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Invisible Cities


Paul de Guzman's altered bookworks are part of an ongoing series called Invisible Cities, after Italo Calvino's novel La citta invisibili, the reading of which prompted the artist's current investigations. Art, architecture and language are heavily theorized fields, and contemporary publications on these subjects, however visually sumptuous, have at their core a textual, analytical foundation. De Guzman, who sees profound parallels between linguistic and architectural structure, physically explores this concept by painstakingly cutting into books and journals on art and architecture. Working from back to front, precisely excising the lines and blocks of text on each page, he exposes an intricate three-dimensional structure of columns and beams - the inner architecture of the book - mute witness to the now missing text (which is exhibited, layered in small Plexiglas frames, alongside the altered book). The rectangular form of the surgical redaction adopts the proportions (in half scale) of the paperback version of Calvino's novel, and is consistent across all the bookworks in Invisible Cities; this replication reinforces the conceptual and metaphorical basis of the works, even as their material presence insists that we respond to them as sculptures. De Guzman's dramatic interventions draw attention to the physicality of the works, prompting a momentary frisson of alarm (felt by book-lovers everywhere) as one perceives that the books have in fact been "vandalized". However, the elegance of the intervention - the scrupulous filleting to which the book has been subjected - intrigues as much as it alarms, and invites us to contemplate the paradox of this new, hybrid form.


De Guzman comments, "Structure is the foundation of my work. It's fitting because people often stress the importance of a 'good foundation' for projects of any type ... The structure of Architecture is based on the structure of Language. This is overlooked because people know the limitations that physical laws place on architecture. Before any architectural project is built, it is first conceived of, encountered and documented through written proposals, drawings, legal precedents and zoning principles. Once written consensus is achieved, then the physical structure defined by the word architecture is built up. Sure it's a building, but it's also an ambient manifestation of a lexicon for Architecture."


These stylish book with their crisply exposed innards are difficult to reconcile aesthetically, but they precisely capture and make manifest de Guzman's trope of language and architecture. The metaphor extends to his controlled placement of the works in different gallery spaces. Adopting the mindset of a "space consultant", he arranges them on the wall in an unconventional manner that activates and highlights the architectural peculiarities of the space they occupy, indicating yet one more set of structural relationships.

Susan Gibson Garvey, Dalhousie Art Gallery, Halifax, N.S., 2007