SKUTE AWABO [AWABO SKUTE]
1992: edition of 12 plus 3 APs
540 x 380 mm; 128 pp.
Polychrome letterpress and handwork deploying a raised mounting board, lead type, woodletter, zinc and polymer plates and zinc stencils. Some imagery is gained through digital manipulation. This book is composed of 64 single sheets in a variety of papers plus two printed endpapers of Japanese gold-embellished stock. Bound by Phoenix Bindery in full vellum, with vellum joint and gold and silver headbands. The book sits in a grey-green cloth drop-backed box blind-embossed on the front and inside.
The book deploys woodletter fonts and metal types combined with wood and metal composing-room materials. Quotations are from the King James Old Testament. My own poetry is accompanied by some words of the North American Ojibway tongue. The first half of the book follows awabo (water) as a river; the second, that river polluted and cursed by skute (fire). The structure is of a twice-repeated cycle of changing paper stock, textures, and imagery, with the Ojibway wasa wasa (far away or long journey) spread throughout the book. I have drastically condensed a short story (from the book ‘Wasa Wasa’ by Harry MacFie and Hans G Westerlund) which recounts the search for red gold by two white companions during which a river is enflamed to destroy them. This tale is twinned with that of Moses and Aaron turning the Nile to blood. Both were inspiration for the gold thread of greed running through this book. A meditation in silver and white, while reflecting upon the moon and Artemis as the source of all bitter waters, stitches in the silver.
A note from the artist to Paul Gehl of the Newberry Library, Chicago, 1996: ‘The words WASA WASA (far away, or long and difficult journey) divide the book into two halves, and each half into four; so eight sections start with a W, an A, an S, or again, an A. The first half is a visual meditation on water, the second on fire. Each section has a constant sequence of differing papers. This to supply rhythm. As, one hopes, does the graphic for water, a double curve, or wave running vertically to the page, which was gained by compressing from each end a length of lead rule in the bed of the press.’
In the second half the heat of fire is mixed into the waters with the action of turning the waters (of the Nile) into blood – a consequence of greed, a reflection of red gold; a curse on all who with Pharaoh finagle, or yet with Potiphar’s wife party.
The fire, the water, the blood red gold are all found in the story from which this book is distilled. The box carries an Akkadian sign for the sun.