Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Of collective nouns and maps

I love collective nouns; so many of the real ones are so delicious and clever (an ostentation of peacocks, a parliament of owls, a skulk of thieves) with lots of puns at play.

A dear friend knows this and sent me the most wonderful book for my birthday - An Exaltation of Larks by James Lipton.  It is filled with the history of many collective nouns, and then the wished-for collective nouns. Some of my favourites in this latter classification include: a marvel of unicorns; an oxymoron of athletic scholarships; a discord of experts; a tug of kites; a blur of impressionists; a browse of readers… as you can see imaginations were on the run as these were written.


Which in a roundabout way brings me to an exhibition I saw on the weekend in Melbourne.  My bestie and I were there for a Helen Reddy concert (I Am Woman Hear Me Roar!) and in-between the chats, shops and coffees, we visited the State Library where Nicholas Jones had an exhibition called A Conspiracy of Cartographers.  I of course thought this was a collective noun and just had to go!

As it turns out, it was actually a quote. It comes from a line of dialogue in British playwright Tom Sheppard's play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, written in 1966.

Rosencrantz: I don't believe it anyway.
Guildenstern: What?
Rosencrantz: England.
Guildenstern: Just a conspiracy of cartographers then?

Which is pretty funny anyhow.

For his Creative Fellowship at the Library, Jones created a series of altered book sculptures, inspired by the atlas Theatrum Orbis Terrarum by Abraham Ortelius (1574).

Jone used some of these maps to inspire work with books he found and bought, to create a series of book sculptures.  They were displayed in cases in the beautiful La Trobe reading room - which has a huge dome and lots of windows, so I couldn't photograph them any other way than by putting my camera on the case and clicking. So you never really get the full book. Still you get an idea…






All of the books chosen for carving had a link to the area on the map, and every book was meticulously carved by hand. An enjoyable discovery on a quick trip south!

17 comments:

  1. What a delightful find! Altered books - most especially those that have been carved - are so fascinating. I picture the artist grabbing a book and a chainsaw (electric carving knife instead?) and having a go at it. Of course, that's only my imagination for the work is far too precise for a chainsaw.

    Happy belated birthday! Need to put it on my calendar. Enjoy!

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    1. The carving of books somehow reaches a deep and dark place of yearning doesn't it J? I am not sure I would have the patience however! Thanks for the birthday wishes too.

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  2. mmm mmm mmmm looks like my idea of FUN!

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    1. It was a real treasure of a discovery Ronnie, I'm sure you would have had fun.

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  3. F - love the craving into the books. B

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    1. Thanks B - I love the carving and the craving!

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  4. Nicholas Jones! You've made my morning, Fiona! How I'd love to see his exhibition! And an oxymoron of athletic scholarships? Too good.

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    1. It was just lovely Carol - a real serendipitous moment. Some of those collective nouns are just brilliant!

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  5. Now that looks like my kind of exhibition. Must find out more about Mr Jones. I'm another fan of collective nouns too and often wonder how they came to be. I think you've just added another book to my growing pile...... Many years ago when I worked in the airy fairy world of advertising where many people talked a lot but didn't say much, a colleague coined the phrase ' a facade of art directors' It was a perfect collective noun for the times!

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    1. Mmmmmm yes Lesley. I would have loved to have been able to photograph them fully, but the fabulous domed windows shed way too much light on them - made for interesting images, but not good shots of the books. The book has loads of history and wonderful illustrations as well and even games to play where you make up your own. Love the facade of art directors!

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  6. Oh what a splendidly vindictive pleasure that would have been aged 16 to carve my Latin book into an artistic wonder ...! What a lovely exhibition that must have been. I will follow up that book too.
    .... How did I miss this when it was first posted?

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    1. There's still time to seek retribution Charlton - find an old latin textbook and carve away! It's great collective noun book Charlton - made me smile and smile.

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  7. I always enjoy your blog and although I don't often comment I have to thank you specially for this post because I too have a friend who will think heaven is within the pages of that book "An Exaltation of Larks". I went to the book store and ordered it for her instantly.

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    1. Hi Sue - thanks for letting me know you're out there reading, and I'm so glad you have a friend who will totally get this book! It's a true delight with many hours of pleasure - a great gift of your friend.

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  8. Hi Fiona -

    An Exaltation of Larks is one of my favorites.

    You have inspired me to give this book as a gift to a friend!

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I appreciate your thoughts and comments; thanks for taking the time.