With Sent a Letter (2007) the idea of the book as exhibition, in its own right, became clear to me.The Book object trajectory had started in my work. Until then when it came to Museums exhibitions and collections, it was impossible to have the book there as my work and not as an accompanying catalogue. They said “Dayanita a book is a book and an exhibition is an exhibition” but for me it was not so. I wanted to insert a Go Away Closer book inside each frame of the silver print that people collected. I felt in acquiring a single image they were plucking one note out of my symphony. I had to get the book on par with my prints.
It has been 10 years of following this obsession, against every advice, but I could not stop it. Invite me and you could be sure I would smuggle the book cart in ( as I did at the Venice Bienale 2013), if you said NO CARTS please, I would build a bookcase and carry it in myself, if you said no shipping, I built a Suitcase museum that I could check in on the flight, each problem presented an new solution, another Book object. I even have bookcarts in my house, for guests who may not have the chance to acquire my books.
I had explored the accordian fold format when I had made the CHAIRS book at the Gardner Museum, but there the focus had been more on the system of distribution that was the emphasis. 50 distributor friends were fedexed 10 copies of the CHAIRS accordian fold book. It was upto them how they chose to distribute the book. Someone handed it to the first ten people he saw on one particular day, another friend kept them locked till someone had sufficiently appreciated the display copy, and when I carried with me one of my 10 books for Sol Lewitt, he laughed and said keep it Dayanita, I have three already.
But with Sent a Letter, which had 7 letters I had made for friends that I travelled with, and it came housed in a special handmade box, Steidl published 2000 of these.A regular edition. So 2000 homes had 7 miniature exhibitions of my work. It is now out of print and I took the last copies and made a museum out of them. These vitrines of Sent a Letter have been displayed in many Museums and galleries as well as the buyers homes.
I installed Sent a Letter in the vitrines of Satram Das Jeweller in 2008, right on Park street, next to Flurys, they are still there, in Jan 2017. On the busiest street in Calcutta, a daily exhibition , running for almost a decade.
Then came the FILEROOM book. At the last moment I asked Steidl if we could make the inside images the same size as the cover images, as this would allow me to cut images from the book and paste them onto the cover image, there by having as many covers as there were images in the book. This then allowed me to have an exhibition set. I also built a mobile Museum for these 77 different covers FILEROOM book museum. This was shown at the National Museum in Delhi. Finally I started to work on a structure for an individual book to be displayed on the wall, alongside ones miniature paintings or water colors. This led to the FILEROOM book object and for me a dream come true. The idea that my book could hang alongside my silver prints. I loved both forms, silver and steidl offset.
For Museum of Chance book I actually asked Steidl if each of the inside images could also be cover images. He was very annoyed at my bizarre request, but then as always, thought about it overnight, and said ok, lets do it. Museum of Chance was an edit made from 30 years of my work, held together by the idea of Chance. So it seemed appropriate that the cover you bought was also by chance. Meaning you had no choice in which cover you got if you bought online and from the bookshop just the choice of the covers they had. No one except me and the MMK had the full sets as that was the tedious part.
This also allowed me to have exhibitions in unlikely places for eg the foyer of the Hawa Mahal in Jaipur. Something I could never do with ‘original’ prints or Mobile museums.
I then took the sets that I had, and made an edition of 352 Museum of Chance book object from them. Each set of 44 books had the 88 images inside it, on the front and back cover. I again built a wooden structure for the book, and at special secret events I would individualise each book that was bought from the set of 44. This was the only time you could select exactly the cover you wanted. I liked that people had to engage personally in buying the book, in deciding the cover and if they decided to buy two or three, then it took hours to make the right combination, as the back cover added another layer to the edit.
Later this also became the Museum of Chance book case , that I could hand carry on flights and finally the SUITCASE MUSEUM which I could take as check in baggage.
Then Steidl and I,decided to publish a Pocket Museum. We took images from all the 9 Museums that make MUSEUM BHAVAN ( a travelling family of Museums) and made 9 accordian fold books. Since we had already published FILEROOM, we took images of the Godrej cupboards from the FILEMUSEUM and made a GODREJ MUSEUM. Similarly, having made Museum of Chance, we made a completely new edit and this became ONGOING MUSEUM. We also added a book of conversations. I still wanted to see if it was possible to make a mass produced book/museum and yet have each one be unique. We achieved this impossible task by making in India 3000 unique boxes for the MUSEUM BHAVAN book. So now the Museum Bhavan book that you will buy will be a totally unique box, that will house 9 of my Museums. You buy the book object as the Pocket Museum.
Coming soon……….to a bookshop near you, this one does not need any special editions or exhibitions. It is itself the Museum , and the unique/mass produced book.