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Codices of the East and the West


Can Göknil

To enhance  visual communication for my book-art projects, I frequently delved into the history of bookmaking in our culture. This  led me to organize several major exhibitions, all inspired by the exquisite book arts of The Palace, the miniatured manuscripts: Kazim Taskent Art Gallery, 1999, Istanbul; House of Humour  Satire, 2001, Gabrovo; Chihiro Art Museum, Tokyo, 2002; The National Museum of Women in the Arts, 2004, Washington DC. Three of my original volumes are now in the collection of The National Art Library (Victoria & Albert Museum, London.)

I discovered the first illustrated folk stories of XIXth century Istanbul.These stories are about the grieving Romeos and Juliets of the East. Their illustrations, although very crudely executed, carry a certain charm which complement the sensuality of the storytelling. These despairing lovers have now found their way into my book works, carrying traces of primitive expression in parallel with their original lithographs. It was in 1831 when the first litho press was founded in Istanbul by Henry Cayol. In 1869 Antoine Zellich joined his efforts, also printing illustrated folk stories. I’ve depicted four of these texts in acrylics on altered hardcover books, solidifying them with gesso and glue. Ferhat & Sirin, Leyla & Mecnun, Asuman & Zeycan, Kerem & Aslı are now displayed on their specially designed stands, accompanied by four small size paintings on displays, showing the book covers.

As I enjoy fantasy in literature very much I’ve been  reading Le Cosmicomiche(1965)  by Italo Calvino. His  characters felt so attracted to the moon that they could jump off their boat and hold on to the edges of the moon’s surface and actually manage to climb on it and stay a while, at the point in time when the earth and the moon came real close to one another. Their sparkling visions and rapid motions  quickly found their way into my art. I depicted Calvino’s cosmos on clay pages fired at 1200 degrees Centigrade in the studio of Jale Benler (2007, Marmaris). The mobility of Calvino’s characters present such a good contrast with the constant tranquility and stillness of the eastern heros & heroines.

The unquestionable conveniences of today’s digital enviroment, and our constant exposure to screens and buttons are making me hold tightly on to my books. As each day ends, caressing a book, embracing each page with my eyes, I fall in peaceful sleep.
A good part of my work hours are dedicated to presenting books as art objects as I strive to create new forms and media to express myself.