It is ancient and dusty, yet totally modern and re-energized.
The “scroll,” among the oldest of technologies, has reappeared in our everyday lives fairly recently. We – writers, painters, storytellers, readers alike – discarded the scroll, the first form of information technology, in the first century, in favor of the codex – a bound book. This innovation was far more compact, since its pages were written on both sides. With a codex, once can simply turn to the appropriate page, rather than having to scroll through the entire document. And with the invention of the printing press (the Gutenberg) circa 1450, the printed, bound book took over. [In its first 45 years, millions of printed books were put into circulation.] But before the codex, the scroll was the format of choice – a long rolled length of parchment, silk, etc. One gradually unrolled it, exposing a (page-like) section at a time. It was coiled into a round tube when closed; it worked “in-the-round,” not unlike our vinyl records, CDs, DVDs and spinning hard drives.
In today’s world of iPads, e-readers, e-books, notebooks and tablets, it might seem, oddly, like we’ve returned to yesteryear. We read on only one side of our screens. We scroll through everything digital. Sometimes we even catch ourselves trying to scroll through something analog! Current authoring, designing, illustrating, publishing, and editing software all work on the premise of streams of unbroken information ~ upon which “pages” are IMPOSED, rectangles forced onto a flowing continuum (pagination). The first such technology that enabled home printers to reproduce our personal writing and pictures was invented in the late 1970s; consequently much of our creative “flow” has been mechanically paginated for well over a generation. But are we now veering away from this practice?
Reading, writing, picture-making and viewing have been crammed into the rectangle of the screen or the ubiquitous 8.5″ x 11″ piece of paper. But what about the tactile experience of holding the object – to that of encountering the genuine article? And today, when artists create this “real” (not virtual) pictorial or textual story, what is its purpose?
I found artists using more recent technologies to re-present several of the functions and uses of the scroll that existed in the 1st century.
Fink and Nagy use the scroll spiritually, for re-telling stories and canons of their religions.
Stokes depicts, and I narrate, aspects of interpersonal communication and personal journaling. Pyune, Gonzalez, and Stokes also use this format for self-expression, engaging both conscious intention, and unconscious, serendipitous creativity. And dramatically, Lee examines the act of making our private stories public, using techniques tying her work to ancient methods and materials – which brings us full circle. All these artists beautifully blend the old with new mass-produced substrates or technological techniques. We see all manner of printing on silk, embossed papers, and (even within) knitted panels. There is scribing into foil and spraying through or collaging lace doilies with plastic films… all of this to migrate the oldest information technology into the 21st century.
We usually associate digital technology with nonlinearity – those forking paths of Web-surfing as we click from link to link. But it turns out that e-books are quite scroll-like, unlike the codex; they are in fact largely flat and linear, while quite paradoxically, they conjure circular three dimensional attributes (rolling into cylinders). So, as we ride this wave of revisiting classical technology, albeit in a weird way, with terms like SCROLL, tablet, and stylus, these printmakers, book artists, digital collagists, modern scribes, and painters investigate the new scroll – giving us a “hands-on” experience, the pleasure of the “original” and much “information to process.”
-Leslie Nobler, Curator, The New Scroll: An Old Technology Reinvented