It looks like a notebook. But is it? It’s sealed. Should I open it?
I can’t help it.
On the cover of this “book” there are a bunch of e’s printed. E-mail; e-cards; e-books... a myriad of e-words and e-things goes through my head – and somehow even Eva Longoria’s high-pitched, strident “E!” (for E! Entertainment) resonates in my ears. But eeeeeee! is nothing of the above. It’s more; it’s different. It’s quite unlike anything I’ve seen before. It thus deserves to be shared.
Eeeeeee! forms part of a storytelling project coordinated by Glen Calleja which germinated back in 2009. The project – titled A Depot of Living Things – sought to bring together traditional and digital storytelling.
Highly active in the fields of literature and contemporary theatre, Mr Calleja explained how he had been “craving to explore a territory between theatre – where one physically meets the audience in close proximity – and literature for some time... so storytelling was the natural playground for that”.
The publication is practically all handmade; I thus enquire as to the creative and evolutionary process of its fabrication.
“Let me share this with you before I explain the process. The image I have of this work is that of a garage; a place where one can freely dismantle and reassemble things at leisure, a place where things are fixed, an eclectic depot where things are sometimes stored for later use – Il-garaxx fejn ir-raġel imur iċekċek xi ħaġa.
“Stage one was to harvest the stories. I knew from the very beginning that I wanted to include a number of stories from various ‘traditional sources’ and also original stories. I kept my eyes open for stories and started making a list.” He also involved two friends, Caldon Mercieca and Maria Zammit, to contribute to his project, which he then adapted.
“The concept and design of this book were developed with David Pisani, better known for his photographic work. We agreed on something functional which reflects the organic nature of stories and the accent I wanted on the playfulness of the pieces.
“So after printing the baseline, I invited a few collaborators (Mr Mercieca, Albert Gatt, Simon Sultana, Lidwina Schembri Wismayer, Samira Cruciani, Vicky Ann Cremona) to give me a hand with the hand-made interventions on the pieces.
“We transformed my home kitchen into a garage/workshop and patiently worked on the pieces. At this stage, I was outlining a generic idea of what I wanted and let the collaborators do it their own way, let them play. I can never be grateful enough to (them) for their patience and diligence.”
There might be some who fail to grasp the intention behind the lack of conventionality behind such a publication, so how would one describe/explain this book’s origins and... purpose?
“The purpose is play. Or rather, to allow oneself to play. ‘Book’ is such a monolithic institution that it creates loads of false perceptions and restricting expectations when we meet a ‘book’. ‘Book’ as an institution is canon; established by authority, with well-defined content between two covers... which hardly corresponds to the nature of stories, if at all.
“Stories are naturally organic and dynamic. They grow and change and sometimes even die. ‘Book’ is not an isolated institution. There are markets dictating what it should look like and, by default, what literature should be like.”
But eeeeeee! is a 100-piece book which cannot be bought as a whole. And in that sense, it defies consumption and ownership. “Every one of the 100 pieces of eeeeeee! demands that whoever owns a piece intervenes on it – adulterates it in a way – to gain access to it. It also presents itself as a notebook where one can scribble, write notes, doodle...”
This creates “positive friction with my audience, ways of inviting them to play and therefore to become tellers themselves. In all of this I see myself as a coordinator, not anything else,” he humbly confessed.
When he first showed me the publication, Mr Calleja explained how it comprised two versions, based around a concept and tale of David and Goliath.
“I needed an excuse to give eeeeeee! a structure, otherwise it would look too much like an eclectic collection of stories. The first thing I did was divide the stories in sections but then, as an over-arching structure, I decided to use dialogue between two seemingly-antagonistic forces and re-propose them as complementary interdependent archetypes.
“The story of David and Goliath allowed me to introduce a million other layers and voices in the re-proposed story. The identikits of the characters in the prologues add other layers: David is portrayed through the picture of Rimbaud, the young fiery poet in love with an older (male) poet... remotely poking the speculation about David and Jonathan’s relationship back to life. Goliath’s portrait is that of Tolstoy, a wisened older man. Goliath’s part of the dialogues is dominated by the language of love. David is bloodthirsty. They kill (cancel) each other in the end... which in one-on-one combat was not uncommon.”
I ask him whether he feels there is enough of an audience for this specialised kind of book-making/art form?
“If your question is about a ‘market’, then I’d say it depends on how clever the ‘author/artist’ is. Of course, one could be very clever and create a product which is widely accessible, both in form and content, and which would have huge commercial potential. In the case of eeeeeee! I wasn’t clever in that way.
“In my presentation of Ir-Raġel – a book published entirely on the walls of a private residence, questioning the institution of ‘Book’ – and eeeeeee! I have focused on making the works impossible to own. No one can buy and own Ir-Raġel or eeeeeee!
“Perhaps in the future I will experiment in the opposite direction and find a way of giving total ownership to a mass of people. But, is that really possible?”
We part on that note. I cannot help but smile. And I cannot help but feel a flicker of anticipation for Mr Calleja’s next project.
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