Elizabeth King


Attention’s Loop (A Sculptor’s Reverie on the Coexistence of Substance and Spirit)

Elizabeth King
Photographs by Katherine Wetzel
Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York, 1999
hardcover, 88 pages, 45 illustrations, 40 in tritone
ISBN 0-8109-1998-2

The book Attention’s Loop began with my wish to document a single sculpture by photographing it again and again, in many different poses and in different kinds of light, to find the limits of its emotional range. The sculpture is itself jointed and movable, designed to assume a wide range of anatomically subtle body positions in space. My search for its gesture has always been an important part of its formal presentation. I proposed to photographer Katherine Wetzel the idea of assembling a portfolio of poses, and our subsequent work engaged her lighting design and photography, and my sculpture and choreography. I later added a second sculpture to the project. In our work together, we pursued a double intent: to record in detail a self-evidently mechanical object, and at the same time to draw out of that object a convincing illusion of human presence.

And just this doubleness is the book’s subject: the coexistence of substance and spirit. We are a body one minute (made of blood, organs, joints), and a person the next (with memories, plans and desires), and we can never quite put these two things together. How does the one emerge from the other? The book is laid out as a series of image-text pairs, with each two-page spread forming an entity in its own right, then part of a growing accumulation of cross references that address and enact this double order of being. The text itself is a ruminative “voice-over” that travels across the divide between subject and object – on one page the sculpture itself appears to speak, on the next, it is addressed from without. I think of this book as a kind of cinema-in-the-hand: an animation. My performer, a self-portrait, is mobile and doubles back; the loop emerges as the voice itself anticipates, laments, speculates and remembers.

The book was designed by Judith Hudson at Abrams, and won a design award in the American Institute of Graphic Arts’ “AIGA 50 Books/50 Covers of 1999” Competition, and a Merit Award for Design in the 1999 New York Book Show.

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