Wordlessly, Bookishly: Guy Maddin & Cliff Eyland

There is a solid tradition of diy collaboration in Winnipeg and now two of the city’s most accomplished artists, filmmaker Guy Maddin and mixed mediator Cliff Eyland, have combined talents to produce what they are calling “wordless books.” So far, there are four in the series with the promise of many more. They come in two variations: a pdf form, where anyone can download the high-resolution images and print on their own demand, and a version that is boxed and signed. Eyland says it will be an open edition. “I don’t like the printmaking culture of limited edition prints. I think you can sell things for lots of money as printouts, and you can also give them away. We’ll do both.”

The collaboration is one that Maddin admits is more heavily reliant on Eyland’s labour than on his. “I’d like to make it sound more give-and-take, but it’s much the way I work with all my collaborators. I like when they get into a zone and just give me stuff.” Eyland found himself in the zone when he was sent “tons of beautiful, magical images” in connection with another project. All of them were frame-grabs, mostly from Maddin’s short films like Sissy Boy Slap Party, The Heart of the World, Nightmare and Glorious. “Cliff came up with the idea of mashing them up with his work,” says Maddin. “It’s really an unlikely marriage. Even within the images there are strange incongruities and clashes–almost organ rejections–but they hold together in a way that makes me proud.”

The sources and compulsions for Eyland’s contributions are wide-ranging: images of abduction based on The Rape of the Sabine Women, a dead girlfriend, a Shunga-sized male organ from “some nscad dude,” a fascination with foolscap and lawyers, a Velazquez blurred painting called The Spinners from 1657, or an image of Droids first drawn in the 1980s. Eyland then combines these with Maddin’s outtakes, using graphic devices from Illustrator, a program that provides him with a complete range of colours.

The books are free from any conventional narrative, but they have a consistency of tone that gives them an inexplicable coherence. The first two are more sexual than the next two, which move towards a moody formalism. In Book Two there is a sequence of images early on that moves from a man’s torso being cut with a knife–from which a trace of blood plumb-lines down to a frame-grab of a woman’s naked body from Heart of the World, which is also being cut with exquisite delicacy–moves to a cliff scene from Careful, Maddin’s mountain film, then to one of Eyland’s komic-sutra paintings in the manner of Japonisme, and ends in separate photographs of the collaborators when they were nine-year-old boys.

There is also an image of a quasi-Samurai figure, which has both breasts and a penis. It is picking up small figures, as if Gulliver and his Lilliputs had discovered themselves on some virtual travels. The painting looks like a paint-by-number exercise, constructed by someone with a weird sense of anatomy. Eyland says the figure is female but admits to her ambiguity. “That’s one I did in New York City where I had this notion that the art world picks you up, looks at you, and then throws you on the ground again.” The drawing mimics the process embodied in this compelling collaboration: things are picked up, considered, and then carefully placed on the grounded page. Once there, they tell us their own wordless seductive story.

Volume 29, Number 4: Raymond Pettibon

This article originally appeared in Border Crossings #116, published December 2010.

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