Doctoring the books
This week’s edition of Venue includes a big fluffy article about guilty pleasures, to which I contributed a bit.
There wasn’t the space for all of what follows, but I thought it deserved a wider airing. This here is the full transcript, lightly edited, of an interview I did with ‘Eddie Brown’. Names have been changed to protect the guilty. And no, it’s not me.
I buy books from charity shops, then spend quite a lot of time doctoring those books. Then I donate them back to charity shops, in the hope that people will be pleasantly or unpleasantly surprised by what I’ve done to the book.
It started off about 25 years ago, when me and my mate Mike used to go to the Arnolfini a lot. We used to bring labels with us, which we’d use to change the labels underneath the paintings to something ridiculous. We’d take the credit for the paintings as well, so there’d be a painting and it’d be called something like ‘Abstract number 9’, with the name of the artist and then the medium.
We’d spend ages sitting at home, drawing up these labels and getting the typeface right, taking them to printers and getting 3 or 4 sheets done. We probably spent as long as the artist doing the actual paintings to get the labels absolutely right. And nobody ever noticed. Not a single person ever noticed.
We got really pissed off with that. So we went to an exhibition of new conceptual art and we piled our coats and bags in the corner of the gallery, and then put a label next to it called ‘Coats and bags by Mike and Eddie, and people stopped and looked at it – people were looking at our pile of coats and bags! We thought that was hilarious.
We went back two weeks later with t-shirts we’d had printed and I walked around a shirt that said ‘Eddie Brown by my mother’, and it had my mother’s name on it and then ‘medium: sperm and egg’. We walked around doing this and nobody really noticed at all.
From there it went into books really. I started off with Ladybird books, which are very easy to doctor. The typeface is Helvetica; probably 20-point, something like that. You print some new words, doctor the paper a little bit so it looks a bit worn, and then just glue it over the thing.
One of our favourite things was to insert an apostrophe and then ‘nt’, so every time it said ‘he did this’ we just put in ‘he didn’t do this’. So ‘Peter didn’t go to school’, ‘Peter didn’t throw the ball’.
My favourite one – obviously I was quite inspired by Joe Orton because he was doing this to library books and got sent to prison for it – was Gombrich’s ‘The Story of Art’. I set about that with a copy of Razzle. It’s quite hard work because you have to cut plates out – or details in the plates – and then behind it you stick in something else. It’s completely juvenile and I apologize for it.
The Ladybird books are easy, easy to fake, but other literature is quite difficult because of typefaces and paper. If you just stick in a sheet of A4, immediately you’ll notice it. But do you remember what they used to call rough paper at school? You can still buy it in printers, and I’ve got a mate in a printers who has a machine that prints on rough paper, which is basically book paper. You then take a page out and replace it with another. The paper looks like vintage paper, which is good.
I’m not doing it as an exercise in forgery; I just doing it because I like the idea of somebody randomly buying a book because they like the look of it, and then perhaps reading it and then coming across five or six pages of utter shit in the middle.
Very few people know about it – Mike does because I did it with him but then I kind of took it on by myself. I’ve told you about it, and I guess my wife suspects, because she sometimes sees me cutting out tiny words from other books I’ve bought.
I don’t see it as a kind of artistic endeavour or whatever. I’m not trying to make any point at all really, I just think it’s funny. I’m going to start doing leaflets that are completely bollocks. I want to do leaflets that look like they’re guides to like the city museum, or to Tyntesfield, or whatever. I’ll use their logos and stuff, but they will be just completely and utterly bollocks.
Maybe our leaflets will be better than the official leaflets, and maybe it will do some good for leaflet-reading. Nobody reads anything, you know. People only read the first paragraph, and the last paragraph unless they’re really interested. But really most people only ever read the first paragraph – so if you leave the first paragraph alone, you can get away with absolutely anything you like, until the last paragraph.
I do about two a year. If you want to give me a plug, tell people I normally favour Salvation Army shops on Cotham Hill and the Gloucester Road. Can you also just say I’m not Banksy.
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