by Timothy Ely, Gary Shipley, Michael Jacobson and Quimby Melton
Part of "Cryptotexts": a SCRIPTjr.nl special section.
- The Australian poet Tim Gaze brought my attention to Timothy Ely's book art a few years ago, and I was so impressed with his work that I decided to contact him. We exchanged a few emails and, thanks to his generous spirit, he allowed me to post a few images from his work in The New Post-Literate. We also swapped books through the mail.
He sent me his mind-expanding work The Tables of Jupiter (imgs. 4-8), and holding this text was the first time I'd been able to get close to Ely's work away from the glare of a computer screen. To hold his work in your hands is a unique experience to say the least. "Dream reality" is the first thought that popped into my head, the wall between these two poles slipping away into pure revelation.
Ely's work makes me ask, "Should we attempt to understand books like Jupiter in a conventional sense or should they remain objects of reverence apart from the dissecting table of meaning?"
For my part, I approach Ely's cribriform writing using my experience with asemic writing, that is, with no idea what his ideographic ciphers express in terms of semantic meaning. Instead, his work offers readers a place to get lost, but there are maps telling you how to get to that place, at least. In Ely's work, I've found keys to the consciousness of an alchemist. His work is familiar, in the way nature is familiar. But like nature -- embodied by the the wax, dirt, caramelized seaweed, and sand he uses as materials -- we know there's also great mystery at work.
What remains hidden? What answers lie in the silent music of his books? Has he used invisible ink?!
These are the questions I'd like to ask ...
- Occupying some nebulous region that is at once archaic and futuristic, Ely's works have an impenetrability that takes them beyond their Steampunk provenance. With books such as Alkahest (img. 9) and Materia, we appear to be dealing with pieces of medieval grimoire, texts of mystical import, their fleshy, scarified covers evoking The Necronomicon Ex Mortis (Naturom Demonto), their leprose textures and idiographic ciphers producing a conspicuously nostalgic sense of the mystery of uncast and uncastable spells.
In works like Tables of Jupiter (imgs. 4-8) and Halo Chalice (img. 16), topographical contusions merge with parquetry and zodiacal constellations to form an elaborate cartography of the human mind's struggle to harness its own transcendental materials. It's almost as if the invented notebooks of Captain Billy Cutshaw have somehow surfaced, and we are looking at his attempts to document the celestial bodies of an outer space he never visited, collected blueprints to some extraterrestrial civilization rooted firmly in the inexplicable recesses of human myths and meanings. At other times, it's as if the works of Pansy Napangati have been reworked by some entranced architect of the ethereal, or as if someone had put together an "oldfangled" documentation of a digital installation by Knowbotic Research, most strikingly its Dialogue with the Knowbotic South (left).
As I engage with Ely's work, I am reminded of Andrea Zittel's statement of intent: "to show people that it is possible to become your own expert, to create your own experiments and to understand the world in your own way"; and with symbols and cryptic maps resembling something you might find beneath the fur of a dog born without orifices, Ely's work appears to fulfil this quixotic vision, leaving the rest of us no prescribed way in, and -- should one be fortunate enough to enter -- no obvious way out.
- Timothy Ely's work forges a middle path between the stark black sigils of Michael Jacobson's The Giant's Fence and the graphically-dominated encyclopedic qualities of Luigi Serafini's Codex Seraphinius and the Voynich manuscript. Blending his own brand of asemic "cribriform" writing with illustrations and decadent, tactile elements, texts like Alkahest (img. 9) and Amblygon (img. 10) read like engineering texts from a distant exoplanet (or some other Myst-like civilization that has created advanced technology from minimally-synthesized, human-scale elements).
Framed by these playful "Steampunk" anachronisms, Ely's work also, at times, reads like contemporary graphic fiction (img. 19) and shows the mechanical curiosity, and avant garde schematics, of Leonardo da Vinci's Renaissance notebooks (img. 8). Like these notebooks, Ely's texts collapse a good deal of chronological distance: his work seems historical, contemporary, and futuristic all at once. It has as much in common with medieval manuscripts as it does with contemporary speculative fiction, with the engravings of William Blake as it does with the sensibilities of Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill.
This chronological "timelessness" extends to Ely's tradework as well.
As a printmaker, Ely has developed tools that push traditional bookbinding into the modern moment. As such, he's able to fuse the sensibilities of Gutenberg with those of the 21st-century, "remixing" Renaissance printing as a contemporary literary "mashup."
The editors originally intended this page to contain an interview with Timothy Ely. However, the interview was unavailable at the end of January 2011 when the editors released legacy issue 2.1. It will be added in the future if circumstances allow.
Following the suggestion of editorial board member and contributor, Michael Jacobson, in lieu of the interview, editors contributed three paragraphs (as of 17 September 2012) responding to Ely's work. This Rashomon-style critical approach is offered as a non-hierarchical, montage-inspired ordered list (and, therefore, as an homage to the script forms of the early 1900s.1
An experiment in evolving criticism, this list loads in a random order (and with each page refresh). The list may also be augmented at anytime by submitting a paragraph to [email protected] and/or by leaving a comment below.
- See, for example, Georges Méliès' scenario Le voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon). Versions of this scenario can be found in various places, for example, online: Tim Dirks, "Le Voyage Dans La Lune (A Trip To The Moon) (1902)" (filmsite, n.d. http://www.filmsite.org/voya.html [1 January 2010]), and, in print: Lewis Jacobs, The Rise of the American Film (Harcourt Brace, 1939), 27-28 and Kevin Alexander Boon, Script Culture and the American Screenplay (Wayne State UP, 2008), 5. The original French version of Méliès' scenario can be found reprinted in the November 1984 issue of Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris). ↩