USM Art Galleries Gorham and Portland

1994 — The Encyclopedia, Scott McCarney





The Encyclopedia
Scott McCarney
University of Southern Maine

Scott McCarney (1994)

The Encyclopedia and its accompanying Index were created through an exhaustive "reading" of a thirty volume set of Encyclopedia Americana, the 1960 edition that I grew up with.  The reading began with Volume 1 (A-ANNUALS) and continued through Volume 29 (WASPS- ZYMOTIC DISEASE), turning each page, reading articles of interest, and removing all illustrative material: pictures, maps, drawings and diagrams. These materials were filed alphabetically in folders corresponding to the volume from which they were removed. This first act familiarized me with the images of the encyclopedia and abstracted them from their relationship to the text. I had in mind Diderot's Encyclopedia which, due to the technology of its day, was issued in separate volumes of text and illustrative plates.

The text pages now became a physical mass to be dealt with as a work of sculpture. The 29 volumes were rebound into 70 units which, when put together in a grid, created a field measuring approximately six feet square. This field became the stage for the second act of my reading. A pattern of one inch squares were carved with a hammer and chisel into the text blocks denuded of their illustrative materials. These squares, not coincidentally, were grided in the way an image is mapped when scanned and translated into digital information for a computer. It was my intention to create the equivalent of a digitized image on this field of books using the text pages as white pixels, and replacing the pictures to represent black pixels.

Instead of using a representative image from the encyclopedia's illustrations to scan for this project, I decided to make a scan of my hand by placing it directly on the platen of the scanner. This is, after all, my reading of the encyclopedia, and the connection With the primitive mark making on cave walls and bark painting was there to be made. The more practical matter of finding an image that would be recognizable when resolved in a field of 4900 pixels was solved as well. This posed a question of how much information is needed to resolve a recognizable picture, thought, or subject as presented in the articles and illustrations of the encyclopedia.

Once the scanned image was translated to the carved books, the individual books were mounted onto a framework and installed on the second floor of the Portland Campus Library at USM. This floor is home to reference services, database searching and interlibrary loans, and now, appropriately, The Encyclopedia.