The Graffiti Novelist

They call him the graffiti novelist, but what he writes are short-stories. There is rarely enough space or time for anything more. Working largely on garage doors, side walls and old bridges; and under the cover of darkness too – who could ask for more? Every story is original, and will never appear again. These stories are conceived, and created, in situ. They last as long as it takes for someone to complain to the relevant authorities. This can be as long as several months, as in one case, or as short as several hours, as in another. One must catch these stories when you can. They will not be repeated.

Every now and again, he finds a larger space. In May of this year he covered a whole house. He thought the house was abandoned. A man left his house one morning to find it covered in words. Whilst he had been sleeping someone had wrapped him in a story. He was not impressed. He did not even read the story (others, fortunately, did). One day soon the graffiti novelist hopes to write a story on a famous building: an art gallery, perhaps, or governmental offices. He won’t, however, accept a commission. He does it only when it isn’t asked for.

One thinks, of course, of Natalie de Roquet, who wrote a novel on the inside rooms of her house. The circumstances, however, were a little different. De Roquet was incarcerated. The Graffiti novelist could not be more free.

One thinks, also, of Tosca Calbirro. He has written on various objects, including toilet roll, a dress, and a shower curtain. As far as I know, though, Calbirro has never put words on a building.

Endnote on Calbirro

I must confess that I have tired of Tosca Calbirro. The content dictates the form, he says – and yet in so many cases the form alienates us from the content. We cannot get close enough to the form in order to analyse the content. So far as we know no one has even read his latest novel (which was printed onto an elegant designer dress). Or was this the point? Is the form the content in its entirety? Is there anything to read; or is the unreadability of what there is to be read a text in itself? The text is not the text, after all, but the text and everything that floats around it: it is the raft and the ocean. And all the fish in the ocean. And the land between oceans. And the people on the land between oceans. And the… well, everything. Everything is everything, or isn’t it?

The question is: where next for Calbirro? Now he has gone from the everyday space (the lavatory) to elite space (theatres and catwalks) one wonders whether subsequent stops will matter anymore. He has made himself unavailable to the common reader: one wonders whether or not he will ever return to the place from which he started. Come back, Calbirro, come back! We need you. Novels on lamp posts, bus tickets and shower curtains simply won’t write themselves. Put your words where they belong: in the home, at the source and near the centre. Where the heart is and the money ain’t.

Curtains (Calbirro Week no.5)

So, Tosca Cabirro wrote three novels on toilet paper. But what of his other work? A while ago this blog carried the rumour that he was publishing a story on a shower curtain. This was the last I heard of the great Italian writer, until the same stiff winds of gossip blew the details of that dress my way. So what happened to the shower curtain project?

I can tell you now that it did exist. The novel was called The River of Love Flows Fast and it was published in a limited edition of two hundred and fifty, late last year. Unless you had contacts within the Italian home improvement industry, you probably missed out on a copy. Sorry.

Talking of missing out, it turns out that there were at least another two works published inbetween Under An Unquiet Sun and Everything, Everywhere, Ending (i.e. The dress project). Both of these, it seems, were printed on curtains: the first on a deep red silk curtain (another limited edition, designed for the bedroom) and the second on a fire curtain at a small Italian theatre (it proved, I hear, better entertainment than the play).

Calbirro is, thus, even prolific than I thought he was. But what can we make of a man whose writings are so regularly hard to obtain?

Form to be Flushed (Calbirro Week, No.4)

In the last post I raised some questions – or, at any rate, I constructed an environment in which questions would inevitably come to graze. In the next couple of posts I intend to examine, prod, explore and penetrate a handful of those herding queries.

To start: Tosca Calbirro’s novel Under An Unquiet Sun, as we should all know by now, was printed on toilet paper (read more about it here). Contrary to popular opinion, this was not a one-off experiment: no less than three other novels by Calbirro (The Wind’s Shadow Cuddles The Cornfield, If Yesterday Ever Comes and The Long Road Under A Thousand Bridges) had already been published in this form, although none were ever as readily available as Under An Unquiet Sun.

The novel was accepted, by most, as an experiment in reading – a challenge thrown down to the reader by the writer. The book asked to be consumed in a particular way; to be read in a particular room and, once read, flushed down the toilet, with all the other refuse.

But what of the story the novel told? Was this relevant?  Many critics joked that Calbirro’s prose was just what they expected from a project of this sort (i.e. it was shit). Jinpes Terenk, conversely, argued that ‘Calbirro’s prose loosens the bowels’; that the rhythm of his writing had an apposite effect on the body of the reader. The irregular jolts of the plot were, he thought, carefully designed. Or at least they worked – for him.

A small group of readers went so far as to praise Calbirro’s writing in itself; noting the irony that ‘such an elegant writer should consign himself to the men’s room’. They found his prose had a calming effect: they warmed to his many characters. They were, in short, reluctant to follow the writer’s instructions and flush their fictional friends away.The content cut across the form.

One can only hope that they overcame their fears, for one dismisses Calbirro’s desires (or whims) at one’s peril. Though I would disagree with the contention that Calbirro is, in essence, a talented stylist – I still believe that he is a great writer; and that this greatness lies in this constant tension between content and form. A deliberate, carefully designed tension? I’m not so sure. The power comes, perhaps, from the randomness of the juxtaposition rather than the closeness of the relationship. Calbirro’s refusal to tie form and content together is, maybe, his most masterly move. As ever, he leaves it to the reader. After all, is not form bigger than the shape and structure of a novel, bigger than the typeset, the page setup and the line breaks? Form creates itself through the process of reading. Calbirro attempts to control this, whilst confessing that it cannot be controlled. What we do the privacy of  our own lavatory is up to us. It’s a personal thing…

Form and Content (Calbirro Week No.3)

Conscious that ‘Calbirro Week’ has consisted, thus far, of a paltry two postages (see below), I offer both the promise that it will be extended into a second (possibly equally fruitless) week, along with the following observations.

In the second of the two aforementioned pieces I shook off the celebratory spirit in order to launch an attack of sorts, accusing Mr Calbirro of staging a worthless stunt which sullied the memory of his earlier, more heartfelt creative methodology. I stand by these words. But how do I stand? I am, perhaps, a little edgy. One leg is firm, the other trembles: waiting for the off. Captured on camera, caught in aspic, trapped in time: I am frozen and proud. But life moves on – and so might I.

For the moment, however, you catch me standing, still. One ear is cocked towards the sound of a distant voice. The voice is Mr. Calbirro’s. It is being transmitted, I think, by radio. A wall of fuzz stands between us. It always does.

‘You misunderstand me,’ says the voice. ‘You imagine that my project has everything to do with form. My novels were once printed on toilet paper. Another was printed on a shower curtain. My last work appeared on a dress. The world notes the form, talks about the form, writes about the form, argues over the form. They say that the content is secondary, that the project lies in the form. But does it? You are wise enough to know better – but your confession demeans you. You have not read my latest novel because it is printed on an expensive dress. You wish, no doubt, that it was printed, once again, on toilet paper. This work, however, could never have been produced in that form. No. This work had to be printed on a dress. The content demanded the form from the very beginning.  The two are tied together, forever. So: expenses got out of hand. I am sorry for this, but not as sorry as you want me to be. For it is how it is. The story had to go on a dress. The project, meanwhile, remains the same. Nothing is sullied, nothing is perverted. The story develops as it always did. The content emerges and creates the form. The novel is born.’

Fuzz envelops the voice, and it is gone. And so, for now, am I…

Into Exclusive Spheres (Calbirro Week, No.2)

Forgive me if I’m wrong (it’s not impossible) but I’d always treated Tosca Calbirro’s efforts to see ‘beyond the book’ as symptomatic of a move towards less sacred/exclusive spheres. This is the writer, after all, who took ‘literature into the lavatory: quite literally’; printing his novels onto cheap toilet paper, to reach ‘not only the common reader, but the commonest‘. I always thought, in short, that Calbirro was someone who liked to get his hands dirty: to make his books available for all in new and exciting ways.

There has evidently been a shift in his thinking. Calbirro’s new work continues to be printed in ‘new and exciting ways’ – but is it still available to all? The toilet paper novels were, I believe, as cheap as a book can be. His latest novel, printed on a finely made dress and priced in the thousands, represents a little less value for money. One can only imagine that few copies will be sold, let alone worn. The sense of stunt seems to trump the worthiness of the central concept on this occasion.

Of course, I can’t claim to have read the work in question. Then again, who has? Gabriella Signifilia, who first modelled the dress, remains strangely silent on the merits of the work. She says that she is ‘no critic’, but her embarassed smile tells a different tale. She has not read the dress she wears. Nor has Pedro Ganz, the dressmaker. As for those who saw Signifilia on Sunday night, there was only time to glimpse a clutch of sentences before the actress moved on. I doubt she stayed still enough at the afterparty for anything more than this.

Calbirro’s new work has had an audience, therefore, but it still awaits a proper reader. One can only wonder who that will be, and how many will follow in his/her wake. More importantly – will it be worth it? Under An Unquiet Sun was refreshingly disposable; since then Calbirro has moved into more exclusive spheres. I, for one, am not sure I can follow him there…

The Dress (Calbirro Week, No.1)

And so it happened, just as they said it would.

On Sunday night, Gabriella Signifilia arrived at the premiere to Lorna Lagnini’s new filmMelodies of Dust Recumbent – wearing a dress made by Pedro Ganz, and designed by Tosca Calbirro.

From a distance the dress looked as if it was grey. In fact, it was white, but covered in tiny black letters. It was, in short, Calbirro’s new novel: Everything, Everywhere, Ending – now available at your nearest chic drapers, priced about ten thousand pounds.

More on this later.