Artist Lenka Clayton has been a mainstay on It’s Nice That since way back in 2009, whether she’s doing very slow magic tricks, making drawings on a typewriter with friend and collaborator Michael Crowe, or making books about the 63 objects she has removed from her son’s mouth. With such a multidisciplinary practice we knew Lenka would have stacks of wonderful books tucked away, and we weren’t mistaken. “A few years ago I moved to America from England,” she explained, “so I have far fewer books at home than I used to, making this exercise quite easy. The books I chose are the ones that I sacrificed clothes space for in my suitcases.” It seems a good tactic, as these five are a wonderfully eclectic insight into Lenka’s work. Read on!
Georges Perec: An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris / Life: A Users Manual / Species of Spaces and Other Pieces
I cheated already and am counting three books by Georges Perec as one because it was too difficult to choose between them. Georges Perec is a huge inspiration to me. He was a member of Oulipo – the French group of writers and mathematicians who write according to playful structures and mathematical equations. Georges Perec is best known for the book A Void that doesn’t contain the letter E. The unfathomable thing is that translated into English it also doesn’t have the letter E in it. I heard that Ouilipo is only allowed to have as many members as could sit around a particular table in a particular cafe in Paris which I am not Googling to verify because I like the story too much.
An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris is a document of three days spent sitting at a street corner in Paris looking at everyday life and writing down all the things that happened in various categories; instances of numbers, details of bus routes, the flight patterns of birds. Life: A Users Manual is a record of everything that happened in every room of an apartment building in Paris over several generations. The chapter headings are things like: “In the Boiler Room,” and “Under the Stairs.” Species of Spaces and Other Pieces is a book of essays including an account of all the objects on Perec’s work table.
I delight in Perec’s passionate quantifying of the world, and in the quality of attention he places on the minutiae of everyday life. When I start thinking “what’s the point of everything,” etc. I think about Georges Perec and remember.
Lydia Davis: The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis
My dear friend and collaborator Michael Crowe gave this book to me for my last birthday. It’s just astonishing. It reads like a collection of perfectly expressed thoughts that you didn’t yet know you were about to have. It’s the most seriously taken playfulness. Here’s one whole perfect story:
“Idea for a Short Documentary Film
Representatives of different food products manufacturers try to open their own packaging.”
Kenneth Maue: Water in the Lake: Real Events for the Imagination
A book of instructions for activities that you have almost certainly not thought of doing before.
Vladimir Arkhipov: Home-Made Contemporary Russian Folk Artifacts
This book is a glorious collection of practical everyday objects made out of other everyday objects by Russian people around the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union. The objects beautifully describe both a problem and a solution in one thing. Each item was missing and needed and so created out of what happened to be at hand. The shovel made out of a road sign depicting a person shovelling is possibly the most poetic thing in the world.
En route to America this book got wet and ruined. I threw it away thinking I’d buy another copy then found out that instead of $20 it now costs $200 dollars or so because it’s out of print. Earlier this year I was teaching at Cranbrook School of Art and during a studio visit with a student, saw the book on her desk and leapt on it. She kindly let me borrow it overnight so I photographed every page, compiled them into a book and had it printed. This is my a stand-in copy until I can afford a real one. Sort of appropriate given the subject matter.
International Friendship Exhibition
This is a catalogue from the International Friendship Exhibition Museum in North Korea. A few years ago I was on tourist tour who visited this museum. It was one staggering site within a staggering week of things. I brought the book in part to remind myself that I was once there.
The museum is a collection of 218,400 gifts presented to Kim il Sung by various world leaders. There is a separate annex devoted to gifts given to Kim Jong Il. The gifts appear unused, and are each propped up on beautifully carved marble plinths.
One highlight I remember was a stuffed alligator standing on its hind legs delivering a plate of drinks; a gift to Kim Il Sung from “A Member of the Leadership of the Sandinista National Liberation Front and Minister of the Interior of the Council of National Reconstruction of the Republic of Nicaragua.”