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mick finch / the book of knowledge

During my childhood there was an encyclopedia, the Waverly Book of Knowledge.  Waverley encyclopedias were less well known than the Britannica but were very popular.  They were sold door to door, were cheaper than other volumes and held in esteem as an essential educational resource for an aspiring post-war generation of parents.  I was born in 1957 when the Book of Knowledge was already a part of our household.
These volumes made up some of my earliest memories and were the focus of endless hours of turning its pages, mainly looking at its pictures, illustrations and diagrams. My recollections of these books, although are not from the same moment as those of J. G. Ballard’s, correspond with my memory of them.  Ballard hawked the Waverley, door-to-door and talked about them in an interview.

J G Ballard knows about selling. As a young man he briefly peddled children's encyclopedias, working the psychological relationship between the middle-class hawker and the punter bent on self-improvement. Ballard "believed in" The Waverley because he had read it as a boy. Whenever he was bored his mother had told him, "'Go and read The Eight Volumes.' That was her name for them," he chuckles. "It was the nearest thing to television."
(Brace, M. 2006)

Even when TV arrived the Waverley continued to be a constant distraction, hypnotic and seemingly endless in what it offered.  This was far from being an innocent encounter,  a recollection of fondness.  The Book of Knowledge was very much of it’s time, reflected the aspirations and prejudices of post war Britain.  Empire, monarchy, parochial modernism and exoticism, a few of its traits that masked a sense of the catastrophe and ruins that haunted its pages.  It had been a plan of mine for a long time to revisit the volumes mainly as they had had an early impact on my imagination.  Eventually I bought two sets of the BOK on line, one to keep intact and the other to work with.  Re-encountering them was far from being an igneous Proustian experience.  Some images I did remember very well but the majority it felt I was seeing for the first time. I was surprised that the actual quality of the images sparked more feelings of recollection and recognition - very dusky black and white images, some sepia and many highly retouched colour plates.
Since 2014 the volumes have acted as a pretext for making work based in appropriation and re-combination. The pages have been cut from one set, scanned and digitally archived. The works made so far do not constitute a memory project as such, the interest is more in having a prescribed, limited archive to access.  Strategies of layering or juxtaposition images in Photoshop are used to explore the material’s surcharge – a process of éclatement.

 

Reference
J G Ballard: The comforts of madness, an interview with
Marianne Brace, The Independent, Thursday 14 September 2006.
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