Featured Project: Pliant History by Barbara Ciurej and Lindsay Lochman
by Barbara Ciurej and Lindsay Lochman
We recently got the opportunity to work with Barbara Ciurej and Lindsay Lochman on a small handmade book edition of their work Pliant History, and wanted to talk more with them about this beautiful project.
This edition of 10 includes interwoven vellum inkjet-printed sheets laid atop Piezo-printed portraits. The covers and spines are blind-debossed into an eggplant silk fabric.
What was the origin or initial vision of the work?
Our culture is awash in the glorification of youth, but lacking in a visual vocabulary to express the power and inevitability of transformation over a lifetime. This became abundantly clear to us as we entered the invisible world of middle age.
In our practice, we reference art history, reanimating mythology and imagery to interpret the present. From 2001-08, during artist residencies at Ragdale Foundation, we began photographing older women, drawing from the art historical canon. We explored strategies which would infused authority and divinity back into depictions of aging. We focused on seismic shifts in art history — from early fertility figures, to ancient Greece and Rome, into the Renaissance — pivotal times when beliefs systems clashed and conjoined producing new ideas. We mined these moments to produce an extended body of work called All Things Are Always Changing.
What became the book Pliant History, was a segment of that work initially titled Dialogues with Michelangelo. We considered how power is structured by pairing images of Michelangelo’s sibyls and prophets from the Sistine Chapel ceiling with contemporary portraits of women “assuming the pose.” In contrast to these seers and storytellers who served to justify authority in the Renaissance, our figures present embodied knowledge without the signifiers of books and beards, robes and thrones. Juxtaposing contemporary and historic representation as a means to access the past, we evoke the fluid and dynamic nature of power.
Describe a little about your practice and how this piece fits into your work overall.
We have been collaborating on projects for over three decades using photography to address the confluence of history, myth and popular culture. We share the conceptual and the practical aspects of creating work. Projects are often long-term, revisiting the initial work, then creating new iterations.
Working on projects through time is like attending the same opera over a span of many years. You identify with the characters differently, seeing nuances and connections initially missed, finding deeper meaning.
Can you talk a bit about the design and how you came to deciding how this piece should exist?
We originally exhibited prints side by side, but the layering of histories, one upon the next, suggested contingent relationships rather than oppositional ones. The idea of printing Michelangelo’s images on fragile, semi-transparent vellums and overlaying them onto our images literally allowed the viewer to look through history. The concept of turning a page on history was metaphorically rich, making clear a book was the most appropriate form for this idea. The interplay of vellum image and underlying image was thrilling, suggesting temporality, hybridity, transformation, and evolution.
We made a quick mockup with prints and vellum overlays and thus began a journey that took 4 more years and many meanderings.
Numerous dummy books with variations on binding a book with vellum interleaves were constructed. We researched and consulted with printers, bookmakers and publishers. After extensive testing, we chose paper, print method, text, design and layout to suggest the collision of Renaissance-era books with the present. Page size was determined by the ratios underpinning early illuminated manuscripts. Prints were made with carbon piezography inks on cotton rag paper to evoke the opulent materiality of Renaissance books and the sumptuous renderings Michelangelo’s paintings. Digitally simulated marbled endpapers line the cloth cover. An excerpt from Ovid’s Metamorphoses describing the certainty of change was added; a visual poem interspersed to alter page rhythm. The effect we wanted was a contemporary manuscript of change.
Finally, we landed at Candor Arts where every obstacle hindering completion was met with thoughtful suggestions, patience, and skill, making the book a thing of beauty.
We envision the 10 copies of the book in special collections as inter-history dialogue with emancipatory potential.
What is your next project?
An inadvertent swipe with the eraser tool in Photoshop led to a surprising iteration of this work. Now we are digitally collaging our images into Michelangelo’s figures, as we imagine a musical accompaniment.
Then we’ll be moving on to a cookbook, a critique of capitalism and the design of a fragrance.