Celsius 233 Philip Zimmermann (2015)
In June of 2014, the Islamic State, known in the Middle East as Daesh, seized Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq. In February of 2015, the Islamic State jihadists detonated explosives in the Mosul Library, destroying the large building, but not before burning all of the books, including many rare and irreplaceable volumes dating from the last 500 years. They released a series of videos proudly showing the destruction. I found this very upsetting, and while at Brush Creek Ranch Art Residency and later at Playa Summer Lake Residency, I started doing research on the history of book burning. I found that burning books has a long and infamous history dating back a couple of thousand years. Most people know about the Nazi’s burning books as well as the famous Ray Bradbury book Fahrenheit 451, but it turns out that almost every authoritarian regime (and some that are nominally not authoritarian like the United States) has burnt books that do not agree with their cultural and political viewpoints.
Celsius 233 came out of this research. The book contains 40 pages displaying acts of libricide in chronological order. The title page spread includes a famous quote by Heinrich Heine, whose own literary work was included in some of the book burnings orchestrated by the Nazis. Inserted small orange laser-cut tongues of flame describe the date and action of each image through time. The images were obtained on-line, mostly from the Library of Congress and the National Archive and some educational institution archives. A list of credits appear in a colophon.
For me books are sacred. I know that burning books can hardly be compared to executions by beheading or burning a person alive, two things that the Islamic State has done a lot of. (They justify many other acts of cruel barbarity.) But burning books is a symbol for me of intolerance and narrow fundamentalist views. All that I love, art and music and science, are made manifest and disseminated in books. They are historically the media used for the free flow of ideas and culture. Because of that they must be immolated by the narrow-minded and ignorant followers of a mute and humorless god.
Celsius 233 has 40 pages, is handbound using a multi-needle coptic stitch with sewn-on hard covers made of acid-free solid-core black museum board. The paper is acid-free French Paper. The images are printed using archival inkjet ink with three-color foil stamping on the cover, the title page and the back cover. The interior flame sheets are loose-inserted in a slot in each interior folio. It is printed in a signed and numbered edition of fifty and comes in an acid-free phase box. Dimensions are 6.5" x 9" x .375" (16.5cm x 23cm x 1cm). The price of the limited edition handbound book is $375 and includes a blu-ray DVD (see below).
I have created a short five-minute projection video to be used as a looping "viewing environment" while reading the book. It can be seen in either Vimeo or YouTube. It can also be viewed from the blu-ray DVD that is included in the phase box with every book. The video uses similar content and aesthetic strategies as the book.
• Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury (1953); Ballantine Books, New York, NY.
• A Universal History of the Destruction of Books from Ancient Sumer to Modern-day Iraq; Fernando Báez (2008); Atlas & Co. New York, NY.
•A History of Reading; Alberto Manguel (1996, 2014); Penguin Books, New York, NY
• Libricide: the Regime-Sponsored destruction of Books and Libraries in the Twentieth Century; Rebecca Knuth (2003) Praeger, Westport, CT and London, UK.
• Burning Books and Leveling Libraries: Extremist Violence and Cultural Destruction; Rebecca Knuth (2006); Praeger, Westport, CT and London, UK.
• Books on Fire: The Destruction of Libraries Throughout History; Lucien X. Polastron (2004, 2007) Inner Traditions, Rochester, VT.