Last week me and my mother (in town after attending Frankfurter Buchmesse, I’m so jealous) went to the exhibition at Bakkehusmuseet on reading by poet Morten Søndergaard called “Bakkehusalfabetet”.
The exhibit is set in and around the permanent exhibition in the house of Kamma and Knud Lyne Rahbek – two leading figures in 18th century society life in Denmark – now transformed into a museum and writer’s domicile. 28 installations, one for every letter in the Danish alphabet, are scattered around the house, in between cases containing items such as Oehlenschläger’s robe and paintings of Ludvig Holberg. The exhibition tries to convey different takes on how and why one reads, and importantly also what the process of reading does to someone. Accompanying every letter is a text that you can read in the booklet you loan at the entry. Like ‘R’ for “Ro; ro, rod, ord, bord” (in English, and unfortunately, but inevitably, not so similar, “quiet or row, mess, word, table”). The physical setting of the installation is an old wooden and lacquered desk like the one you might picture a clerk sitting at, upon which an iPad lays showing an array of pictures of Søndergaard’s many “desks”/writing places over the last 20 or so years. Combined with this is the mental process of, as explained in the text, the array of words he has chosen to describe his feelings of the settings of writing a text that will be read.
By the letter ‘I’, Søndergaard has taken a famous poem by Lewis Carroll in “Through the looking-glass, and what Alice found there”, namely the “Jabberwocky” and stuck it up on the bathroom wall. Jabberwocky is what some might call nonsense-poetry, however I would prefer to avoid the connotations of that word, simply because it does not do justice to the type of entry allowed the reader, just because it isn’t normative. The installation does however play on the same murkiness and seemingly impenetrable nature of the poem with which it presents itself on paper by being set backwards up on the wall, so that the easiest way you can read it is if you look at it through the mirror, or, ta-dah, looking-glass. The question soon arises; does reading the “Jabberwocky” become clearer if I read it through the looking-glass, or does reading like this feel displaced or diverted? Is reading this already-hard-to-comprehend poem impeded twice over, or am I all of a sudden aware of the poem’s crazy route?
Although it could be said that some of the installations took its subjects a bit to literally (like the two examples here) it doesn’t fail in examining reading at different point of views, perhaps in different life stages or reading as seen by different people. There is one of the installations where Søndergaard has taken a row of photos of book pages (a statement in itself that could lead to a long analysis), framed them with an archive card underneath explaining the books’ origin, page count, publishing date and remarks on the annotation or scribbled marks that fall out of the books default setting on that particular page. The images of the book-in-frame, with all of its implied and explicit meanings, becomes a fragment of a whole, and in the framed picture it is merely a corner of a books’ page, letting it stand as a documented piece, not of itself, but how it is received and implicates the reader. On one amusing photo someone has taken it upon him- or herself to correct a the grammar, crossing out the black, printed word “med” (with) and replacing it in blue ink with “af” (of). If you look at the photo and read the fragmented, but nonetheless adequate, sentence you will understand the duplicity in the action and the meaning.
The installations are on display until January 8th, and in case I did not make it clear: yes, I think they are worth a visit.
P.S. Did I mention I got a cool poster too?