The Book of Holes

Maureen de Jager, 2016. WO 32/8061 [The Book of Holes], 19.5 x 15 cm, edition of 4.

The reader encounters the following artefact: a neutral, somewhat nondescript solander box, in dark moss-green (a colour associated with official papers). It measures approximately 20cm (height) x 15cm (width) x 6cm (depth). There is nothing on the outside of the box to betray the contents, except a number embossed on the spine: WO 32/8061. Opening the solander box (the lid of which pages to the left, like the cover of a book), the reader sees a tray with two compartments: on the left is a pair of neatly folded, white cotton gloves; on the right is a custom-made paper knife in polished steel. The blade of the paper knife is clean and sharp, but subtle detailing on the handle evokes associations of a bygone era. By lifting out the shallow tray, the reader gains access to the book beneath it. The book is in portrait format, roughly the dimensions of the solander box and about 3cm thick. It is hardcover with square binding, and clad in tawny brown book cloth. On the front, embossed in black in Gill Sans, is the full title: “WO 32/8061[THE BOOK OF HOLES]”.

Putting on the cotton gloves, and lifting out the book, the reader begins to page. At this stage she notices that many of the pages are uncut along the fore-edge: to access the contents she will need to take up the paper knife, insert the blade into each of these folded seams, and rip. She will encounter slight resistance – the book is printed on 215gsm cotton paper – and will hear the unmistakable rasp of tearing paper. The act will need to be repeated at irregular intervals. Page… tear and page… tear and page… page… page…tear and page… and so on.

In this manner, with cotton gloves donned and paper knife slicing, the reader discloses the innards of the book: 172 sequential colour photographs, which document the holes indiscriminately made in a pile of historical documents (ostensibly for the purposes of binding them together). More specifically, the photographs track the path of a treasury tag feeding into these haphazard holes, and the proximate sites of wounding. For example, they document where the woven cord has snagged and caught on the paper, rupturing the edges of a too-snug hole and meandering into the surrounds (like a river bursting its banks).

At times, the photographs include oblique and partial references to a larger context, via bits of text, scribbled notes and letterheads. A few pages in, the reader sees a ‘War Office’ crest, embossed as a letterhead on black-bordered stationery. Later she sees the handwritten words ‘South Africa’ and then a typewritten, underlined heading: ‘Refugee Camps’. Further along, a plethora of pages declare themselves ‘SECRET’ or ‘CONFIDENTIAL’ – but the photographs divulge nothing further, the contents of the communiques having been excluded by the crop frame.