The Codex

A book that is a multimedia project

Week of the Festival: Lviv, Ukraine

It must have been just a coincidence that I started working on the “Codex” at the very beginning of the quarantine. Randomness has its own system. The idea of the “Codex” has been simmering for a long time. The slowdown in life associated with the pandemic, and the ability to engage in long-term work requiring full attention, complete focus and going deeper into the process, even at the physical level, became more of a basis for work than a cause. My life didn’tchange dramatically. As before, I had a certain routine which at times got disturbed by external factors. Half a day was usually taken up by painting and another half by graphics. Another good thing for me, as an experienced sociopath, was the disappearance of excess noise.

We live our lives in borderland. Both in a real and in a metaphysical sense. Thence, on the one hand, comes our strength; and on the other hand, our problems appear. This borderland of ours is a very broad concept, encompassing not only such historical and cultural collisions as, for example, the confrontation between the West and the East, civilisation and barbarism, but also, at first glance, quite abstract things that I can define as the border between visual and literary civilisation. More precisely, between the image and the word. And to narrow it down even more – this is the border between formalism and literaryism. All Western civilisation is based on visuality, which is the main means of communication.  A whole rich imaginative system arises from here; it begins with the development and study of the problems of form by artists as the fundamental basis of any research, including achievements in painting, architecture, cinema, philosophy, literature, and ending with politics and economics. In short, this interweaving leads us to the beginning of everything, from the concentrated line of the Altamira caves, which developed into Antiquity and then to conceptualism and postmodernism. Over the course of several centuries, it is not the Eastern civilisation in its cultural meaning that comes to us from the geographical East, but anti-visualism, condensed in the fact that culture there is based not on images, but on text – verbality in a broad sense as the basis of communication.

Art is becoming increasingly multimedial these days. Even personal art projects combine several media, and artists have long gone beyond one-dimensional flatness. Objects, installations, words, photography and video, sound, works in space are far from being a complete set of tools for communication.

The “Codex” is also a kind of multimedia project. On the one hand, this is a series of graphic sheets that deliberately go beyond the concept of the “series”. On the other hand, it is a non-verbal novel, a book that has its own structure and composition, parts, pockets and parallel lines that deliberately intersect, where the whole story is told and developed, both linearly and in counterpoints, with rhythms and the deconstruction of the previous structure. And where compositional elements, lines, dots and splodges are used instead of verbality. This is also known as the graphic novel, one of the varieties of comics, the ninth art form.  Not in its classical sense as such, although there is a structure with a grid of frames and spreads that flow into each other and form a clear rhythm and dynamics. The other side of it is cinematic, because it’s actually a drawn movie, kind of a storyboard. The impossibility of making a movie of this nature is obvious, since the reproduction of the landscape of consciousness and subconsciousness is possible for now only by pictorial means. Cinematography is a collective art, not an individual one. I consciously avoid collectivity.  A movie like that would require a multi-million budget due to a large number of special effects. Therefore, it is best to be done by drawing.

I named it the “Codex” because this concept reveals the idea better. Firstly, it is traditionally an early form of the book, let’s say: historically it is a book prototype, which would contain sheets of parchment or papyrus folded together and bound under the cover. This is how it looked like at the time they appeared, and it has still remained the form of the book. Secondly, it is a legislative act that systematises norms in any area. Thirdly, it is a document or an unofficial set of rules that establish some principles of behaviour or activity. And finally, fourthly, it is a reference book, a compendium of any research, for example, zoological or botanical. A sufficient number of codices are known in the history of culture, starting from the time of Rome, where some rules or legal norms were set, including medieval religious codices, scholarly and guild codices, proto-American codices from pre-Columbian civilisations, as well as the “Codex Atlanticus” by Leonardo da Vinci or the “Codex Seraphinianus”, the author of which describes an alternative structure of society and nature.

In my case, it is a summary of my artistic principles, tasks and practices, which are set out in this form. Here, I solve a number of problems, ranging from purely compositional and plastic ones, to narration and my own codex of artistic norms and rules. No letter is used intentionally. Since this novel is completely postmodern, or rather even post-postmodern, there are a huge number of – obvious and encrypted – references both to popular culture and to the classical and avant-garde works of people who, to some degree or another, have influenced me throughout my life. Their impact continues, and this way I pay my respects.

The story itself is divided into four parts, each of which is an allusion to the four eternal plots highlighted by Borges. If we talk about the cyclical nature that is inherent to the development of mankind, civilisation and culture, we always, despite all the changes in the surroundings and the historical scenery, end up in a spiral as the same, unchanging plots remain. The four plots are “the Siege of the City”, “the Return Home”, “the Quest”, and “the Sacrifice of a God”. 

It turned out that thanks to the idea and external circumstances, this really is a game of strategy, so to speak, for a long period of time, a life-long one. For my part, as an author and at the same time a self-critic, this is a serious selection, where in the process of working I reject three or four finished pages out of five. And I keep one or two. Because, besides other tasks, a completely new one appears – to keep the tension up and to finish these pages to the same standard. It’s like shooting a TV series, when you have to make sure that each episode and each season does not flop but stays at a certain high level. This level can only be determined by me, because I set  high standards for myself.

When the “Codex” hit the halfway mark and the number of completed sheets was just over a hundred, my eyesight started deteriorating. Due to eye strain. All of a sudden. One morning I woke up seeing almost nothing. My eyes were burning as if they were full of sand; everything was blurred beyond arm’s length, and the unknown was lying beyond. To say that I panicked would be an understatement. There was no improvement. Moreover, the ophthalmologist could not say anything specific other than prescribing some drops, which did not help at all. Even in my worst dream, I could not imagine that I would be left without sight thus putting an effective stop both to my career and to my whole life in general. I had to pull myself together, set my work aside and do exercises to strengthen the eyes. After a month, my vision began to recover gradually. Now I could see as far as a three-metre distance. I carried on with the exercises. After a while, I was able to return to work full time, albeit to a limited extent. That was another unexpected way for me to undergo a process of immersion and germination.

Two thirds of the “Codex” are now complete. There is another interesting multimedia component to this – I started posting it on Facebook in small parts. It received a lot of feedback. Despite the disclaimer “A Graphic Novel That Will Never Be Published”, seven publishers, including Western ones, are showing a keen interest in printing it. Judging by the interest it provoked not only among viewers, but also among publishers, it will soon be finalised and published. Along with the commentary that will partly reveal its contents. Several people have already been inspired to write music and make videos. Various interesting collaborations are being proposed. All it needs now is to be completed and polished.

By choosing a completely non-verbal language, I am not only going against our borderland paradigm, but I am also trying to make my humble contribution to spreading this language as much as possible. I am fully aware that right now this practice is quite marginal and undeveloped. But I am very inspired by the interest that this rather incomprehensible project has aroused – not only in the West, but also in our country, especially if one takes our background into consideration.