An Octopus in Plan View

This amorphous project began as a collaboration between Shannon Ebner and Dexter Sinister for the 2010 Frieze Art Fair. The idea was to build a “reading room” onsite—only rather than a public space in which others could read, it was conceived as a private room in which to record an audio essay to then be channeled to a dedicated audience elsewhere.

The idea for the essay itself was rooted in Shannon’s emphatically material “Strike Alphabet”—a set of photographs of letters and basic punctuation assembled from US cinder blocks and other building materials. (The hut recording studio at Frieze was constructed from breeze blocks, the UK equivalent). One such piece of punctuation was an asterisk made from strips of cardboard, a cousin of another asterisk we had screen-printed on The Sun as Error, a book also made with Shannon a couple of years prior.

Casting around for a subject of the piece to be recorded, we recalled the germ of an essay instigated by Angie Keefer that considered the shapeshifting forms of certain cephalopods relative to language and VR. We invited her to expand these interests into an eight-part essay with the readymade title “An Octopus in Plan View”—a diagrammatic asterisk, in other words. Once complete, individual parts were quickly edited, then, once the fair was underway, sent to Shannon in London, who twice daily.supervised the recording of them being read in the soft Scottish accent of curator Mason Leaver-Yap. A three-minute colophon text played in the hut when no recording was taking place, explaining to any curious passersby what was going on.

Duly recorded, the raw audio files were transmitted piecemeal back to Dexter Sinister in New York, then edited down into working chapters. By the time of the fair's closing at the end of a Sunday afternoon, the complete audio essay was finally assembled into a whole hour-long track and  then played at dusk to a private audience gathered in an office halfway up the Chrysler Building.

Later, the audio script was re-edited back into essay form along with some illustrations and released as one of the inaugural Bulletins of The Serving Library.