Friday 24 April 2020

Guestbook by Leanne Shapton    {Reviewed by STELLA}
Guestbook is the best thing I have read in lock-down so far — and there have been some great books in the pile — I'm so pleased I saved it until now. It’s a project, as much as a book. My first Leanne Shapton experience was Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris — a novel about a relationship break-up in the form of an auction catalogue. Then Swimming Studies — a memoir of sorts with essays, photographs and illustrations (which I’m very pleased to own a hardback copy of — now out of print (and if you are keen on Guestbook, I recommend this very handsome hardback edition while it is still available)) and also her collaborative work with Sheila Heti and Heidi Julavits, Women in Clothes, which is just brilliant and endlessly browseable. But I think Guestbook might top all these. It’s an experience, an art project, a rumination on memory and story-telling, with its collected images and texts and wonderfully strange, clever juxtapositions. These collected pieces are various and endlessly fascinating. In 'Eqalussuaq', a series of black-and-white photographs worthy of old nature magazines of the Greenland shark is captioned with snippets from newspaper items as well as a monologue of culinary requests to the possible chef for a private party sailing trip. 'At the Foot of the Bed', a series of photographs, some from magazine advertising, of empty beds have an eerie presence on the page — disturbing by their silence and strange wanting for someone or something to happen. There’s the story of a traumatised tennis player, Billy Byron, and his imaginary companion who drives him to the brink — a pinprick look at highly driven competitive personalities. It’s no coincidence that this book is subtitled Ghost Stories. There are ghostly apparitions, tales of odd happenings, old houses with haunting fables. Shapton is delving into and creating the unexplained, using memorabilia, found objects (photos and images), reminiscences, resonances and mis-tellings to make us look twice and then make us look again — think again. Her artworks from various projects are interspersed throughout, watercolours, drawings, sculptural and photographic work, and the overall black-and-white printing gives a feeling of timelessness or 'timetrappedness'. In 'The Iceberg as Viewed by Eyewitnesses', she matches drawings (falsely attributed to eyewitnesses of the Titanic sinking) with the incident book from an upmarket restaurant and bar — the complaints and how the staff dealt with the issues, alongside recommendations for more appropriate actions next time. Humour underscores many of the vignettes. What is true and what is real are not considerations in this Guestbook, but the emotions, the philosophical musings, and Shapton’s role as witness of events and medium of ghostly apparitions will delight anyone who likes to look sideways at the world with one eye squinting and a mind wide open to intrigues and play.   

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