down  german  english

THE HANDBOOK
------------




THE HANDBOOK 1


   INDEX


  1.     Past History
  2.     Case History
  3.     Prejudices
  4.     THE HANDBOOK
  5.     Ballet of Incomprehensibility
  6.     The Categories
  7.     Browsing the Handbook
  8.     Memorial to Actuality
  9.     The Edition
  10.     Extensions
  11.     OEUVRE TOTAL
  12.     The Digital Self
  13.     Learning by doing
  14.     Bibliografie
  15.     Diary
  16.     Originals (Vorlagen)
  17.     Additions (Nachlagen)
  18.     Photo projects
  19.     Notebooks
  20.     Articles
  21.     STATISTICS
  22.     MISCELLANEOUS INFORMATION + LINKS

 

Past History

After settling in New York in 1989, I expanded my English vocabulary mostly by reading the New York Times. This is when I started collecting newspaper articles in a systematic way.

The articles I chose described circumstances which concerned me personally and triggered my interest since they dealt with a specific problem which I experienced in a similar fashion. I was particularly attentive to sayings that were short and to the point while actually covering complicated facts, making them easy to remember.

   

CH (KG) 
      I called this collection "Case History (Die Krankengeschichte)." It meant questioning the self through the input of media and was a kind of psychoanalysis, with the text being the analyst. The purpose was to increase my awareness, cope with the past, language acquisition and assimilation in general.

In contrast to earlier documents, such as the DIARY 1974, which was still mainly composed of personal notes, now a kind of "passive diary" was taking shape: thoughts, ideas and conclusions were already provided in the newspaper articles, I no longer had to write them myself. All that was left for me to do was find and collect them.

 

RML
 

Diebenkorn
 

Sunlight
 

Neuburg
 

Human Being
 

Eat
 
  DIARY 1974 

 

Case History

Totally new and therefore fascinating was, that topics were often presented and discussed in a ruthless manner, as in the following examples:

CH example 1: Memory
One of the first articles I included in the CH dealt with the controversy regarding famous pediatrician Bruno Bettelheim and the questioning of his methods of treatment

 

"...[he believed] that the milieu of total control used by the Nazis to destroy people could be turned to good purposes."

"...they were afraid of his occasional unpredictable behavior."

"...terror of his footsteps in the dorm."

Richard Bernstein: "Accusations of Abuse Haunt the Legacy Of Dr. Bruno Bettelheim", New York Times, Nov 4, 1990

Erinnerung



1990


1997


1997


2003

 

CH example 2: CATCH-22 [ Remark ]
   a) The dilemma between belonging to a minority versus career opportunities
The quandary in which the black Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas found himself in is brought to the point in a single sentence:

 

"...he refused to involve himself in racial issues, believing that to do so would signal that he could flourish only in such channels."

Neil A.Lewis: "Thoma's Journey on Path of Self-Help", New York Times, July 7, 1991

[ Remark ]
 
Catch-22  /  Discrimination



1991


1996


1996


1998

   b) Hide
In a recently published article about the painter Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937) the problem is described as follows:

 

"...he is remembered today as the first African-American artist to achieve international fame in modern times. But that is not how he wanted to be known."

Ken Johnson: "An African-American Painter Who Tried to Transcend Race", New York Times, Feb 10, 2012
Catch-22 / Discrimination


2012

   c) Show
Reassessment of a status symbol with a negative connotation:

 

"Should a President who used a wheelchair be recalled in one?"

"A photograph ... shows how he tried to keep his disability out of sight."

"...he is the role model for the 50 million disabled people living in this country," said Mr. Deland. "He lived his live in a wheelchair and history should record it."

Meghan Mutchler: "Roosevelt's Disability An Issue at Memorial", New York Times, Monday, April 10, 1995
 
FDR-Wheelchair-Controversy



1995


Miscellaneous

 

CH example 3: Various other topics

 


Homesickness



Feb 13, 1992


Oct 4, 1992
 

Oct 18, 1992

SWISS BANKS



File

Abu Ghraib



2004

 

Prejudices

An unforeseen effect of moving to a new culture was that I started to develop a new kind of sensitivity. If I had previously been unaware, I now noticed how certain circumstances or persons were described, realizing, for instance, to what extent discrimination can be based on appearance. The USA, a country of omnipresent political correctness, changed my way of reading European newspapers. To illustrate this fact, here is one example from the MH, namely the topic of hair as written in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (one of the main Swiss German Newspapers:

                 
 
 
Hairdo correction  Ponytail  Pedagogical
short hairstyle 
Extra-
vaganza 
Magnificent
head of hair 
Razor-Head
Attack
 
Shaved  Shaved head  Haircut  Groomed
Rasta hairdo 

 

THE HANDBOOK

On the visual level however, one particular aspect immediately caught the eye: in my view, the image editors at the New York Times chose ten times more interesting pictures than their counterparts at European newspapers, such as the "Tages-Anzeiger", let alone the Neue Zürcher Zeitung.



Detail from THE HANDBOOK 1 p. 622

Obvisouly, and contrary to Europe where the word takes center stage, the printed image was given priority in the USA.

In contrast to US media that zoom in closer and place emphasis on communication, European newspapers more frequently base their choice on 'corporate identity', neat appearance, and the satisfaction of visual conventions held by their long-term subscribers: come fall and you always have your standard image of a leafless tree in a foggy landscape.

Coming to such a new understanding of images, or rather of the way they were chosen, led to my fascination with the hand in press photography.

This is how the HANDBOOK began.

 

Following an earlier phase where the hand had been the study template for drawings like the ones contained in the STUDY BOOK of the 80es, I now began to consider the hand on its own, without any artistic transposition.

 

Hand Study 1990
 

 

In the STUDY BOOK 1984-86, the guiding question - beyond exercising my hand in drawing and concentration - had also been: why was I interested in this image or why I had chosen this particular one rather than another?

It was finally the sheer accumulation of images that would answer this question. However, for the time being, the meaning or the red thread through the collection remained hidden. Since it was hardly preconceived, it would only reveal itself gradually, through the collection as a whole.

THE BOOK OF THE DEAD 1979-85
FORM STUDIES

            
Stone
 

Rot
 

Fog
 

Dripping
 

Bleakness
 

Sculpture
 
 

 

STUDY BOOK 1985-87
DRAWINGS

   
Artaud
 

Palestinian
 

Farms
 

People
 

Walser
 

Supine position
 

Man
 

  

Ballet of Incomprehensibility

The hand as a figure in newspaper imagery may be the part of the picture that most easily escaped control. There were shapes and forms that one could hardly imagine. It was also due to the fact that the hand never was the focal point: the hand was simply there.

      

Had one commissioned photographers to shoot hands, the esthetics of the author would have transpired sooner or later. Possibly those hands would even be presented with precisely adjusted photographic lighting. At any rate, diversity would have been limited and it would have been impossible to avoid the esthetic signature of the artist. Yet in photographes that appeared in the printed press, mainly in the New York Times, something different happened to these hands: clearly, here, the much overused topic of the hand recovered explosive actuality.

It became the OBJET TROUVE, thus allowing an approximation to the real hand. This in turn led to a de-popular-ization of the photograph since I was cutting off as much of the context as possible. A kind of leveling took place which finally created a pictural language that was both highly personal as well as incomprehensible.

 

The low image resolution and the blurred quality of news photography add yet another alienating effect: transforming the three dimensional limb in action into a fuzzy juxtaposition of more or less densely arrayed grid points, the newspaper image of a hand ends up as an abstract picture in various shades of grey, far removed from the original content.

The hand, after a brief and unintended appearance in much publicized newspaper photography, now becomes an "objet trouve" (a lost and found item). Faced with the inevitable "sedimentation process" that occurs when gathering a big mass of pictures, it ends up in a collection of over 6000 newspaper articles.

Bieri, Susanne: Katalog, VISIBLE, Künstlerbücher+Portfolios, Graphische Sammlung der Schweiz.Nationalbibliothek Bern, 1998

 


Work on the Handbook

From now one, one cut out of a hand after another was put down on paper. Day after day over a number of years, I worked in a space-saving manner based on image size in a trance-like, meditative state of patient labour.

 

To some extent, "the handbook" steered me away from an active compulsion to create, one which may give birth to dangerous and rash products. Finding, cutting and collecting, filing and glueing, etc. has great meditative value.
What matters here is what may be mistaken for passiveness while, in fact, it is only a reverse way of looking.
Hyperactivity may indeed be an unwillingness to look or a preoccupation with old images.
The act of finding is quite the opposite: since I'm open, everything comes to me - reveals itself to my eyes.

Of course, I'm still fundamentally adhering to my theory of deformation which has, however, evolved from my earlier point of view to now indulge in poetry and sound; it may even be likened to a poem.
Freedom of form.
Growth.

From a letter to film director Paolo Poloni, January 18, 1998

 

The increasing lack of space due to my ever-growing collection forced me to constantly create more space.

This was only possible by adding extra pages.

One page attached to another and pages folding into each other in a snail-like manner produce, once rolled out again, those particular image bands that make up the handbook.

 
DIAGRAMS

 

 

The Categories

With the collection growing rapidly the question of structure was there from the beginning. The images were placed slowly and under the exclusion of standard categories like man/woman or work/sport. An organization based on size and position, young and old, skin color, etc. was no option either.

With the use of quasi biological terms all the way to philosophical concepts, the categories that slowly emerged turned out to be phenomenological in nature:

 

aDie linke und die recht HandDas EiThe Left and the Right HandTHE EGG
bEinzelhandTeilungSingle HandSEPARATION
cHand am Kopf und GesichtBewusstseinHand on Face and HeadAWARENESS
dHand an einem ObjektDas AussenHand on ObjectTHE EXTERIOR
eHand fasst eine andere Hand oder Arm anKommunikationHand Touching another Hand /ArmCOMMUNICATION
fArmeWachstum und IdentitaetArmsGROWTH + IDENTITY
gGesten und HaltungenAusdruck und GefangenseinGestures and PositionsEXPRESSION + SUBJECTION
hTaetigkeitenFreiheit und NotwendigkeitActivitiesNECESSITY + FREEDOM
iDie nicht beruehrte BeruehrungVergaenglichkeit + UnausweichlichkeitThe Not-Touched-TouchTRANSIENCE+INEVITABILITY
kStruktur der erhobenen ArmePolitikStructure of the raised ArmsPOLITICS

 

The figure of the hand out of its historical context was free to deploy itself, once the goal of separating the image from its time-frame had been achieved. The resulting structure could now be likened to the relationship between the cell and the organism, perceived as a global evolutionary tale, or a system of perception comparing the psychological I to the We.

 


a
The Left and the Right Hand (THE EGG)
Die linke und die recht Hand (Das Ei)

b
Single Hand (SEPARATION)
Einzelhand (Teilung)

c
Hand on Face and Head (AWARENESS)
Hand am Kopf und Gesicht (Bewusstsein)

d
Hand on Object (THE EXTERIOR)
Hand an einem Objekt (Das Aussen)

e
Hand Touching another Hand /Arm (COMMUNICATION)
Hand fasst eine andere Hand oder Arm an (Kommunikation)

f
Arms (GROWTH + IDENTITY)
Arme (Wachstum und Identitaet)

g
Gestures and Positions (EXPRESSION + SUBJECTION)
Gesten und Haltungen (Ausdruck und Gefangensein)

h
Activities (NECESSITY + FREEDOM)
Taetigkeiten (Freiheit und Notwendigkeit)

i
The Not-Touched-Touch (TRANSIENCE+INEVITABILITY)
Die nicht beruehrte Beruehrung
(Vergaenglichkeit + Unausweichlichkeit)

k
Structure of the raised Arms (Politics)
Struktur der erhobenen Arme
(Politik)

 

 

 

Memorial to Actuality



1


2

History: muted and compressed, collapsed in time in sediments of hands, frozen, senseless gestures and postures of the Now. Through frieze-like patterns and bands recalling the construction of walls, the handbook evolved into a monumental memorial to current events.

The collection went through one last and irreversible decontextualization when I decided not to add any kind of explanatory data. There was no mention to which person the hand belonged nor publishing dates and names of the authors of photographs.

 

From time immemorial, the frieze which can be read from right to left, was used, at least in the Western World, to transmit a history of salvation or some other powerful genesis. From cave paintings to Giotto di Bondone and on to Diego Rivera, these narrative images are part of human history.

Seen from this angle, Witschi explicitly thinks and acts like a traditional painter. The paintings that made his reputation often work with the "terror that comes from things we don't immediately comprehend" (H.W.).

Altmann Susanne: Dresdner KULTURMAGAZIN 04/98
www.handbook.org
KUNST IM OEFFENTLICHEN RAUM: EIN KUENSTLERBUCH IM INTERNET
ART IN THE PUBLIC REALM: AN ARTIST'S BOOK ON INTERNET

    
The original Handbook with its spiral binding is part of the collection of prints at the Swiss national library in Bern, where it was presented during the exhibition "VISIBLE" featuring artists' books and portfolios in 1998.

 


VISIBLE artists' books and portfolios, April 1998

 

 

[Film: Bruno Jakob 1995]
        
[Film: Stephen Blauweiss 1997]

 

 

The Edition

I used the handbook which had found its place at the Swiss national library in Bern in the meantime, as a model for publication.



EDITION

 

Exhibitions: URSUS BOOKS 1997 Carlyle Hotel Madison Avenue and Hope Street, Brooklyn.



1997 URSUS BOOKS Carlyle Hotel Madison Avenue
     

URSUS BOOKS Announcement
     
TRACES

 

 

 

Extensions

 



THE HANDBOOK 2

 

After acquiring a personal computer in 1997, I started to transcribe the data based on files produced by typewriter into an artistic presentation on spreadsheets. Parallel to this, an expanded version of the handbook was taking shape in digital form.

 


Heap
     
Assistance
     
Scanning

 


In 1997, I settled for the address "www.handbook.org" and the website designed by Stefan Meichtry was launched.

Meichtry
+
     
Witschi 1
+
     
2
+


The first showing of the website took place in 1997 at "SPACE 2D" in Chelsea, New York, at the exhibition space of Columbian video artist Adriana Arenas.

 

Contrary to the "real-life version" of the work, the virtual book offers the possibility to arrange single motives in a chorus and to create mass sediments akin to geology. Zooming out, single bands can be placed underneath each other like scrolls, then playfully bring them back to size when zooming in. Having an overview of the highly impressive graphic design of those friezes really brings out the quality of evolutionary epos of the "Handbook", much more so than a presentation in a museum glass case could ever do.

Altmann Susanne: Dresdner KULTURMAGAZIN 04/98
www.handbook.org
KUNST IM OEFFENTLICHEN RAUM: EIN KUENSTLERBUCH IM INTERNET
ART IN THE PUBLIC REALM: AN ARTIST'S BOOK ON INTERNET

 

 



BROWSING THROUGH THE HANDBOOK

 

 

 

The Digital Self

 



OEUVRE TOTAL

 

Later on, the rapid developments in information technology made it possible to work on a global digital archive.

      
My aim was to create a mirror in digital form based on the most simple of methods and by limiting myself to ONE pathway. To frame it differently: the digital archive was to be based on simple user-friendly coding without requiring any specialized software.

The solution was obvious: everything had to work through the browser.

 

 

Learning by doing

        
In 1997, priority was given to data entry with regard to the pictures. This meant scanning reproductions of images and drawings and numbering all the original elements in the different storage areas.

 

   

Inclusion in the complete catalogue 
     

In parallel, I had to learn HTML programming and create my own structure for the presentation.



PERL Script


Database Relations

The PERL programming language (Practical Extraction and Report Language) turned out to be sufficiently powerful to sort the large data volume and introduce the search mode in the data base.

Further entries had links to the bibliography, the diary, templates and later additions, and photo projects.





Bibliography
+ 



    

Diary

 



     

Templates and later additions (Vor- und Nachlagen)

 





Photo projects

 

The above mentioned main categories are subject to ongoing work on the catalogue. They really are at the core of my entire documentary endeavor

 

Notebooks

The notebooks are a mixed bag between daily life and curiosity cabinet. They function as diaries of real life while looking a bit like "waste books"

      

Notebooks 
   

 

The notebooks also contain - next to irrelevant notes, scribblings, addresses, conversation records, vocabulary entries, etc. - studies of drawings and other contents related to the complete work

     
     
        
        
           
           
           
           
           
           
           
           
           
           
           

Examples from the notebooks

 

Articles

Today we easily forget how laborious access to Internet used to be and even not so long ago. At the time, the computer had to be hooked up to the phone cable and one had to call the server number via a modem.

From this point on however, your telephone line was occupied as long as you were surfing on Internet and no one could call you during this time. One had to be smart and avoid reading contents such as newspaper articles online, so as not to continue blocking the telephone line. The best way to save time and money was to download the data onto the desktop and proceed to quickly log out.
Modem sound

As a matter of course, the documents, once read, instead of being erased, were assigned to different files labeled "art", "music", "philosophy", etc. The entire data volume of this archive amounts to roughly 40'000 newspaper articles.

 

 

 

STATISTICS

- catalogue of paintings / drawings (3'400 Eintraege)
-Bibliography (all articles scanned)
-digital diary (daily entries of paintings)
-Correspondence since 1989
-Photographies (90'000)
-Photo projects (Homeless + Death Valley)
-over 1'000 short films
-Personal Archive of the Art Students League of NY
(students' works, materials, notes 12'000)
-additional collections like "no leg", "foreshortened Arms"
-Global Archive improvisations and compositions, Midi-Files etc. (1'500)
-The Archive is both server compatible and offline fully functional complete with search function.
-The data volume amounts to roughly 1 TB and is growing.

 

 

MISCELLANEOUS INFORMATION + LINKS

2011Archives of the future - new knowledge structures Symposium at Sitterwerk
Symposium im Sitterwerk
04. November 2011 bis 05. November 2011
  
e-helvetia
Inclusion into the collection of Web Archives Switzerland
  
2012
       
EA book at night - Objects from the Library Andreas Züst
Corner College, Zürich
19. bis 21. Oktober 2012
+                                 +      
  

 

 

 

© Hans Witschi 2012

 

top