1984

In 2017, during the first week of Donald Trump’s presidency, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany made a false statement during a press conference. The following day, on television, her lie was rebranded by Trump’s Senior Counselor Kellyanne Conway as an ‘alternative fact.’ After this incident, George Orwell’s classic novel 1984 saw a new surge in popularity; so much so that the book was completely sold out on Amazon in the United States for several days.

These days, in the era of ‘alternative facts’ and ‘fake news’, Big Tech spying, ubiquitous social media, and questionable political decisions all around the world, 1984 is still as relevant as ever. Its central themes of totalitarianism, massive surveillance, and State control of the population and media speak to the reality of the digital age.

This is precisely the inspiration behind the imaginary exhibition titled ‘1984: An Influential Book, 1949 – 2020.’

Translated into 65 different languages and with over 30 million copies sold worldwide, 1984 has infiltrated popular culture to the point that people who haven’t even read the book still know the story. Phrases like “Big Brother is watching you” or “the thought police” can be quoted by virtually everyone.

The exhibition would have an immersive aspect. The walls throughout would be concrete-grey, covered with graffiti-like writing evoking the slogans of The Party: ‘War is peace’, ‘Freedom is slavery’, and ‘Ignorance is strength.’ There would also be cameras in the rooms, connected to small screens where people could see themselves as if they were being actively surveilled. The visual inspiration for the exhibition would come from the film adaptation released in 1984, as well as from the stage design for Greenday’s musical American Idiot, created in 2010.

© 20th Century Fox

© 20th Century Fox

© Green Day

© Green Day

The first room would be called the Ministry of Sound. It would contain book covers from around the world, as well as from different years. Given the large number of examples, the collection would be organized according to what is represented on the cover, such as eyes, cameras, a single dominating character representing Big Brother, multiple rebel characters, etc.

(Inspiration from https://bookriot.com/1984-in-covers/)

(Inspiration from https://bookriot.com/1984-in-covers/)

The second room would be titled the Ministry of Fiction. It would showcase the real-life inspiration behind the book, complete with posters, articles, and even videos exhibited alongside corresponding book excerpts.

For example, the phrase ‘2+2=5 ‘ was an actual Soviet Union slogan used to promote their Five Year plan. (The above poster is from 1931.) In the United Kingdom as well there were posters created during both World Wars to positively portray death in battle, as well as the erasure of individual identity through the act of becoming a soldier. As a matter of fact, the Ministry of Truth’ was based on the real-life Ministry of Information that existed during WWII and served to promote British propaganda. It was located in the Senate House in London, which is currently a building of the University of London.

The room dubbed Ministry of Fiction would also contain links to today’s world. For example, it could include images of Edward Snowden and the NSA scandal, or the now infamous ‘alternative facts’ live broadcast segment.

The following room would be the Ministry of Paper, showcasing audiovisual references to the book in popular culture. It would include the Apple Macintosh commercial that aired during the 1984 Superbowl and excerpts from two film adaptations, one released in 1956 and the other in 1984. It could even include images from the 1984-inspired reality television franchise Big Brother (1999- ).

This same room would also contain musical references from artists such as Muse, Eurythmics, The Jam, David Bowie, Rage Against the Machine, Coldplay, Stevie Wonder, and Radiohead.

Visually, the room could look like this:

MoMA in Vienna, Double Lives, 2018

© MoMA in Vienna, Double Lives, 2018

Finally, the last room would be called the Ministry of Uniqueness. It would be a gateway to discover other dystopian works that hold relevance for today’s world. It would include novels such as Brave New World (1932), Fahrenheit 451 (1953), and The Handmaid’s Tale (1985).

There could also be films inspired by 1984, such as THX 1138 (1971) or Gattaca (1997).

It is particularly interesting that in every dystopian work, there is an emphasis on the control of words and reading in general. We have ‘newspeak’ in 1984 (1949) burned books in Fahrenheit 451 (1953), or women prevented from reading anything in The Handmaid’s Tale (1985). The latter leads to a terrifying visual in the series by the same name (2017- ) that was adapted from the original book. There isn’t a single letter left in the grocery store, and everything has been replaced by symbols.

© MGM Television

© MGM Television

For more information on elements mentioned above, here are a few links to useful articles.

  • https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/may/19/legacy-george-orwell-nineteen-eighty-four
  • https://www.theguardian.com/books/2009/may/10/1984-george-orwell
  • https://www.theguardian.com/music/2019/may/19/david-bowie-nineteen-eighty-four-george-orwell-diamond-dogs-dorian-lynskey
  • https://www.theguardian.com/media/2017/mar/11/death-truth-propaganda-alternative-facts-gripped-world
  • https://www.theguardian.com/media/greenslade/2016/aug/10/how-wartime-britons-were-easily-persuaded-by-the-propagandists
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ministry_of_Information_(United_Kingdom)

Elodie Katan
Master 2 MC2L, Université Paris 8
Département d’Études des Pays Anglophones

100 Years of Clarice Lispector’s Magic

2020 was certainly an eventful year. A year marked by a global pandemic, explosions, protests and uprisings, more explosions, and several other unprecedented events that any other year may have been the sole news headline, but not in 2020. Nevertheless, one particularly noteworthy event still managed to slip through the cracks.

In 1920, in the city of Podolia in Western Ukraine, a star was born. Her Jewish family had decided to escape the horrific circumstances brought on by World War I by moving overseas to South America, specifically to Brazil. Chaya Pinkhasivna Lispector was only an infant when her name was changed to Clarice. One hundred years later, her new name would be celebrated as one of the most important Brazilian authors in history.

Clarice Lispector © Claudia Andujar

Clarice Lispector was an author and translator who wrote about personal experience. Her magical, prosaic walks through tales influenced by Woolf’s abstract stretches of time and Hesse’s lyrical, philosophical quests evoke the rich experience of being a woman. Lispector’s unique way of writing from the gut with a passionate and intuitive voice matched her poised and powerful image. She influenced many different artists who were inspired by her unapologetic rhetoric on what it feels like to be a woman — or just simply to be. The list is extensive, and this proposition is a simple one. As a tribute to Lispector’s ever-present magic 100 years after her birth, and 43 after her death, the exhibition would display a collection of pieces influenced and inspired by the Brazilian novelist, creating a poetic and rich homage.

The exhibition could explore the many facets of her life.

  • Her literary life — i.e. her books, her entourage, and the publishing world — would be shown through a selection of manuscripts and letters, as well as excerpts from different texts displayed on the walls. The exhibit would highlight the different genres she explored, including children’s literature, short-stories, novels, and short non-fiction.
  • Her reception in France, the UK, and the U.S., depending on the location of the exhibition

  • Her translations, her relationship with her translators, and her translated works

  • The film adaptations of her texts

  • Her influence on other artists

© Lego Lima

© Lego Lima

© JF Delhomme

© JF Delhomme

 

  • Her unique sense of fashion

  • Her status as cultural icon
© Huge Potato

© Huge Potato

© OmniscientNarrator

© OmniscientNarrator

© FulBelSic Etsy

© FulBelSic Etsy

I would display different objects and artefacts alongside her portraits to emphasise the significance of her life and literary career which remain rather unknown in France.

Amanda Cunha Batista
Master 2 MC2L, Université Paris 8
Département d’Études des Pays Anglophones

Le petit théâtre de Peau d’Âne, « décor inachevé de l’enfance » : le musée intérieur de Pierre Loti.

La ville de Rochefort, qui a vu grandir Pierre Loti, né Louis-Marie-Julien Viaud (1850-1923), rend hommageà travers différents lieux de mémoire, à celui qui fut tour à tour écrivain, grand voyageur, officier de marine, photographe, collectionneur, décorateur, maître d’œuvre, hôte fantasque, et membre de l’Académie française. Nostalgique de sa propre enfance, Loti conserve tout, archive, expose, accumule, aussi bien des reliques de sa jeunesse, des petits riens, que des objets précieux ramenés au gré de ses pérégrinations. 

P. Loti, Le roman d’un enfant, Paris, Calmann-Levy, 1890 © Calmann-Levy

P. Loti, Le roman d’un enfant, Paris, Calmann-Levy, 1890 © Calmann-Levy

P. Loti, Prime Jeunesse, Paris, Calmann-Levy, 1919 © Calmann-Levy

P. Loti, Prime Jeunesse, Paris, Calmann-Levy, 1919 © Calmann-Levy

P. Loti, Journal intime, Paris, Calmann-Levy, 1929 © Calmann-Levy

P. Loti, Journal intime, Paris, Calmann-Levy, 1929 © Calmann-Levy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

La maison Pierre Loti, rachetée par la ville au fils de Pierre Loti en 1969, transformée en 1973 en musée municipal, est désormais classée monument historique et labellisée Maison des illustres depuis 2011Cette bâtisse hors normes, insoupçonnable depuis la rue, que Loti ne cessa de transformer et dans laquelle il fit construire une série de pièces d’exception (une mosquée, un salon turc, une salle océanienne, une pagode japonaise, une bibliothèque baptisée « chambre des momies »)abrite une multitude de bibelots.  

Si les pièces représentent des époques différentes, elles occupent également des fonctions aussi distinctes que paradoxales : la maison est ainsi un lieu de vie, un sanctuaire à la mémoire de ses aïeux, un port d’attache dans lequel il fait reproduire la cabine d’un navire. Elle est surtout un égo musée édifié à la gloire de l’auteur dans lequel il organise des fêtes mémorables. Un lieu composite donc, intemporel, à la fois gothique et pharaonique, réel et magique, public et privé, ici et ailleurs, propice au voyage immobile et à la mise en scène de soi. C’est le caractère hétéroclite de la collection, la fréquentation au sein d’une même pièce du luxe et de l’ordinaire, savant contraste entre la conservation de reliques improbables et l’exposition de trésors rarissimes, qui confère à la maison son caractère uniqueFermée pour travaux depuis 2012, elle fait l’objet d’une vaste opération de restauration architecturale et patrimoniale et devrait à nouveau accueillir du public le 10 juin 2023, à l’occasion des célébrations de la mort de Loti.

En attendant sa réouverture, Le musée Hèbre de Rochefort propose une visite virtuelle en 3D sur réservation, Loti, le voyage rêvé, permettant aux visiteurs une immersion totale, commentée par un guide conférencier.

L’îlot Loti du musée Hèbre

Le visiteur pénètre ici dans la sphère intime de l’auteur, grâce à une scénographie feutrée, laissant apparaître dans un espace relativement réduit l’amplitude d’une œuvre hantée par l’idée de conservation. La sélection d’objets exposés contribue à dresser un portrait attendu, celui du capitaine de vaisseau, auteur de romans maritimes. 

Espace Pierre Loti © Musée Hèbre

Espace Pierre Loti © Musée Hèbre

Une maison musée en miniature ? Pas exactement. Le tour de force de cette exposition est plutôt de faire abstraction de l’atmosphère surchargée et excentrique de la maison de Loti pour ne donner à voir que les grands moments de sa carrière. Les objets patrimoniaux (bijoux, tableaux, coiffes, costumes, carnets de voyages, ouvrages religieux) complètent le portrait de l’écrivain et mettent en valeur l’œil aguerri du collectionneur. S’il est vrai qu’il faut un certain temps pour s’habituer au dispositif très sombre, sans doute pour des questions de conservation, l’obscurité des salles en enfilade finit par révéler un ensemble de tiroirs dans lesquels le visiteur, s’il ose les ouvrir, trouvera des petits trésors cachés donnant l’illusion d’un espace domestique.  

Si l’on découvre ici le penchant de Loti pour les costumes et le déguisement, autant que l’attrait pour le voyage, son extravagance laisse entrevoir au-delà de l’anticonformisme de ce personnage fantasque, un rapport à « l’exotisme », notamment dans ses contes orientalistes, un point de vue sur l’étranger qu’il conviendrait d’interroger et de contextualiser. Il sera intéressant de voir comment la future maison musée abordera cette facette de l’œuvre de Loti, et comment seront présentés deux siècles plus tard des textes comme Le Roman d’un spahi (1881).

L’enfant collectionneur 

À partir de 1860, inspiré par un grand-oncle qui possédait un cabinet de curiosités, le jeune Loti accumule des objets selon une « sorte de sentiment fétichiste. » (Le roman d’un enfant, 82) et aménage une partie de la maison en musée, un « petit recoin haut perché » choisi pour sa luminosité qu’il érige en espace muséal en prenant en charge la décoration.  

Espace Pierre Loti © Musée Hèbre

Espace Pierre Loti © Musée Hèbre

Je ne sais plus bien à quelle époque je fondai mon musée qui m’occupa si longtemps. Un peu au-dessus de la chambre de ma grand-tante Berthe, était un petit galetas isolé, dont j’avais pris possession complète ; le charme de ce lieu lui venait de sa fenêtre, donnant aussi de très haut sur le couchant, sur les vieux arbres du rempart ; sur les prairies lointaines, où des points roux, semés çà et là au milieu du vert uniforme, indiquaient des bœufs et des vaches, des troupeaux errants. – J’avais obtenu qu’on me fit tapisser ce galetas, – d’un papier chamois rosé qui y est encore ; – qu’on m’y plaçât des étagères, des vitrines. (111) 

Il détaille la mise en place de la collection et son contenu dans Le Roman d’un enfant : 

J’y installais mes papillons, qui me semblaient des spécimens très précieux ; j’y rangeais des nids d’oiseaux trouvés dans les bois de la Limoise ; des coquilles ramassées sur les plages de l’« île » et d’autres, des « colonies », rapportées autrefois par des parents inconnus, et dénichées au grenier au fond de vieux coffres où elles sommeillaient depuis des années sous de la poussière. Dans ce domaine, je passais des heures seul, tranquille, en contemplation devant des nacres exotiques, rêvant aux pays d’où elles étaient venues, imaginant d’étranges rivages. (111-112). 

Loti ne se contente pas d’exposer, il met au point un véritable système de classification. 

Sur un petit bureau très ancien, qui faisait partie du mobilier de mon musée, j’avais un cahier où, d’après ses notes, je recopiais, pour chaque coquille étiquetée soigneusement, le nom de l’espèce, du genre, de la famille, de la classe, – puis du lieu d’origine(129) 

Le musée Hèbre capte ici à la fois ce que le visiteur ne peut pas voir, le temps de la restauration, tout en levant le voile sur un pan de l’histoire de Loti sans doute moins célèbre, et la place – centrale – de la collection de l’enfant dans la maison. L’auteur établi se dérobe ici, ce n’est plus vraiment lui qui est exposé, mais sa collection en tant que système d’écriture en devenir. On y retrouve ses premiers écrits, Les Aventures de Monsieur Pygmalion Piquemouche et de Mademoiselle Clorinda sa poétique fiancée, scénario illustré avec sa sœur et inspiré de Rodolphe Töpffer. On peut également y voir ses dessins, agendas, cahiers d’écolier et autres calendriers scolaires. Le lecteur avisé retrouve « l’ours aux pralines » que Loti décrit avec précision dans Le Roman d’un enfant ou les dioramas qui éclairent son imagination. 

Espace Pierre Loti © Musée Hèbre.

Espace Pierre Loti © Musée Hèbre.

Espace Pierre Loti © Musée Hèbre

Espace Pierre Loti © Musée Hèbre

Espace Pierre Loti © Musée Hèbre

Espace Pierre Loti © Musée Hèbre


Le théâtre de Peau d’Âne 

Au chapitre XXV du Roman d’un enfant (1890), Loti alors âgé de onze ans évoque sa rencontre avec Jeanne, fille d’un officier de marine, qui l’initie au conte de Peau d’Âne après avoir vu une féérie à Paris : 

Peau-d’Âne devait m’occuper pendant quatre ou cinq années, me prendre les heures les plus précieuses que j’aie jamais gaspillées dans le cours de mon existence.  

En effet, nous conçûmes ensemble l’idée de monter cela sur un théâtre qui m’appartenait. Cette Peau-d’Âne nous rapprocha beaucoup. Et, peu à peu, ce projet atteignit dans nos têtes, des proportions gigantesques ; il grandit, grandit pendant des mois et des mois, nous amusant toujours plus, à mesure que nos moyens d’exécution se perfectionnaient. Nous brossions de fantastiques décors ; nous habillions, pour les défilés, d’innombrables petites poupées. (Pierre Loti, Le Roman d’un enfant, Paris, Calmann-Levy, 1890, p.147) 

Le musée Hèbre expose ce petit théâtre étonnant composé de figurines en papier, de poupées en porcelaine articulée, de dessins, accompagné de plusieurs décors, dans un état de conservation exceptionnel. 

Tous les rêves d’habitations enchantées, de luxes étranges que j’ai plus ou moins réalisés plus tard, dans divers coins du monde, ont pris forme, pour la première fois, sur ce théâtre de Peau-d’Âne ; au sortir de mon mysticisme des commencements, je pourrais presque dire que toute la chimère de ma vie a été d’abord essayée, mise en action sur cette très petite scène-là. (Pierre Loti, Le Roman d’un enfant,147-8)

 

Espace Pierre Loti © Musée Hèbre

Espace Pierre Loti © Musée Hèbre

Espace Pierre Loti © Musée Hèbre

Espace Pierre Loti © Musée Hèbre

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Ce n’est pas tant le conte en lui-même qui fascine Loti que l’opportunité de création d’un univers qu’il dirige en qualité de metteur en scène, faisant peu de cas de l’intrigue pour se consacrer sur les costumes et les décors sur lesquels il projette son désir d’ailleurs et murît ses histoires. Le théâtre de Peau d’Âne lui sert d’objet transitionnel entre ses jeux d’enfant à l’intérieur de la maison et son affranchissement en tant qu’écrivain au-delà de la maison.
 

Du reste, Peau-d’Âne commençait à ne plus être Peau-d’Âne ; je renonçais peu à peu aux personnages, qui me choquaient maintenant par leurs inadmissibles attitudes de poupées (…). Mes nouveaux décors n’avaient plus rien de commun avec la pièce : des dessous de forêts vierges, des jardins exotiques, des palais d’Orient nacrés et dorés ; tous mes rêves enfin, que j’essayais de réaliser là avec mes petits moyens d’alors, en attendant mieux, en attendant l’improbable mieux de l’avenir… (Pierre Loti, Le Roman d’un enfant, 219)

 

Les souvenirs mis en boîte : la momification de l’enfance

Parallèlement à la mise en place d’une muséographie de son œuvre en creux au cours de son enfance, Loti devenu adulte sanctuarise des souvenirs fugaces, momifie des bouquets de fleurs, conserve des oiseaux emmaillotés dans du papier journal : l’écrit lui sert d’écrin. Il recycle des boîtes de confiserie pour en faire des reliquaires, note la date et en détaille l’intérieur avec précision : « ces emballages puérils de mille objets sans valeur appréciable, ce besoin de tout emporter, de se faire suivre d’un monde de souvenirs, – et surtout ces adieux à des petites créatures sauvages, aimées peut-être précisément parce qu’elles étaient ainsi, – ça représente toute ma vie. » (Le Roman d’un enfant, p.89).  

Espace Pierre Loti © Musée Hèbre


La collection n’est pas simplement de l’ordre du plaisir visuel, – elle se dérobe au regard, enrubannée dans des petits paquets qui cachent le contenu. Il ne s’agit pas non plus d’une pulsion d’accumulation, loin d’être figée derrière la vitrine, elle génère « des impressions nostalgiques » (213), ce que Loti définit comme un « besoin de réaction », nostalgie pour un pays lointain inconnu, désir immédiat de voyage, dans l’optique de retrouver l’environnement d’origine de l’expôt, alors même que ce projet contient déjà en germe le regret du retour.  

C’était l’avant-goût de ces regrets d’ailleurs, qui plus tard, après les longs voyages aux pays chauds, devaient me gâter mes retours au foyer, mes retours d’hiver. (Le Roman d’un enfant 213) 

La scénographie remarquable de l’Espace Loti du musée Hèbre, en particulier la vitrine des objets momifiés, son « petit musée » d’enfant et le théâtre de Peau d’Âne, dressent un portrait méconnu et inédit de l’auteur, qui permet d’envisager un autre rapport de l’écrivain à sa maison. 

Anne Chassagnol
Université Paris 8 

Only time will tell: Reconnecting through storytelling at the Victoria & Albert Museum

Victoria & Albert Museum  •   London, UK
〝Katerina Jebb x Elizabeth Parker〞(until 29 August 2021)
•  〝Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser〞(until 31 December 2021)
•  〝Epic Iran〞(until 12 September 2021)

Still from Curious Alice, a VR experience created by the V&A and HTC Vive Arts. Featuring original artwork by Kristjana S Williams, 2020, via Artnet.com © The Victoria & Albert Museum

Still from Curious Alice, a VR experience created by the V&A and HTC Vive Arts. Featuring original artwork by Kristjana S Williams, 2020, via Artnet.com © The Victoria & Albert Museum

While many cultural institutions have finally re-opened their doors, questions still remain on the tip of many of our carefully-masked tongues. How should museums embrace a public that has been bombarded with such rapid, radical changes? As spaces that mediate and disseminate our individual and collective stories, as archives of both time long since past and that which might still be yet to come, museums seem the most likely to hold the answers we seek. They are in a rare position to cradle our chronological anxieties and existential inquiries, as we look to repair the holes torn through our social fabric, and reflect on all that we have managed to stitch together thus far, despite the odds. More importantly, museums provide with us the opportunity to weave new threads into our collective history, and to re-examine the narratives we share with one another in the process.

An employee tours the immersive Epic Iran exhibit, via Gulf Today. © Reuters

An employee tours the immersive Epic Iran exhibit, via Gulf Today. © Reuters

This summer, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London asks how we might reread, reinvent, and reimagine that collective history by inviting visitors on not just one, but three unique journeys through time. From the poetic reproduction of an antique textile sampler (Katerina Jebb x Elizabeth Parker), to a whimsical plunge into the legacy of Lewis Carroll’s most epic work (‘Alice: Curioser and Curiouser’), to an immersive voyage across 5,000 years of Iranian history (‘Epic Iran’), the V&A wrangles the ever-elusive, ethereal nature of time into three captivating curated encounters. In doing so, they open the eyes of a newly reconnected public to how each individual impacts the larger group, from the most romantic to the most toilsome forms of creative expression.

Katerina Jebb / Elizabeth Parker © The Victoria & Albert Museum

Katerina Jebb / Elizabeth Parker © The Victoria & Albert Museum

British artist Katerina Jebb’s installation transforms a small 19th century embroidery sampler created by Elizabeth Parker, born 1813, into a large-scale column. Taken from the V&A’s archives, the original piece contains the hand-stitched autobiography of young Parker, a domestic worker plagued by trauma and desperately seeking tenderness in her struggle to hold on to faith. Jebb amplifies Parker’s voice by assembling an expanded photomontage made up of high-definition scans. By turning the intimate into an imposing object, Jebb quite literally magnifies the marginalised, and in doing so, nods to the magnitude of narratives that have been overlooked or erased by history thus far. The digitisation of Parker’s scrupulous labor, both within the walls of the museum and online, in a way symbolically liberates her from the material conditions that constrained her all her life, including her limited means of self-expression. Jebb allows her to transcend time, medium, and space, and ultimately to express the perpetual human desire to be held, to be seen, and to be heard.

Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser. © The Victoria & Albert Museum

Preview of Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser. © The Victoria & Albert Museum

In ‘Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser’, V&A Senior Curator and Producer Kate Baily presents visitors with over 350 objects spanning nearly 160 years of the legacy of Charles Dodgson’s classic children’s tale,  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. From 19th century original sketches by the British mathematician turned author (better known as Lewis Carroll), to a very 21st century immersive ‘Looking-Glass’ experience, this rich and exciting exhibition includes an enormous range of paintings, fashion, photography, film, graphic novels, and even political activism from all around the world, inspired by the eponymous protagonist herself. Alice herself becomes a revelatory symbol of the limitlessness of the collective imagination, as an infinitely renewable source of shared inspiration and innovation. Each new interpretation of her story or character draws visitors’ attention to a different form of artistic ingenuity, but also to that which we all share as an interconnected web of creators, viewers, dreamers, and of course readers.

Zenaida Yanowsky as The Red Queen in Christopher Wheeldon's ballet Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The Royal Ballet. © ROH, Johan Persson, 2011.

Zenaida Yanowsky as The Red Queen in Christopher Wheeldon’s ballet Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The Royal Ballet. © ROH, Johan Persson, 2011.

 

 © Wellcome Collection Horoscope of Iskandar Sultan, 1411. © Wellcome Collection


© Wellcome Collection
Horoscope of Iskandar Sultan, 1411. © Wellcome Collection

‘Epic Iran’ on the other hand tells the much lesser known story of one of the world’s most fascinating and prolific civilisations. Separated into ten different chronological chapters, each featuring a unique and immersive set design, visitors are invited to transport themselves across 5,000 years of history through the architecture, sculpture, myth, poetry, illustration, painting, photography, and exquisite artisanal crafts that characterise each period.

 

Cyrus Cylinder, 539 – 538 BC. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Cyrus Cylinder, 539 – 538 BC. © The Trustees of the British Museum

The exhibition features awe-inspiring ancient pieces such as the Cyrus Cylinder (539-8 BC) or ‘the world’s greatest epic poem’, Shahnameh or The Book of Kings (AD 1010). It also includes rare Koranic texts, elaborate poetry and textiles that flourished under royal patronage, early 19th century photography, art during the Islamic Revolution, and even installations from world-renowned contemporary artists like Shirin Neshat. The show’s epic proportions, spanning so many different cultural shifts, allow amateurs and experts alike to dive into the complexity of a history that tends to be oversimplified by recent politics and news headlines. Moreover, the larger story told through this diverse range of art objects asks visitors to reflect on how major changes and cultural shifts may nevertheless form a whole. What parts of history, whether they be our own or someone else’s, have we chosen to overlook? Where and how might we revisit, reconnect, re-envision the narratives we tell to one another?

After a year of extraordinary upheaval and unrest across the world, these exhibitions from the V&A inspire us to reflect on the anxious times we inhabit in a new way. Although the future feels incredibly uncertain now, these exhibitions remind us that many an idea, many a piece of art, many a story has transcended the rife changes brought on by the course of time. How might we uplift and magnify the voices of those who have gone unheard? How might we envision ourselves within a larger network of collective inspiration? How might we emphasize beauty, complexity, and abundance in that which many tend to minimise or overlook? Perhaps the answer to our present uncertainty lies in the telling, retelling, and re-imagining of the collective narratives that bring us together; those which allow us to celebrate, rather than fear the change that has constantly propelled our story.

Sam Gabbert, Master 2 MC2L, Université Paris 8
Département d’Études des Pays Anglophones 

‘Bound for Versailles: The Jayne Wrightsman Bookbindings Collection’: A journey through time, art, and craft

The Morgan Library & Museum  •   New York, NY, USA   •  “Bound for Versailles: The Jayne Wrightsman Bookbindings Collection”   •  25 June 2021 – 30 January 2022 

Jayne Wrightsman In Her Library In Palm Beach. Photograph by Horst P. Horst for Vogue. © Condé Nast

Jayne Wrightsman In Her Library In Palm Beach. Photographed by Horst P. Horst for Vogue. © Condé Nast

This summer, the Morgan Library & Museum brings Versailles to Manhattan with the exquisite book collection of Jayne Wrightman, notorious New York socialite, francophile, philanthropist, and art collector.

Shelves of rare books lining the gallery of the Wrightsman home. © Joseph Coscia, Jr., via The Metropolitan Museum of Art, via The New York Times.

Shelves of rare books lining the gallery of the Wrightsman home. © Joseph Coscia, Jr., via The Metropolitan Museum of Art, via The New York Times.

Aside from a close relationship to John F. Kennedy and his widow ‘Jackie O.’, the late Mrs. Wrightman and her husband were well-known for their fascination with 18th-century French court life, buying up furniture, artwork, and books owned by kings, queens, dukes, and duchesses throughout their lives.

Their antique book collection was a central feature of their Versailles-inspired apartment overlooking Central Park, complete with parquet, imported boiseries, gilded furnishings, and an impressive set of rare objets d’art.

In recognition of Jayne Wrightman’s generosity, a longtime donor and trustee of the Morgan, and in reflection of her fondness for French decorative arts, this special exhibition examines the important role of the bound book as both art object and cultural symbol during the ancien régime in France.

"Bound for Louis-Philippe I, duc d’Orléans (1725–1785) Nicolas-Denis Derome (1731–1790), binder Green morocco, with individual gilt tooling, on: Tarif des droits d’aides et autres y jointes, 1771 MA 23394." © The Morgan Library & Museum

“Bound for Louis-Philippe I, duc d’Orléans (1725–1785)
Nicolas-Denis Derome (1731–1790), binder
Green morocco, with individual gilt tooling, on: Tarif des droits d’aides et autres y jointes, 1771
MA 23394.” © The Morgan Library & Museum

"- Bound for Pierre-Louis-Paul Randon de Boisset (1708–1776) Nicolas-Denis Derome (1731–1790), binder Cut binding in cream and black morocco, with individual gilt tooling, and gold, silver, and red foil under mica, on: Almanach royal, année M. DCC. LXV, 1765 PML 19842" © The Morgan Library & Museum

“Bound for Pierre-Louis-Paul Randon de Boisset (1708–1776) Nicolas-Denis Derome (1731–1790), binder
Cut binding in cream and black morocco, with individual gilt tooling, and gold, silver, and red foil under mica, on: Almanach royal, année M. DCC. LXV, 1765
PML 19842″ © The Morgan Library & Museum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In addition to examining how books circulated within the court and associated inner circles, the museum provides insight into the intricate craft of antique bookbinding. From armorials and individual tooling to mosaic binding and remboîtages, the exhibition allows visitors to better understand the fine details and artisanal labor that went into each individual book.

The hot-air balloon signifies the Montgolfier brother’s experiments. It was a feature element in all types of decorative arts. Bound for Marie-Antoinette (1755–1793)
Red morocco, with gilt tooling “à la Montgolfière” and monogram, on: Barthélemy Imbert (1747–1790)
Lecture du matin and Lecture du soir, 1782
PML 198378–79 © The Morgan Library & Museum

The hot-air balloon signifies the Montgolfier brother’s experiments. It was a feature element in all types of decorative arts.
Bound for Marie-Antoinette (1755–1793)
. Red morocco, with gilt tooling “à la Montgolfière” and monogram, on: Barthélemy Imbert (1747–1790)
  Lecture du matin and Lecture du soir, 1782
PML 198378–79. © The Morgan Library & Museum

The hot-air balloon represents the Montgolfier brothers' revolutionary experiments. It was a feature element in all types of decorative arts. Bound for Marie-Antoinette (1755–1793)
Red morocco, with gilt tooling “à la Montgolfière” and monogram, on: Barthélemy Imbert (1747–1790)
Lecture du matin and Lecture du soir, 1782
PML 198378–79 © The Morgan Library & Museum

The hot-air balloon represents the Montgolfier brothers’ revolutionary experiments. It was a feature element in all types of decorative arts. Bound for Marie-Antoinette (1755–1793)
. Red morocco, with gilt tooling “à la Montgolfière” and monogram, on: Barthélemy Imbert (1747–1790) Lecture du matin and Lecture du soir, 1782
PML 198378–79. © The Morgan Library & Museum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Wrightsman collection was anything but limited to books, however. The exhibition also includes an extensive collection of royal correspondance and documents dated from the 17th to 19th century, drawings by Gabriel Jacques de Saint-Aubin (1724-1780), and assorted literary engravings from the same period.

Auction illustration by Gabriel Jacques de Saint-Aubin (1724–1780). Illustrations in Catalogue de tableaux, auction 13 December 1773. © The Morgan Library & Museum

Auction illustration by Gabriel Jacques de Saint-Aubin (1724–1780). Illustrations in Catalogue de tableaux, auction 13 December 1773. © The Morgan Library & Museum

Jean de La Fontaine (1621–1695). Fables choisies mises en vers, 4 vols. Paris: Chez Desaint & Saillant, and Durand, 1755–59. PML 198445–48 (PML 198447 on view). © The Morgan Library & Museum

Jean de La Fontaine (1621–1695). Fables choisies mises en vers, 4 vols. Paris: Chez Desaint & Saillant, and Durand, 1755–59. PML 198445–48 (PML 198447 on view). © The Morgan Library & Museum

Jean de La Fontaine (1621–1695). Fables choisies mises en vers, 4 vols. Paris: Chez Desaint & Saillant, and Durand, 1755–59. PML 198445–48 (PML 198447 on view). © The Morgan Library & Museum

Jean de La Fontaine (1621–1695). Fables choisies mises en vers, 4 vols. Paris: Chez Desaint & Saillant, and Durand, 1755–59. PML 198445–48 (PML 198447 on view). © The Morgan Library & Museum

Letter from Louis XVI, king of France (1754–1793) to George III, king of Great Britain (1738–1820), Versailles, 3 March 1782. © The Morgan Library & Museum

– Letter from Louis XVI, king of France (1754–1793) to George III, king of Great Britain (1738–1820), Versailles, 3 March 1782. © The Morgan Library & Museum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In a nod to the woman who made the exhibition possible, there is also a special section dedicated to the women of Versailles who owned and collected books. These examples can be identified thanks to the woman’s family coat of arms, which was traditionally accompanied by that of her husband. Notable exceptions to this rule include books owned by Louis XV’s mistress and daughters, marking the rare independence that these particular women had in the court.

Bound for Madame Adélaïde (1732–1800). Pierre-Paul Dubuisson (act. 1746–62), binder. Red morocco, with gilt plaque border, and painted armorial under mica, on: Almanach royal, 1757. PML 198427. © The Morgan Library & Museum

Bound for Madame Adélaïde (1732–1800). Pierre-Paul Dubuisson (act. 1746–62), binder. Red morocco, with gilt plaque border, and painted armorial under mica, on: Almanach royal, 1757. PML 198427. © The Morgan Library & Museum

Bound for Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, marquise de Pompadour (1721–1764). Louis Douceur (d. 1769), binder. Dark green morocco, with red morocco mosaic inlays, and gilt dentelle and armorial, on: Charles-Jean-François Hénault (1685–1770) Chronologique de l’histoire de France, 1752. Purchased by J. Pierpont Morgan, 1910; PML 17282. © The Morgan Library & Museum

Bound for Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, marquise de Pompadour (1721–1764). Louis Douceur (d. 1769), binder. Dark green morocco, with red morocco mosaic inlays, and gilt dentelle and armorial, on: Charles-Jean-François Hénault (1685–1770) Chronologique de l’histoire de France, 1752. Purchased by J. Pierpont Morgan, 1910; PML 17282. © The Morgan Library & Museum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the end, ‘Bound for Versailles’ is a touching reminder of the transcendent magic that books and libraries contain, both in the home and the museum. Even confined to the virtual exhibition, visitors may encounter the subtleties of an antique art form, and taste the charm of a time and craft long since past.

The exhibition will be open from 25 June 2021 through 30 January 2022 at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York, NY, as well as on the museum website.

Visit the Morgan online for more information.

themorgan.org/exhibitions

Sam Gabbert, Master 2 MC2L, Université Paris 8
Département d’Études des Pays Anglophones 

 

‘Ray Bradbury: Inextinguishable’: Literature that never dies

American Writers Museum   •  Chicago, IL, USA   •  “Ray Bradbury: Inextinguishable”   •  May 2021 –  May 2022

"His writing is as immediate and relevant today as when it was first published." Screenshot from the video 'Contemporary writers discuss the influence that Bradbury had on their lives and writing.' from the American Writers Museum.

Screenshot from the video ‘Contemporary writers discuss the influence that Bradbury had on their lives and writing.’ © American Writers Museum

This year, the American Writer’s Museum in Chicago invites visitors to delve into the immortal legacy of Ray Bradbury. Nearly 10 years after the internationally renowned writer’s passing, ‘Ray Bradbury: Inextinguishable’ explores the ways in which Bradbury’s work has inspired readers, scientists, and fellow artists alike throughout his life, and even well after his death. On view in Chicago through May 2022, the American Writer’s Museum has also made available a virtual  exhibition for curious visitors everywhere.

Ray Bradbury in 1923 in Waukegan, Illinois Photo credit: Joshua Odell Editions / Capra Press

Ray Bradbury in 1923 in Waukegan, Illinois Photo credit: Joshua Odell Editions / Capra Press

Split into three sections, the virtual exhibit traces how Bradbury’s early life led him to the prolific career he is known for today.

Family tragedy led him towards a passion for magic, which in turn developed into a fascination for science fiction. He was an avid reader of many literary genres, influenced in particular by Jules Verne, Edgar Allen Poe, and John Steinbeck.

As a young man, his love for reading quickly grew into a love for writing, which in turn led him to connect with like-minded peers. He began publishing a fanzine titled Futuria Fantasia (1939-1940), which included work from several science fiction writers and artists that, like Bradbury, would become quite famous later on. Some notable names include Hannes Bok, Henry Kuttner, Robert A. Heinlein, and Forrest J. Ackerman.

Futuria Fantasia Hardcover reprint featuring original artwork from Volume 1, 2007

Futuria Fantasia Hardcover reprint featuring original artwork from Volume 1, 2007

While most have heard of Bradbury’s McCarthy-era dystopian fiction Fahrenheit 451 (1953), not everyone may be aware of his extensive writing about space travel. His work inspired an entire generation of astronauts and engineers not only from his home country, but also their Space Race-era opposition in the Soviet Union.

The plaque above was awarded to Ray “for the remarkable input in the field of peace, harmony and prosperity of the mankind.” © American Writers Museum

“The plaque above was awarded to Ray ‘for the remarkable input in the field of peace, harmony and prosperity of the mankind.” © American Writers Museum

 

 

 

 

 

Aside from science-lovers, Bradbury also inspired the imagination of beloved creators like Walt Disney, who was one of the writer’s close friends for many years. His influence can be seen in multiple installations at Walt Disney World and Disneyland Paris.

Interestingly enough, despite the out-of-this-world nature of both his work and cultural influence, Bradbury was much more down to earth than some may have thought. He was never much of a fan of technological advances. In fact, he allegedly never learned to drive and for years preferred to write on a manual typewriter at his wooden desk at home. Bradbury was however a fan of oil painting and exchanging letters. Throughout his life, he made a special effort to personally respond to fans from around the world.

Ray Bradbury’s Desk From the collection of the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies at Indiana University School of Liberal Arts

“Ray Bradbury’s Desk From the collection of the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies at Indiana University School of Liberal Arts.” © American Writers Museum

Recently, many have referred to the classic Fahrenheit 451 (1953) in a pessimistic reflection on the political, social, and cultural woes of the digital age. However, if this exhibition on Bradbury’s life and work has anything to teach us, it’s that within creativity and imagination lies infinite power to transform the world, far beyond what we may think possible. Moreover, creative expression can bring the world together in exciting and unexpected ways.

While Bradbury passed away in 2012, his ‘inextinguishable’ influence continues to live on in authors, scientists, screenwriters, artists, filmmakers, comic book artists, and students of all ages. Something about his futuristic work and the humanity of his literature continues to light a spark in readers everywhere.

‘Ray Bradbury: Inextinguishable’ will be on view from May 2021 to May 2022 at the American Writer’s Museum in Chicago, as well as online in a virtual exhibit.

Visit the American Writers Museum website for more information: exhibits.americanwritersmuseum.org 

Sam Gabbert, Master 2 MC2L, Université Paris 8
Département d’Études des Pays Anglophones 

‘Afropolitain: From South Africa to the Continent, Images in Conversation’: Exploring fact and fiction through graphic novels

AfropolitanComics.com   •  “Afropolitain Comics: From South Africa to the Continent, Images in Conversation”   •  Online Installation

In the online exhibit ‘Afropolitain Comics’, comic books from across the African continent come alive to shed light on artists and cross-cultural connections alike.

Afropolitan exhibition opening. © Cher Ami

Created through the partnership of l’Institut français d’Afrique du Sud (IFAS) and La Cité internationale de la bande dessinée et de l’image (CIBDI), the dedicated exhibition website showcases a selection of contemporary South African comic book artists alongside those from other African nations who address similar ideas and themes. The curators of this digital display without borders seek to provide visitors worldwide with insight into the essence of ‘Afropolitan’, or the ‘spirit of African invigoration shared by our continent, our home.’

Lucha © 2018 LA BOÎTE À BULLES / Annick Kamgang / Justine Brabant

Lucha © 2018 LA BOÎTE À BULLES / Annick Kamgang / Justine Brabant

The presentation is divided into three successive chapters titled ‘Autobiography,’ ‘Heroes and History,’ and ‘Folklore & The Future.’

The first includes creative autobiographical narratives that convey hard political realities through the lens of imaginative, intimate stories. Artists include Mogorosi Motshumi and Willem Samuel from South Africa, as well as Annick Kamgang from Cameroon and Togui from Algeria.

The next chapter focuses on artists who combine art and education in their comic books to spotlight the real-life superheroes of history. South African Lesego Ditlhake evokes women who fought against Apartheid by combining painting and prose, while Nigerian Tayo Fatunla’s work focuses on bringing the many notable figures of the African diaspora and their histories to larger audiences. South African artist Luke Molver and Koffi Roger N’Guessan from the Ivory Coast are also exhibited side-by-side in their interpretation of legendary African warrior Shaka/Chaka.

Our roots © 2020 / Tayo Fantunla

Our roots © 2020 / Tayo Fantunla

Chaka © 2018 L’HARMATTAN / Jean-François Chanson / Koffi Roger N’guessan

Chaka © 2018 L’HARMATTAN / Jean-François Chanson / Koffi Roger N’guessan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The final chapter displays work based on traditional African folklore. South African Daniel Clarke is inspired by the legend surrounding Zimbabwean river god Nyami-Nyami, as is Cameroonian Reine Dibussi by the local version of the myth of Mami-Wata. Daniël Hugo depicts the South African myth of Table Mountain, while Cameroonian Gaspard Njock calls into question the myth of Europe for young African migrants.

Djeliya © 2020 KO Studios LA / Juni Ba

Ray Whitcher asks what might happen when ancient mythical creatures take over a war-torn land, and artist Juni Ba blends 21st century pop art with Senegalese folklore and mythology. Loyiso Mkize  likewise weaves heritage with the modern world in his story of a South African social media influencer turned superhero. Bill Masuku, on the other hand, takes his superhero inspiration from the ambitious women he went to university with and their fight for a better future.

Kariba © 2018 Kariba Graphic Novel (PTY) LTD / Daniel Clarke

Kariba © 2018 Kariba Graphic Novel (PTY) LTD / Daniel Clarke

 

 

 

 

Each section invites viewers to dive into a multitude of exciting, colourful worlds, but most of all, to question the line so often drawn between fact and fiction. Sometimes, the imagination, whether it be individual or collective, has much to teach us about the real-world. Sometimes, our personal narrative is really much bigger than ourselves, and even myths and legends can teach us about truth and history. While fact and fiction may be blurred, ‘Afropolitan’ makes it abundantly clear that there are so many different stories to be told, and this exhibition may just be the beginning.

Highly recommended for art lovers, bookworms, comic book amateurs and afficionados alike, and especially those of us who have much to learn about the African continent and diaspora.

Exhibition available online in English and French.
https://www.afropolitancomics.com/

Sam Gabbert, Master 2 MC2L, Université Paris 8
Département d’Études des Pays Anglophones 

Is That You On the Cover? Framing the Book, Staging the Reader.

Who says you can’t judge a book by its cover? Now you can also pose with it! The latest Instagram trend ‘#Bookface’ consists of taking a perfectly positioned photo with the cover of a book so that it extends over into real-life. The question is, what might such a trend reveal about our relationship to literature? 

© Élodie Katan

© Élodie Katan

First and foremost, “#Bookface” is a practice that allows users to experiment with their own creativity. Participants use books in a fun and clever way, turning an object into a prop for artistic expression. It takes serious time and effort to come up with the perfect photo, to perfectly line up the book cover with real-life models or objects. Some appear to be purely coincidental, while others are true works of art. In the age of rampant visual and social media in which everything starts with a picture, it makes sense that such a trend has blown up on Instagram. It can be done as a game, as a contest, or even used to promote a particular book or bookstore.  

However, if we examine what “#Bookface” means for the purposes of literature, it is also a practice that empties the book of its original content. Fixating on the cover art exclusively means that the story no longer matters; the jacket must simply allow for original pictures. The inner pages may as well be blank! It comes as no surprise then that the viral trend originally started out with vinyl album covers instead of books. In the future, it could also expand into paintings, posters, etc. After the #Bookstagram effect shook up dull bookshelves with more colourful covers, will there be a #Bookface effect, with more and more book covers containing faces or other body parts?  

References:
1. https://phototrend.fr/2018/10/bookface-selfie-litteraire-instagram/
2. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/03/fashion/oh-those-clever-librarians-and-their-bookface.html 

Élodie Katan, Master 2 LISH, Université Paris 8
Département d’Études des Pays Anglophones 

(Im)Mortal Books: Reading Literature or Exhibiting the Reader?

In the future, will paper books have become obsolete? Will there come a time when the only way we know how to flip a page is to swipe a finger across a screen? These days, we already do most of our reading online. Newspapers, magazines, personal blogs, fiction and nonfiction novels, etc. have all found a happy home on the Internet.  

© Camille Kemache

© Camille Kemache

Paper pages translate almost perfectly to the bright screens of our computers, phones, and other interactive electronic devices. However, more nostalgic readers crave the materiality of printed text: the various textures, the smells, not to mention the physical weight of a compilation of pages sewn together. Either way, there is no doubt that books are still relevant today.   

The recent ‘#Bookface’ trend proves that we are still far from abandoning this primary form of communication and storytelling. In fact, the viral challenge demonstrates just how much more we are willing to empathise with the characters of a book. Readers embody a front cover persona through their similar physical traits, but also through body posture —life imitates art, and vice versa. 

While participants may be tempted to find just the right book, most make the best of what is on hand with surprisingly satisfying and convincing results. In this way, the challenge is both a matter of spontaneity and artistic vision. 

For some, however, what is most notable—and a bit disheartening—is that the books in question won’t necessarily be read by their ‘impersonators.’ ‘#Bookface’ takes away from books their inherent three-dimensional nature and flattens them out into a social media-ready snapshot. As a result, we may finally understand that we are indeed in an age in which a picture is worth a thousand words.  

Camille Kemache, Master 2 MC2L, Université Paris 8
Département d’Études des Pays Anglophones 

Becoming Books: Playing with Literature on Display?

In France, ‘#Bookfaces’ were popularised on Instagram by the famous book shop Mollat, based in Bordeaux. But what does such a trend say about our relationship to literature?  

© Clémence Varène

© Clémence Varène

‘#Bookface’ posts have proved a useful marketing tool for many bookshops. Having blossomed into a worldwide trend, the hashtag now attracts people from across the globe. “Tourists from all over the world are coming to the shop specifically because of Bookfaces,” explains Emmanuelle Robillar, Project and Quality Manager at Mollat in Bordeaux, France. “It’s a way to create new interest in literature for readers. [Books] are no longer just something you can read, but something you can play with.” 

The trend is certainly a by-product of the social media era in which everything is about being part of a community. By taking part in the #Bookface challenge, participants can use literature as a means to fit in, by doing what is in. In this sense, literature becomes something public and social, as opposed to the more personal and private experience of reading a book for oneself. 

In any case, the ‘#Bookface’ trend is a completely new way to mediatise literature. It gives books a new face, so to speak, and a new dimension on the Internet at a time when social media is arguably the number one means of communication. Every popular ‘Bookstagrammer’ has seized the opportunity to jump on board, as well as a large number of libraries and bookshops. 

With trends like #Bookfaces, literature itself is evolving according to cross-media trends in order to include and promote books in our everyday lives, both on and offline. 

Clémence Varène, Master 2 MC2L, Université Paris 8
Département d’Études des Pays Anglophones 

Show Me Your Cover!

While many literature-themed challenges have emerged on social media, one in particular has gone viral: #BookFace. The hashtag counts tens of thousands of posts on Instagram, but the real question is what do such challenges say about the place of literature in today’s society? 

The participation of local bookshops in the ‘#Bookface’ trend is largely due to the book industry’s steady decline. With the growth of other entertainment formats, e-books, and Amazon, the number of books sold in independent bookshops in particular has continued to fall every year. The need to appeal to new customers has led struggling businesses to get a bit more creative. In Bordeaux, France, the bookshop Mollat has taken full advantage of this new social media opportunity. “We have a lot of foreigners who come to visit our bookshop […] thanks to Instagram,” says David Pigeret, Community Manager..  

The ‘#Bookface’ trend is representative of how media overall has evolved in the digital age. In the past, many books were initially published as series. Now, every trend comes from social media. The literature industry has had to adapt to this cultural shift by investing in viral challenges and visual marketing. 

Speaking of visuals, this challenge highlights the fact that book covers are more and more aesthetically pleasing. “The book has had to become attractive and popular,” asserts Cécile Boyer-Runge from French publishing company Le Livre de Poche. “So much so that today, books are visual objects as much as literary works. Otherwise, such visual-based challenges could not exist.”

Yaël Kunz, Master 2 MC2L, Université Paris 8
Département d’Études des Pays Anglophones 

The Bookface Challenge: A New Trend & Exciting Marketing Opportunity for Literature

Over the past few years, among the countless categories of Instagram influencers – lifestyle, beauty, fitness and more – one small but unstoppable group has emerged, fostering an entirely new online community: ‘bookstagram.’  

Filled with aesthetic pictures of the latest books users have purchased or read, ‘bookstagram’ is a virtual platform for readers everywhere to share their passion for books in creative ways. Recently, one viral ‘bookstagram’ challenge attracted the world’s attention. The ‘Bookface’ challenge consists of lining up one’s face or a part of the body with a matching body part featured on a book cover. The trend grew extremely popular, and in turn attracted even more users to the ‘bookstagram’ community.  

The ‘bookface’ challenge is undoubtedly an effective way for publishers to promote books and interact creatively with readers. However, in the digital age that we live in, the challenge has also helped market ‘’reading’’ in general as something fun, even cool. ‘Bookstagram’ and ‘booktube’ (adapted to YouTube) communities have inspired many people to become avid readers. A challenge like the ‘bookface’ challenge perfectly demonstrates how this new generation of readers uses social media to share their passion. And yet, just like that, it becomes more apparent than ever that literature is not only an art, but a market. Social media is thus the perfect tool for publishing houses and libraries to promote their books, and reading in general.  

Hayette Houaoui, Master 2 MC2L, Université Paris 8
Département d’Études des Pays Anglophones 

#Bookface: Exhibiting Books on Instagram

The #Bookface trend likely came from the imaginative minds of those who love literature as much as social media. It involves taking a photo of oneself as part of the cover of a favorite book, essentially creating a whole new cover that includes a little piece of the reader.  

© Entlira Begkai

From a marketing perspective, this trend provides great publicity. On Instagram, for example, users publish their creations along with hashtags referencing their favorite book, author, bookstore, or library. Since when do libraries care about advertising, you might ask? As a matter of fact, more than a few have started rebranding for the new media age. “When you think about the library,” explains Johannes Neuer, director of digital engagement at the New York Public Library, “you think about written text, but what we’ve shown [on social media] is that we have a vibrant visual side.” 

As the new generation spends more and more time on social media, viral hashtags promoting literature may be an excellent opportunity to encourage younger demographics to fall in love with the written word.  

On the other hand, literature lovers may find themselves a bit peeved due to the fact that reading a book is hardly the same as posting to a social media feed. Since current studies show that teens already use social media more often than they read books, such trends may encourage them to be online even more often, as opposed to spending their time more constructively by reading literature.   

References: 

  1. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/03/fashion/oh-those-clever-librarians-and-their-bookface.html
  2. https://www.mercurynews.com/2018/08/20/study-teens-text-and-use-social-media-instead-of-reading-books/

Entlira Begkai, Master 2 MC2L, Université Paris 8
Département d’Études des Pays Anglophones