Book List of the Week

Books that Unsettle Me: Prem Krishnamurthy’s Book List

By Steve Kroeter April 16, 2013

Prem Krishnamurthy

Graphic designer and curator Prem Krishnamurthy: Project Projects and P! (New York)

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A founding principal of the New York studio Project Projects, graphic designer Prem Krishnamurthy has made text and the written word a major focus of what he does. The studio’s artists’ books and exhibition catalogues, along with its work in a range of media—from websites to exhibition design, signage, and visual identities with clients including the Guggenheim Museum, The Museum of Modern Art, and SALT Istanbul—have been widely acclaimed for their progressive approach to visual form.

Project Projects is also known for initiating its own research and curatorial projects. Last September, Krishnamurthy opened P!, a multidisciplinary exhibition space in New York's Chinatown that bridges art and design in new ways. Since its opening, P! has featured a number of thought-provoking exhibitions with bookish themes. For example, in February the space was turned into a “reading room” with a series of book clubs and reading groups discussing topics from Chongqing to Canal Street.

Through July 2013, P! is featuring a cycle of exhibitions that conduct an “extended inquiry into the nature and means of copying.” P!’s statement elaborates: “Remakes vs. knockoffs, transcription vs plagiarism, mimesis vs mimicry—the status of the copied act shifts from positive to negative and back again, depending on context and culture. Multiples of a religious or political icon extend their reach and efficacy, whereas a duplicated file, painting, handbag, or cityscape violates legal and ethical strictures. Questions of capital and power lie at the core: who owns the original vs who is producing the copy.”

The exploration of copying prompted Krishnamurthy’s book list for Designers & Books, a list that includes both “new discoveries” for the designer/curator and “old favorites.”

Exterior of P!, Prem Krishnamurthy’s exhibition space at 334 Broome Street, New York. Photo: Prem Krishnamurthy

“As a designer of exhibitions, books, and identities,” writes Krishnamurthy in the introduction to his book list, “I am constantly confronted by the unstable boundaries between original and copy, appropriation and falsification. And as a curator, I try to create situations in which alternate histories and cultural expectations are forced to overlap and negotiate the same space. For both these roles, I find that embedded, hyper-descriptive texts, such as W. G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn and Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, are indispensable frames of reference. I need them to unsettle me: to make strange a world that can, at times, feel reductive and normative; to offset the designer’s—the human’s—impulse to identify, to categorize, to manipulate in the service of a seamless, intuitive visual experience.”

Along with the Sebald and Calvino selections, Krishnamurthy includes on his book list Adolfo Bioy Casares’s 1940 work of fiction The Invention of Morel, noting that it “ingeniously employs the replicating—and revisionary—structure of memory to craft a novella as tightly wrought as it is unpredictable. The first edition’s illustrations, by Norah Borges (Jorge Luis's sister), alone make the book worth examining.” A more recent book on the list is one that takes the idea of copying literally—and to new limits: a remake of Don Quixote by artist Gareth Long. Krishnamurthy comments that Long “generated this text using speech recognition software, which he trained to identify the Don Quixote audiobook narrator’s voice. He played the subsequent recording into a computer and produced this clever doppelgänger.” It is, pronounces Krishnamurthy, “fittingly perverse.”

Prem Krishnamurthy’s exhibition series on copying, “Permutation 0.3.X.” is on view at P! through July 2013.


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