Jan de Cock: Denkmal ISBN 9080842427 Distributed Art Publishers, 2006. £70
Designed by Belgian artist Jan de Cock, whose Denkmal installation was at Tate Modern last year, this thick, heavy book is a bibliophile's dream which brings together de Cock's work of the last two years, focusing on the Tate show. It includes many photos of visitors there looking at his installations, which are highly architectural.
The works are composed on the basis of complex grids, within a strictly limited palette of materials and forms: chipboard panels assembled into De Stijl-like functionless buildings; banal office furniture arranged to make arid, rigidly orthogonal, vaguely oppressive interiors; and a colour palette of deliberately characterless mauves and greens.
The book is a compendium which includes carefully paginated layouts of tiny random illustrations, full-page spreads with photographs of all kinds (de Cock's own installations, remote forests, Capri, the Rietveld-Schröder House), and which challenges attempts to read it in a conventional way. If James Joyce were alive now, perhaps Finnegans Wake might have been like this: lots of pictures interspersed with fragmented texts using different fonts in different colours and sizes that run into one another in a clash of styles and modes. Some pages are even left uncut.
This complex structuring of the book as a piece of art in its own right prevents us (intentionally) from any attempt to read logically the essays by Tim Martin, Kirstie Skinner, John Welchman, Jon Wood and Wouter Davidts.
Instead, we eetingly glimpse fragments of writing and trigger-words like 'Camus' and 'containment', or technical information on manufacturing plywood. At times we think we have found a structure and try to follow it, only to lose ourselves in an alternative that suddenly appears.
Just as the book's graphic aspects use overlaid, intersecting grids to orchestrate this wandering-through-space process, other intellectual grids and frames of reference (by which critics situate de Cock's work in various cultural contexts) are also shifted and superimposed by de Cock himself, who cuts them up and mixes them with the graphics in seemingly random ways. The result is a book impossible to 'read': only fragments of ideas or images can be perceived, and even then they are always contaminated by other thought processes and perceptions.
Philosophically, the message is that all forms of systematisation and order are arti-ces that fail. The bearer of this message is a rather special book that has no title, and is identifiable only by its code: ISBN 9080842427. The art market, and trendy names like Comme des Garçons, have been investing significantly in this artist, whose success now seems guaranteed. Hopefully his increasing celebrity will not blunt de Cock's edge as thinker, artisan and innovator. Bursting with inspirational visual and critical ideas that interact and renew themselves, this book is bound to intrigue and stimulate any architect.