Cristina Pape (1953 - )

Livro No. 1 (1999)
Book No. 1

Varnish, gold leaf and gesso on book
height: 28cm
width: 45cm

Donated by Cristina Pape 2000


'Christina Pape's gold book is a spectacularly beautiful object. We are confronted with a book which does not even pretend to communicate by language or script but by its pure materiality. It denies the possibility of content, transforming an object of little or no material value or interest into something where the only interest is material and where the material in question is traditionally extremely valuable. In fact the material is not quite tangible either - the corporeal book is only implied by the reflective and therefore intangible surface. It is like a religious relic, the gold leaf applied as a mark of veneration, to encase the object in a precious shroud. And like relics, it is not the enshrined object itself which is precious but the idea which it represents.'

Valerie Fraser, 2001

As the exotic “other” in Latin America, gold mining drastically changed the economy in the colonial period. This historical backdrop manifests itself in the gold leaf used on Cristina Pape’s Livro No. 1, which changes the object into a material entity, making what seems to be an ordinary “book” exotic or exciting. The artwork is a real book, which the artist has covered in gold leaf so that it looks almost fake or a cast mould. There are some blemishes in the leaf, but these appear only as specks, and the leaf is laid out in lines that are evocative of lines of text and so that the binding line along the book’s spine is still clear. In formal terms, the creation of the artwork is rooted in the action of rendering the object useless: this book can no longer be read. The book’s function is now to be an artwork, and this makes literal the opposition between form and function. The act of covering the object in gold leaf now makes it subject to transformation and plurality: the book no longer offers explanations through the act of reading, but becomes open to multiple meanings through the act of looking.

The historical delirium of the colonial search for gold transpires in the work, where madness now manifests in the act of creation, as the everyday object is appropriated, remade and elevated. As an object, the book is already a loaded and complex artefact, referencing education, language and faith. Yet it is still completely transformed into something else, a work of art and even an immovable object – the piece must be carried flat and be moved minimally to remain intact. There is some irony in this as the work is explicitly referencing gold, a precious mineral related to extraction and imperial travel, which here coats an object that must not be moved.

Gold as a historical symbol and material inevitably refers to colonial practices of extraction and the search for gold in turn is inevitably linked to Christianity and myth, with colonisers such as Columbus fatefully obsessed with stories of Solomon and Ophir. The Bible and gold mining worked in tandem because the myth of gold in the Bible used to justify the exploits of explorers. In Livro No. 1 the potential that the hidden book could be a religious text is relevant too, yet there is no way to tell the content of the original object. This opacity mimics the way in which Christianity was enforced in colonised countries through the destruction of knowledge and the creation of new narratives and imaginaries. The Bible is often not a public text but is used as an instrument of power rather than as a source of education and spirituality. In Pape’s work, this is made physical: the original book is hidden and unknown, but because this is done by a coating of gold leaf, we engage with it as a mythical and special object.

(Text taken from the exhibition catalogue for Gone to Ground, 2019)

Seymour, Daisy, 2019

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