“You had to be tough to have dinner at our house,” Buzz Spector recalls. His Jewish household in Rogers Park “strongly encouraged reading and intellectual arguments.” Respect for books was key. Later, when Spector began making art objects by tearing the pages of found books, it caused “a huge crisis. My mother was strenuously opposed to that work at first.”
By 1980, Spector had already been tearing the edges of his prints to imitate fine handmade paper. Inspired by Keats’s “On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer,” Spector wanted to create a book that would recall the sonnet’s metaphors for reading as discovery, as a moment of “wild surmise.” He decided to make a book of drawings torn to different sizes, so that one could see the edges of all the drawings at once. As a test, he tore the pages of an old book, but the result astonished him: “I’d reduced the book to a kind of single-page glyph. The structure of the page was preserved; it still looked like a text–except the a on page 19 was next to a c from a different word on page 22. I kept thinking I could see recognizable words; I kept reading and rereading this field of torn edges. I couldn’t find any words, but I couldn’t stop trying. Reading is ultimately optimistic: sitting at the breakfast table, you read the cereal box for the umpteenth time in the hope that finally some magic interior sense will reveal itself.”
Spector has made other torn books, but eventually this “constant destruction of text” began to bother him–perhaps his mother’s disapproval had returned as his superego–so he switched to pages that he printed himself. Spector will often print many copies of a photograph, arrange them in a stack, and tear different amounts from each edge, creating a wedge shape with the image still visible. The multiple torn edges produce a “flicker of interruption,” a perceptual effect similar to the often piecemeal experience of writing or reading; a photo becomes a text.
His “Authors” series uses dust-jacket photos, which Spector says are more about the pose of authorship than the act of writing. Double Kafka began with a rare photo of Kafka taken for a never-published edition of his novel Amerika. Spector reprinted the photo on a stack of 25-by-38-inch pages, repeating the image twice per page, and then tore the right-hand image. “One image of Kafka clearly shows the writer; the second appears filtered through this field of torn edges. Viewed from the right, it’s diffused by all the tearing and feathering; from the left, it completely disappears.”
Spector compares Double Kafka to the author’s famous story “Metamorphosis”: “The act of tearing becomes a metamorphosing gesture. But even if you’ve never read Kafka, the intact image on the left is remote and historical–you know it’s an old photograph–whereas the same image, torn, becomes more present because of the damage that’s recently been done to it. What appears to be damage releases it from history.”
Double Kafka will be on view this weekend in Zolla/Lieberman Gallery’s booth at Art 1997 Chicago, the annual international art fair at Navy Pier. Spector will also be represented at the fair by Angles Gallery, which will display another of his torn-paper pieces, Painting #6, and Lisa Sette Gallery, which will exhibit his collage of altered French postcards, Garden of Delights. More than 200 galleries will be at the fair in Navy Pier’s Festival Hall, 600 E. Grand, from noon to 8 Friday through Sunday and noon to 6 Monday. Admission is $10, $7 for students and seniors. For more information, call 312-587-3300. –Fred Camper
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo “Double Kafka” by Buzz Spector.