The past year I got acquainted with a book. This so-called friendship lived through good and bad times and ended with me not really knowing what became of it.
The task started off promising. I was looking forward to learning how to understand a book without having to read it. And I wondered where all this led to a year from now.
The book I am talking about is “Architecture, peinture et sculpture de la maison de ville d’Amsterdam” and it was written by the Flemish printmaker, draughtsman, and painter Hubertus Quellinus in the 16th century. I was surprised by the age and barriers most of the books brought with them. And I was not sure how we could get connected with them, with us not being proficient in most of their languages or not having studied their context.
But to my surprise my first contact with the book was a promising one. It was rather easy to connect to, with it only having little text that was written in French as well as having lots of illustrations. The Text has a clear structure and is always referring to an image or illustration. With the book being written in that way I could understand its contents I felt like getting closer to some sort of a friendship with it.
My feelings towards the tasks were mixed. Some were interesting like visiting the Archives and inspecting the book up close. Part of me was afraid to tear a page but mostly I was excited looking at the craftsmanship and opening the folding pages that reveal stunning drawings. Other tasks were less interesting like looking up all the volumes of your “Friend” or letting parts of the text run through google translate and all the other translation websites to figure out which works the best.
All those tasks lead up to the last one. Letting the books talk to each other. This is the task I have most mixed feelings about. It was fascinating to see how all the books form some sort of galaxy of words. Following came the big conclusion, the dialogue, or the drama. It is an interesting approach to conclude this year, but I guess that I may have expected something some else to it. Maybe something less playful and more definite. For me, the task still begs the question: what now?
I am thankful that I had to research and go look at this publication in person. I would have never done something like that in my spare time and it was all in all an interesting experience. I got to know the tools the ETH library offers, and it felt a bit like testing the waters for this kind of research. Probably I was lucky to have gotten this very book, that was rather easy to get acquainted with.
After this year I am not friends with this book. But I am also not a stranger to it. It feels more like an acquaintance to me. I learned how to approach and talk to such artefacts. Even if it’s not always that successful.