1/4” x 11 3/4” x 3/4”  book; 9 1/2” x 11” x  1/2” sculpture, arms outstretched

This is a limited-edition magic realist tale in the form of a 200-page graphic novel with a first-person narrative recounted by r.ed monde, a figure invented at a kitchen table in watercolor on a student year abroad in Bologna, Italy in 1985. The character’s carefree life as the protagonist of artist’s books, prints and watercolors abruptly comes to a halt when the artist creates a 3D sculpture of r.ed to pose for an alphabet book. In 3D, r.ed’s new potential overwhelms the artist, and raises intellectual property protection issues, resulting in r.ed being confined to a plastic drawer in the studio, together with many clones, for several decades. During this time, r.ed is frustrated and mostly bored, trying to invent ways to pass the time with the ephemera, vintage advertising, packaging and books collected by the artist in her studio, by having a nose contest, for example.

There is also quite a bit of jealousy regarding r.ed’s baby sister, the artist’s daughter, who starts out sleeping in a drawer, but leaves the drawer after six months, and is allowed to freely circulate in the world. Ultimately, the artist’s “boring” non-fiction reference books on the history of material culture show r.ed that pointy-heads have inhabited every continent for the last 4,000 years, establishing a sense of identity and connection to others.

A novel is a vessel for thoughts, and many themes regarding creativity, daily life in past decades/centuries/millennia and mental and physical health are woven throughout r.ed engender.ed in an amusing, sometimes silly way, with world material culture as the primary vehicle.

Some prevalent themes of the story:
Identity (not resembling others, lack of documentation)
Sibling rivalry/birth order
Anxiety/fear of parents/children, mirroring artists and their own creations
Reading aloud, libraries, librarians, books, literary topoi/narrative structures
Italy (Italian printed and manuscript ephemera, Italian habits/traditions/art, food)
World religions/religious philosophy, archeology, anthropology, art history
Art techniques/materials

The creative process: collecting things (ephemera, trash, books, typos) to make art;
struggles in an artist’s work (intellectual property protection/issues, finishing projects);
authors in history “borrowing” from other writers, or being influenced by them

Themes evidenced in images but not words:
8,000 years of body image, gender depictions/roles to mull over
Changes in perceptions of daily life seen through packaging/advertising from corsets to games to kitchen gadgets

The artist does not assign a gender to r.ed monde, and uses “r.ed’s” as a possessive pronoun instead of hers, his or its. Others may choose for themselves. In theory there is one r.ed and the other 299 r.ed sculptures attached to the cover of each copy of this limited edition book are r.ed clones, signed and numbered on a tag hidden in r.ed’s back. If the narrator is reliable, the original r.ed monde in sculptural form lives with the artist and tells stories on Instagram that continue the themes of the graphic novel to anyone for free on the Internet. But which is the REAL r.ed monde is anyone’s guess.

The r.ed clones that have found homes in museums, libraries and private residences keep r.ed entertained and informed through pictures of their goings on across the globe, posted on Instagram. The unofficial motto for r.ed monde is: A Force For Good and A Source of Joy. The r.ed clones help r.ed monde to be a culture worker, promoting positive activities in the arts and the world at large, or at the very least providing some comic relief with mostly naive observations of the world outside the drawer.

The book incorporates over 400 watercolor paintings, about 250 created in black and white and 150 in color. While most of the paintings were created ad hoc to tell the story, others were painted from 1985-2000 purely for pleasure in the artist’s spare moments. This early, private work of international packaging, found objects and Italian fruits and vegetables unexpectedly helped guide the story-line. A sixty-page sequence of black and white watercolor paintings two-thirds of the way into the book may seem like an abrupt turn, but these 250 images of antique material culture were actually intended as the core material for the book, researched for over two decades in museums and reference books. However, when it came time to tell an actual story, the historical material culture through which r.ed discovers kinship did not suffice. The artist’s ephemera collections and her studio provided a setting and a host of themes with which to create a narrative, and a bird’s eye view into the creative process.

All of the text was rendered by hand on paper and scanned. These files were then integrated digitally with the paintings with the help of graphic designer Sira Dingi, who worked alongside the artist composing each page of the book. The text-bubbles surrounding the dialogue were drawn with a computer mouse using the wrong hand to be consistent with the rough, early, spontaneous watercolor images of r.ed, born by accident in 1985. Photographs of the artist’s studio, including sequences of interns playing with r.ed, and historical photos of the artist and her family pepper the narrative.

On three pages of the book, a total of 16 QR codes may be scanned to see the character in videos doing yoga poses and performing an underwater scene as a sea-horse grasping at sea grass.

The 300 clones in synthetic, knit fabric were sewn by the artist. The armature of copper wire coated with plastic, with a bit of polyester batting around the midsection, may be removed from the sculpture if the clone needs to be washed or have any seams re-sewn due to vigorous activity.

The number of the signed book and signed tag of the sculpture correspond. Individuals or institutions that purchase the book and sculpture are known collectively as r.ed r.elations. The ones that subscribed in advance to the book before it was printed are acknowledged in the back of the book for their service in helping r.ed get out of the drawer.

The book itself was printed in offset on acid-free paper in Verona, Italy by Opero srl in 300 copies.

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