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Erota / Afini

Mike Leggett

The Beau Geste Press was established by Martha Hellion and Felipe Ehrenberg, together with several others in 1972 in a large farmhouse at Clyst Hydon near Cullompton in central Devon. Not long after I bumped into Martha in Exeter, the County city, with her young children. I had met them all in London on several occasions but had not realised they had relocated to the south-west of England. I had a part-time lecturing position in film and video at the college of art in Exeter and soon became a regular visitor to BGP. There were many visitors, most who were invited to come and work with the collective to make a publication - a book, a pamphlet, a construction, or contribute to the on-going Fluxus West project of exhibitions and performances. 

Felipe suggested over a meal that I should make a book, and so I set to think about how an experimental time-based artist would approach this proposal. From my archive I recovered a collection of small photographs and two hand-written poems, found after a great aunt had passed away a few years before; the images were mostly taken in the European continent during the 1920s and 30s.

The real narratives linking the pictures was unknown but one was created using a selection based on chance, linking the poem and the pictures. Initially, the poems were translated by Peter Foster-Marr, though he had no knowledge of the language which the writer had employed. The nouns and verbs he used were cut from his manuscript. Then chosen at random, each word would be placed next to one of the photos, also chosen at random from the pile. The word and the image prompted me to write several paragraphs, before then moving to the next randomly selected set; links between each set were sometimes evident but often not, the ‘narrative’ thereby being dispersed in time and space.

The two sequences of words and image were then prepared for the off-set litho printer at BGP: the words were typeset using a golf-ball Olivetti and photographed to anodised aluminium printing plates. Two months later the images were screened and photographed to plates, prior to the printing session. A dummy version of the book indicated which page needed to be printed verso to another; this was important as the material deriving from the two sequences was to be printed from each end of the book; the book could be started from either cover, which bore the image of each poem.

When it came to print the pages containing words, we discovered the plates had partly oxidised, the image of the words becoming faint and broken. Master printer Felipe took on the challenge and suggested we work on the plates with various household chemicals to see if we could improve the visibility of the page; otherwise we would re-make the plates. 

From working on the plates, then inking up and seeing how the image looked, the results were intriguing, moving the ‘weight’ of words into a relationship with the photographs that was more equal, less authoritative, a joining of images linked by the procedure, of printing, of reading. 

We printed enough pages for the book’s collation, (a communal process involving all the residents walking around a table) and made 200 copies. Shortly after I made the film version of the book - see under Projects - Film, which likewise could be read / heard, from either end.