The Chiliagon Locket: A Mental Exercise from My Childhood
From the series: The Last State or the Penultimate
4.5 × 7 in. closed
Saddle-stitched, softcover pamphlet
Inkjet and laser
[In a departure from the usual Artists’ Book Reviews format, this mini review is part of a series on Neil Majeski’s pamphlet series, The Last State or the Penultimate. The first of these mini reviews covered Majeski’s series as a whole.]
Like Depictions of a Developing Lampshade, the core of Neil Majeski’s The Chiliagon Locket: A Mental Exercise from My Childhood is a single object which is both real and imagined and which evolves throughout the short pamphlet via visual and verbal mediation. The title references a chiliagon, a thousand-sided shape, which can be conceived of mentally, but not imagined the same way as, say, a triangle, whose three sides cohere into a stable mental image. Majeski borrows this thought experiment from William Goldbloom Bloch’s book, The Unimaginable Mathematics of Borges’ Library of Babel, but only to explain his own mental exercise: a locket that opens over and over until some inexplicable mental friction turns its infinite unfolding into an unimaginable mess of imaginary lockets.
Majeski introduces the pamphlet, and the perplexing mental image of an endlessly unfurling locket, with a photograph of the actual locket. Tipped in between paragraphs on the first page, a compound image shows the locket closed (left) and open (right) on a wooden tabletop. The photography is unpretentious, evidentiary even. In the righthand image, we see that the open locket is empty. The image — the only photograph in the pamphlet — is thus a photograph of a missing photograph. The parallels between the compound image, split down the middle, the hinged locket, and the pamphlet itself are unavoidable. Is a locket a photobook? Is his endlessly unfurling locket more like Borges’ library than even Majeski realized?
The photograph signals the reality of the object, but the text on the page blurs the line between real and speculative. (Of course, the value of photography’s ostensible objectivity is already limited as an illustration of a mental image.) Majeski uses phrases like “so to speak” and “that might sound a tad strange” to reinforce the verbal mediation that guides the reader through the pamphlet; something will be lost in translation from mental exercise to verbo-visual account.
The rest of the illustrations are painted, offering Majeski a halfway point between the rigid mimesis of photography and the freedom of imagination. The sparse, surrealist style lends itself to the mental manipulation of an object and maintains a porous boundary between real and imagined. The painted environments could represent a mysterious mindscape or simply a dimly lit tabletop. The empty locket transforms into a velvety void, as though much more than a photograph is missing.
The first two paintings, which depict the orderly unfolding of the locket, appear to form a diptych. However, they are split apart on successive versos, which emphasizes both the temporal and spatial aspects of this infinity; the scene transcends any single canvas or moment in time. It is an ongoing process.
Elsewhere, Majeski uses the book form to punctuate the pamphlet’s verbal and visual content. The orderly unfolding of the locket breaks down in the center spread. The image on the verso still shows the locket’s linear march, but the text on the recto describes the moment Majeski loses control: “Here and there the unruly locket went, every which way appearing as so until at last the image would rupture into imperceptible nothingness:” The colon and the phrase “as so” refer to the illustration on the following page, but they first seem to point to the vast blank space at the bottom of the page — imperceptible nothingness.
The Chiliagon Locket explores fundamental questions about the book as a communication tool: how does an idea get from an artist/author to a viewer/reader? Majeski shows that the process is not linear. Ideas, images, and objects are always fluid and never transparent. Even a short book, like a twelve-page pamphlet — or a locket, leaves its mark on the ideas it conveys, whether visual or verbal, spatial or temporal. Majeski has a knack for reminding us of how books work without detracting from the central object or anecdote. The Chiliagon Locket is an earnest exploration of a childhood experience, one that is as unique as it is relatable.
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