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Book Review: Fractal State of Being


Book Review Fractal State of Being By Sara Skorgan Teigen Reviewed by Sarah Bradley About ten years ago I was given one of the best birthday gifts I’ve ever received. I’d spent a lot of time with that friend over the previous year, us sitting across tables from each other, him doodling in his small moleskine, me jotting illegibly in mine. I’d peer across cups of coffee and dirty plates to see what he was drawing in that little sketchbook; my admiration was often received with an eye roll.

Fractal State of Being. By Sara Skorgan Teigen.
Journal Publishers, 2014.
 
Fractal State of Being
Reviewed by Sarah Bradley

Fractal State of Being
By Sara Skorgan Teigen.
Journal Publishers, 2014. 48 pp., 55 color illustrations, 8¼x11½".


About ten years ago I was given one of the best birthday gifts I’ve ever received. I’d spent a lot of time with that friend over the previous year, us sitting across tables from each other, him doodling in his small moleskine, me jotting illegibly in mine. I’d peer across cups of coffee and dirty plates to see what he was drawing in that little sketchbook; my admiration was often received with an eye roll.

Several months after my birthday he sat across from me again, familiarly consumed in that black book, this time drawing with silver pen on the cover. He answered me, half-distracted as usual, occasionally looking up to laugh or make a statement, and when he was finished, he blew on the ink to dry it and handed me the book. “Happy Birthday,” he said. On the spine he’d written “For Sarah,” and on the endpaper above a cartoon drawing of himself it said, “Because I’ve owed you some shitting drawings for a long time.”

Fractal State of Being. By Sara Skorgan TeigenJournal Publishers, 2014.

I’ve looked at that sketchbook more often that I can count. I knew him well at the time and remember my upside down view of some of those drawings, but it remains inscrutable. It’s a precious object, handmade with both intentionality and a mainline to the subconscious.

Shortlisted for the Aperture/Paris Photo First Photobook prize, Fractal State of Being is a one-to-one reproduction of a sketchbook by Sara Skorgan Teigen. It’s a large, beveled-edged moleskine-type book complete with elastic band, bookmark and familiar creamy paper. Exacting in its reproduction, the book is a collage of photographs, tape and graphite drawings. The precision of the reproductions is crucial to the success of the book. The more distance closed between original and reproduction, the more it will feel like a personal object. Which it needs to do, because Fractal State of Being is about process and the way the mind works. Because Fractal State of Being is a sketchbook.

Fractal State of Being. By Sara Skorgan TeigenJournal Publishers, 2014.

There’s a part of me that has no idea what to say about this book. It is what it is, a sketchbook, and nothing more. A personal testing ground where ideas are worked through: combining, reforming, and refining. It is a space of exploration for a creative mind. Which is what sketchbooks are for. Is there something intrinsically interesting about the process? I’m sure that there are a ton of dull sketchbooks out there. There can be beauty in the process, but it isn’t implicit to it.

But then again not every mind resolves itself in such interesting ways. For Teigen, the process is about recursion; motifs of hatched lines and tendrils of hair, seaweed and fractal-like natural forms embellish and expand the photographs outwards, repeating across pages, but also on the body depicted in the photographs — marks on the body, marks on the photographs, marks on the page. Tape both holds the images in place and creates another surface and type of mark to play with. The book is tactile — I don’t know that I’ve before encountered a photobook where I’ve so frequently touched the pages, feeling the edges, the differences in texture between the varnished images and the familiar smoothness of the page, looking with my fingers for the embossed embellishments, the added texture to a taped edge. I so wished the patterns created by the layering of tape were also textured surfaces (also missing, the gorgeous shimmer of graphite), but I concede that there must be a limit to the fastidious reproduction.

Fractal State of Being. By Sara Skorgan TeigenJournal Publishers, 2014.

With no statement or essay or way in, it’s kind of amazing that Teigen’s sketchbook is so immediately accessible. Or at least it was for me, but I’m also the kind of person for whom a used-up sketchbook is an exciting birthday present. Not everyone will respond to this book. It is perhaps a book that you get or you don’t — a statement I make without judgment. Given its connection to the function of the mind, perhaps we admire/are bored by a reflection of our own internal workings, or revel/find alienation in an unfamiliar process.

Fractal State of Being. By Sara Skorgan TeigenJournal Publishers, 2014.

I pulled out the gifted sketchbook as I was writing this review. It’s been a number of years since I’ve paged through it. Distanced from my own personal memories of it, my memories of him, I see new things. There will always be an extent to the readability of a sketchbook, a limit to how well we can know another’s mind, yet we find ways in. I am intrigued by those invisible pathways, which will keep these documents interesting to me, keep me returning to Fractal State of Being.—Sarah Bradley

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SARAH BRADLEY is a writer, sculptor and costumer, as well as Editor of photo-eye Blog. Some of her work can be found on her website sebradley.com.

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