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– Spring/Summer 1999

Expecting Rain. Reading The Nam

Alan Woods

Fiona Banner, The Nam: Non-Fiction, 1997. Detail. Installation, 1000 page paperback book and silk screened posters. Courtesy the artist and Frith Street Gallery.

It's like somebody's scanning it, looking for something.

All of this is fiction, and none of this is made up; it is all described, transcribed from what is heard and seen.

Drawing narrative; drawing telling. The story survives but the author takes on no narrative responsibility.

The bulk of the book is used, it is not incidental. The lack of page numbers draws attention to how we use page numbers - an early version of the LED display on a CD, a kind of countdown in a book of any size - so many pages read, so many pages to go. The blank page constant on the left; the same experience of blankness and fullness is always repeated, always subtly different. A balance, a physical balance of weight in the hands, resting on the lap, changing every page. And a sculptural aesthetic, whereas concrete poetry might draw attention to the picture space of a single organised page.

There is at least the possibility (at any rate, there was that possibility for me) that one might truly be the only reader of The Nam, that it might be understood without being read: conceptually, visually, spatially. Perhaps it is best understood that way. The reading becomes a kind of co-existence, just as one might have the opportunity to stay up all night with the performance artist. And the writer herself, possibly, is not even the first reader in the usual sense of the reader who revises, who slowly finds the right words, the right structures. This is writing like Rodin's eyes-on-the-model drawings, without revision, the pencil patiently moving after