Dear Steven and Robin,
It’s been awhile. I’m on a plane to Mexico City, enjoying my seat. Fortunately there was no room for my luggage near the seat I was assigned, but there was plenty of overhead compartment space above the empty exit seat where I am now. Nobody cares. Everyone’s just glad there are no children onboard.
Anyways, the captain said it’s safe to use portable electronic devices, so I thought this would be a good time to write you about Andrew Witrak’s edition. For being an empty book, The Complete Works is remarkably full of questions and interesting problems. I’m not really sure where to begin, so I was half-tempted to leave this letter blank (and not because Tron: Legacy is coming on soon either). What more can be said about nothing? Maybe that’s the point or maybe that misses the point. Witrak’s book is, after all, anything but complete. It looks like a mid-career monograph, but on the inside, it’s a blank book. Witrak’s a young artist. Don’t judge a cover by its interior, maybe.
I overheard some people at the book fair last year, hovering around your booth, ogling the display cases, books and ephemera, and gauging whether Witrak’s opus was completely empty or completely full. Still, I imagine most of the fairgoers didn’t see it at all. I mean even if they did see it, could it have registered fully amid the bibliophilic frenzy? It’s camouflaged in its own troped aesthetic, no? It looks generic, but only because it has to look generic. For it to work, it needs to blend in and look like every other monograph, more or less, right?
It’s got quite a cover though. I guess the studium is the beach bum’s belly and the punctum is “who the hell is Andrew Witrak?” I don’t know. At least we can all agree that its interior is completely devoid of ink. So, in that way, it’s blank.
I read the Michael Gibbs book you gave me. I knew there were a lot of blank books, but I didn’t realize there were so many as to warrant an anthology. I’m not usually that concerned with primacy, but I’m wondering what’s the purpose of another blank book? I think that’s the wrong question here, but thumbing through the pages ostensibly documenting all of Witrak’s incomplete works the other day, I remembered something I read in Appendix Appendix by Stuart Bailey and Ryan Gander. Basically, whether or not the promotion of failure and the half-baking of so many incomplete or truncated projects isn’t just the passing off of inadequacy by wrapping it in that thin filtering sheath of legitimization Art provides. Poorly paraphrased, it’s still a good question.
Most could argue that imagination and experience is often encouraged or heightened by a lack of information—by the infinite potentiality of a blank page, a blank painting, or a blank book in this case. Remember how everyone was talking about Balzac’s missing masterpiece at Raimundas’ twelve-hour brunch? Or were they talking about Rumsfeld’s “known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns”? I can’t remember, it was a few years ago. Anyways, I think the basic worry about completion is that finitude or any conclusiveness threatens to shut down the potential for a plurality of meaning. And opinion. A jolly person might ask what could be more open than a monograph with no art? At the same time maybe someone whose sense of humor is missing would argue that Witrak is miming paralysis while lampooning Alzheimer’s. I’d like those two to meet.
Where was I? Anyways, they’re serving coffee now, and I keep thinking back to that brunch. I asked the flight attendant if she ever noticed just how much contemporary art seems characterized by a fascination with self-reflexivity, invisibility, missing objects, pseudonyms, tautologies, gaps, erasures, redactions, negations and so on? She said she liked The Da Vinci Code, which got me thinking about Rai’s idea of crypto-museology again. Someone was eating Georgian food and asked if all of this interest in missing stuff is related to the overwhelming accessibility of information today? In your Gibbs book, Hans Bossmann described that 16-page Newspaper Without News he produced as an “oasis in the information society.” Completely blank, perhaps Witrak’s book could, like Bossmann’s, be “read” as a gap in the stream of information.
So the world is full of blank books, more or less interesting, but I like the way that reading Gibbs anthology sucks Witrak’s The Complete Works into a whirlpool. Doesn’t it make an argument around blank-book-primacy totally irrelevant? That Witrak is artist number 7,653,543,217 to do a blank book is beside the point. The blank book is a familiar medium now, like watercolors or neon.
I know quite a few highly motivated artists who don’t produce anything at all. A blank book is a thing. Plus, how can a book even be blank? Witrak’s book doesn’t reproduce his work or contain the customary texts you find in a monograph, but the book does contain information. An offset printed dustjacket, wrapped around a hardcover binding, with foil stamped linen, a definite amount of pages, all cut to specific dimensions, each with its various color tones—these are decisions (formal, economical, or otherwise). However white the pages, Witrak’s book is not a void-type nothing. It’s more of a chromakey-type nothing, like the blue or green wall in a film set. Witrak’s book can contain anything.
More than a gestural dam or an oasis (can you believe this water metaphor has gone on this long?), Witrak’s edition is more like a scrapbook waiting for Grandpa’s news clippings. A lot of philatelists buy the stamp book first then buy the stamps, the armature comes before the display. I guess what I’m saying here is that there is more to The Complete Works than a joke or just another clever permutation in a long procession of blank books. From one of many angles his book can be read as a critique of just how prescribed an artist’s route has become in this system of checks and balances, expectations and clock-ticking, protracted beat downs and brief rewards. So it’s nice to see a monograph come early, before the career, isn’t it? If this edition is a disruption, it’s to the stream of accolades and acknowledgements. I guess The Complete Works is a placeholder, so maybe just stick this letter inside and tell the collectors to buy the book and wait for Witrak to complete some works.
Mexico City, D.F.
This is an open letter from Chris Fitzpatrick to collectors Robin Wright and Steven Leiber regarding my edition, Andrew Witrak Complete Works.