Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman


Book reivew for Ceramic Review, Issue 254, Mar/Apr 2012


Do you watch the film first or read the book? Often I prefer to read the book because it is the creator’s original voice. But in this case, both the book and its object (the exhibition) are by the same author: Grayson Perry, and share the same title. So which came first?

The book came in the post. On the front cover, I saw a rich illustration of pilgrims journeying under a copper-gold sky to an imaginary mountain-top Grecian temple (which looked exactly like the British Museum). I resisted opening the book but instead made my own journey to ‘Mount Bloomsbury’ to see the exhibition. The call of a book to a place and then the journey back again, seemed to be an appropriate way to receive the experience Perry was offering.

There I encountered a temple of objects within a temple of objects, a tomb within a tomb, a holy of holies. For me, the exhibition did what inner sanctums (altars, sweat lodges, coming-of-age rituals) are meant to do, which is to collapse or equalize the worlds of reality and imagination. The line between art and artifact blurred. The landscape of the artist’s inner world pressed itself up against the borders of my own reality, and overran them with a tide of old-new materials and new-old objects.

Leafing through the book now, an air of remembrance descends on the sumptuous photographs on every page. But I find these images wanting and over-reliant on my memory to fill them out. As in all documentation or catalogue, scale cannot be felt, the exhibition’s gloaming cannot be seen, the murmurings and footfalls of other people cannot be heard, the dynamic juxtapositions of image, object and material cannot be fully sensed.

However, the book is a relic of the exhibition: a preserved fragment of the whole and the best that we have got of the original once it passes. Ascribing our memories to an object is what elevates it to and constructs it as relic. If so, this is as good an example as any of the relationship between book, object and exhibition.