|What is the planet the Codex describes has sent an inter-stellar envoy to meet us? How would we explain ourselves to them?|
Monday, March 16, 2015
A "Holy Grail" is as amazing as expected!
Codex Seraphinianus – Luigi Serafini (1981)
Finally! As any lover of weird things (books, movies, records,art) will tell you, there are things you hear about and which you keep as an ever-expanding list inside your head, on the off-chance that you run into this item somewhere and are able to pick it up. When it comes to books and art the Codex Seraphinianus was a Holy Grail of sorts for me. This was a very limited edition art book created by an Italian artist named Luigi Serafini, in the late 1970’s and published in two volumes in 1981. Up until this year there was only one American edition published and it has always been a rather pricey collector’s item. Thank Mario that Rizzolli Publications re-printed a new edition, in the most beautiful binding and with exquisite paper.
As I have stated before, I love serendipitous book discovery. I had not taken a walk at lunch to browse through the 4th floor stacks that contain the Library’s comic book collections in quite a while. I headed up there last week and what do I see sitting on the shelf? A brand new copy of the Codex Seraphinianus just calling out to me, and it was not a reserved book, meaning I could check that bad boy out! YES! I scooped that bastard up with a quickness and headed to the service desk to check it out.
The weirdest thing, among many weird things, about this book is that it is “written” in a seemingly unintelligible script. It is designed as a giant Encyclopedia/Guidebook of sorts, with each chapter describing different components of a bizarre world, and many people with cryptography and/or linguistic backgrounds have tried to translate it, or even to see if it is translatable at all, to no avail. There are graphs, lists, and what looks like a glossary in the back, but it is all either in code or it is nonsense. I was always curious about this, as I had seen individual pages reproduced here and there, but it was a comment made by the artist himself that really helped set me straight on how to attack this book.
Luigi Serafini stated a few years back that he intended to create a book for adults which would inspire the same sense of awe and wonder than adult books do in children. Since most small children cannot read, they interpret the books they look at through the images. This was like a brain bomb in my head, and it was in this spirit that I put on an Environments LP (specifically the “English Meadow” side of Environments 10) and sat down to “read the Codex Seraphinianus.
You know how a great book or piece of music or movie can transport you out of your body to a head-space where all you experience is the immediate? That happened to me. As I analyzed the images and made my way through the first part of the book, like a child, I started to unravel a narrative of sorts. Well, not actually a narrative, but more of an explicative, for the Codex is not trying to tell me a story but to instruct me in the ways of the world it describes. I began to see the structure of the book. Each chapter describes a small part of an ever-growing universe. At first it appears to describe the atomic physics of the world, then proceeds to discuss basic cellular life, than larger forms of life, plants, animals, hominids, social groups, industry and tools, sport, science, etc. Each page tells a self-contained story. Throughout the book, it is evident the surreal humor of Mr. Serafini, as many of his drawings are not only beautiful and colorful but also ridiculous and deeply weird.
It may be that my own art has helped me understand this weird art. Many of my drawings and paintings are intended to elicit a narrative response in the viewer, using what they bring with them to internally to make sense of the image I present. This has made me quite facile at “reading” images for meaning and content. It has helped greatly in appreciating the Codex Seraphinianus. Sadly, I will have to return this amazing book to the Library for someone else to freak out about it, but I am on the hunt! Now that I know there is a relatively inexpensive edition available I will track a copy down for my own shelves, so I can lose myself in the Serafinian insanity whenever I so choose. What an amazing book.
(This book can be read or downloaded here: http://holybooks.lichtenbergpress.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/CodexSeraphinianus.pdf?a20918 )