I like printed books, so I’ll start with A Guide to the Harmonized System. A brick of a book, not really for reading but for dancing around inside, filled with numbers and codes. From the unpaginated prefatory page:
You will have to learn about the way articles for import/export are codified. The Harmonized System Code was created by the World Customs Organization (WCO) to categorize goods into approximately 5,000 commodity groups, used in the service of import/export by more than 200 countries worldwide.
I’m in there too, along with a dozen other salt-water writers including friends like Stacy Alaimo, Chris Piuma, and Phil Steinberg. Plus people whose work I admire and hope one day to meet, like Astrida Neimanis, Elspeth Probyn, and Heather Davis. And others whose work I don’t know yet.
We each picked a dozen or so items to annotate. Paging through the brick, you can go for pages with only codes, and then suddenly see a annotated entries like the ones for containers on p92:
Three entries in a row reconfigure the right-hand column of text:
Dylan Gautier: Freedom of the Seas was the largest passenger ship every built (by gross tonnage) until construction of the Royal Caribbean International’s Oasis-class ships.
Me: What if we’ve all become container-shaped already? Containerized, as the economists say? What does it feel like to be in a box?
Marina Zurkow: Container, from Latin contineo (“to hold or keep together, comprise, contain”) combined form of con- (“together”) + teneo (“to hold”)
It’s hard to speak certainly about these nearly 500 Harmonized pages, but I haven’t found another triple run of annotations in my swims through the text. Do containers especially frighten or fascinate us?
I also like galleries, so I went down to bitforms a bit less than a week after the show opened. The pictures in this post are mostly iphonepix from the inside of the gallery, including the wallpaper printout of the book-brick’s contents (minus the annotations) and some gorgeous swimsuits with images of import/export items on them. I didn’t spring for a suit because I wasn’t sure my daughter would wear it, but I did buy two postcards.
There’s a second book, too, The Invisible Oceans, a thin and somewhat more conventional artshow book. It features an interview with Marina Zurkow, a great discussion of Allan Sekula’s inspiring film, “The Forgotten Space,” explanations of some of the HS codes and the icons designed for them, and more gorgeous images.
The last thing I encountered is the website, http://moreandmore.world/. Like our oceanic globe, it’s worth navigating slowly.
No matter where you start — the brick-book, the thin book, the gallery, or the website — you end up swirling around inside our oceanic swirl, reckoning with the dynamic patterns that human commerce and culture are sending across and under and around vast watery spaces each day. What I love about this project is its eagerness to embrace scale and disorientation, the inhuman-ness and expanse of oceanic space. Visible and invisible oceans remind us that human bodies remain tiny things splashing around saltwater spaces.
What does it feel like to be in a worldbox shaped like the ocean?