This highly prized work envisions a modern interpretation of the ancient Egyptian funerary text containing spells to assist the dead on the journey into the afterlife.
William Gibson is a science fiction writer born on the South Carolina coast. Having been abandoned by his father when young, he relocated with his mother to a small town in Virginia.”The Book of the Dead“’s poetic text focuses on a fleeing role model, modeled after Gibson’s father. (“Agrippa” is the name of a photo album that Gibson’s father kept.) Throughout the poem we observe snapshots of Gibson’s relatives and childhood. We experience the simplistic plastic forms of toys and the innocence of small town Main Street, then to be transported to a secluded and extracted existence in Canada.
Gibson also focuses on the nature of photographs as physical memory capsules and how their captured history is like the resting and patient violence of a gun. Pieces of damaged, struggling, and rebuilt lives are collected and stored, then buried. Gibson provides his own visual record, recorded on a 3.5” floppy disk and stored in a holding space within Agrippa: Book of the Dead. The self destructive coding in the disk recalls the destructive path one decision can make.
“Now in high-ceiling bedrooms,
in the bottom drawers of veneered bureaus
in cool chemical darkness curl commemorative
montages of the country’s World War dead,
just as I myself discovered
one other summer in an attic trunk,
and beneath that every boy’s best treasure
of tarnished actual ammunition
real little bits of war
From William Gibson’s Website:
Introduction to AGRIPPA: A BOOK OF THE DEAD
By William Gibson
“AGRIPPA, A Book of the Dead” is a longish poem written in 1992 for a multi-unit artwork to be designed by artist Dennis Ashbaugh and “published” by art-guy Kevin Begos. Ashbaugh’s design eventually included a supposedly self-devouring floppy-disk intended to display the text only once, then eat itself. Today, there seems to be some doubt as to whether any of these curious objects were ever actually constructed. I certainly don’t have one myself. Meanwhile, though, the text escaped to cyberspace and a life of its own, which I found a pleasant enough outcome. But the free-range cyberspace versions are subject to bit-rot, it seems, so we’ve decided to offer it here with the correct line-breaks, etc.
“Agrippa” is the name of the particular model of Eastman Kodak photograph album my father kept his snapshots in.”
Dennis Ashbaugh is known for incorporating DNA designs into his artwork. Inspired by Gibson, Ashbaugh folds the merging of coded material (in this case computer code) with the self-destructive 3.5” floppy into the book, while setting up the more permanent notion of genetic coding as life’s design. Genetic code serves as a record of both life and death, but code exists as a staying, unique identifier beyond mortality.
Our copy of Agrippa: “The Book of the Dead” is number 35 in an edition of 95. More information on the binding and construction of this book is available here.