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Book Review: Contains 3 Books


Book Review Contains 3 Books By Jason Fulford Reviewed by Sarah Bay Gachot Contains: 3 Books could be a drawer full of madness, but it is much more fun — and fitting, considering the vividly luminous imagination of Fulford — to embrace it as the visual ramblings, journal, and research of the sane mystic.
Contains 3 Books. By Jason Fulford. 
The Soon Institute, 2016.
Contains 3 Books
Reviewed by Sarah Bay Gachot

Contains 3 Books.
Photographs by Jason Fulford. Edited by Lorenzo De Rita.
The Soon Institute, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 2016. 216 pp., 88 color illustrations, 5¼x7¼".

Mild Moderate Severe Profound is one of the three small books tucked into the silver slipcase drawer of Contains: 3 Books, by Jason Fulford, his latest collection of photographs and text. Paging through, I paused on one of the captions across from an image of Zelda Sayre and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s grave, a close-up corner of it, silhouetted by the sun just out of frame; there are airplane-sized liquor bottles straggled about, and an empty vase (save for some dead leaves) catches a tiny glint of a sunset on its rim, some wine bottles hold more dead flowers, coins tossed about, other gifted mementoes...

20. Save Me the Waltz
In a letter to Zelda Sayre’s doctor, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote that he would rather her be a sane mystic than a mad realist. She had been diagnosed with schizophrenia
This is just one of several references to madness and aberrance throughout Contains: 3 Books — the title Mild Moderate Severe Profound, the common terminology for addressing levels of intellectual disorder, being one of them. Further photographs allude to institutionalization — the psychiatric file of Robert Walser, who spent much of the latter part of his life in a sanatorium, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska’s modernist bust of Ezra Pound, who was incarcerated in an insane asylum for 12 years, Vincent Van Gogh’s view from his room in an asylum — as well as views that reference institutions themselves such as the Central State Hospital in Milledgeville, Georgia, and Glore Psychiatric Museum in St. Joseph, Missouri.

Contains 3 Books. By Jason Fulford. The Soon Institute, 2016.

The two other books in Contains: 3 Books are titled I Am Napoleon and &&. These are accompanied by a letter-pressed mustard-hued board displaying an alphabet festooned with raucous and randy characters reminiscent of R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural, or the viral doodle of the WWII-era “Kilroy Was Here.” Contains: 3 Books could be a drawer full of madness, but it is much more fun — and fitting, considering the vividly luminous imagination of Fulford — to embrace it as the visual ramblings, journal, and research of the sane mystic.

Contains 3 Books. By Jason Fulford. The Soon Institute, 2016.

This is a project with rules that guide in the most unruly way. I Am Napoleon seems to pair texts taken in their original fonts with original page numbers with Fulford’s photographs, noted in the colophon by those numbers. The first text is Roman numeral V, an excerpt from the preface to The Inmates by John Cowper Powys, a fictional love story told in an insane asylum:
PREFATORY NOTE
I think any book or picture or composition of any sort, once out into the world, so to say, produces a different effect on each person who seriously tries to follow it. I certainly do not think that the author of it has any monopoly on its interpretation.
Across from this is what I took to be a sopping-wet, green-haired guinea pig on a beach. Actually, it’s a seaweed-swathed rock embedded in sand — but if you look at it in a half light, it really could be the head of a corpse, buried and revealed by the sea. From guinea pig to corpse in less than a minute.

Contains 3 Books. By Jason Fulford. The Soon Institute, 2016.

Fulford explains the title I Am Napoleon on the last page by way of an asterisked note credited to the “acid Marxist” of psychiatrists, R.D. Laing, in which a patient undergoing a lie-detector test results in lying when he responds “no” to the question “Are you Napoleon?” Subtle paradox runs through Contains: 3 Books like madness itself — seemingly normal until it isn’t; seemingly mystic, until one digs. But Fulford seems to have a magnetic ability to attract just the amount of madness needed to make art.

Contains 3 Books. By Jason Fulford. The Soon Institute, 2016.

Despite its genesis in heavy research, three years of travel to 15 countries (Fulford was awarded a Guggenheim grant in 2014), and a weighty theme, Contains: 3 Books has a lightness to it — shiny silver slipcase, photos that one can’t help smiling at, like a broken ceramic duck next to a cigarette butt, a reference to Mel Brooks’s High Anxiety, a topiary branding of a barber shop in Scranton, and even the tongue-in-cheek letterpress handwriting listing book titles on the cover of && — “The Tower & The Abyss / Agony & Epitaph / Feminism & Psychoanalysis / Trust & Violence / Surfaces & Essences / Symbolization & Creativity...” It goes on — a procession of titles that seems to poke fun at the endless academic study of the mind.

Contains 3 Books. By Jason Fulford. The Soon Institute, 2016.

As this project came to print in 2016, the most unusual election year to date (to say the least), an exploration of madness is an apt response to the fractured condition of politics and society in the United States. “I don’t know what to do / two states of mind in me,” Anne Carson’s If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho, faces a photograph of a blue van tucked into a garage, protected by a hanging tarp and a traffic cone. Contains: 3 Books is ultimately a collection of pithy stories that touch upon the mind, accompanied by Fulford’s graphic or curiously comic photographs, stories in their own right. Dig as deep as you want — the reflection is yours to consider. — Sarah Bay Gachot


SARAH BAY GACHOT  is a writer, educator, and artist who lives in Los Angeles, California. She is the editor and author of Robert Cumming: The Difficulties of Nonsense (Aperture, 2016) and will be curating a show of Cumming’s photographs at the George Eastman Museum in 2017. Lylesfur.tumblr.com

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