Illuminated Manuscripts in the Age of Social Media and Texting (2023)

I was holed up in Burgundy as Covid began to rage. In a corner of the vaulted furnace room of my house, I began working with gouache, tiny brushes, gold leaf, and calligraphy pens, standing in my own scriptorium in a little village in the Morvan forest.

This is my first foray into the world of illuminated manuscripts. My work for many years has incorporated text and art-historical imagery. But I didn’t realize until I was well into my new work that the decision to mash up texting, social media, and an ancient art form was eerily in tune with the times as well as my own history.

Glowing screens on cellphones, tablets, and laptops were, I realized in retrospect, the obvious illuminated manuscripts of the digital age. Back in Medieval times, the best they could do to generate light was gold leaf.

We live in a fast-paced age, yet everything ground to a halt as a result of Covid. Contact with others became difficult, even dangerous. Illuminated manuscripts seemed to be an invitation to slow down when the world is going a mile a minute. I surrendered to the labor-intensive techniques seen in precious pages hidden away in rare book rooms.

When I stumbled into this rather neglected art form, my manuscripts reflected my intense desire to communicate something of our radically changed lives. Now in 2024, working in my new studio on the top floor of my house as I write this, I see how they allow me to give expression to melancholy subjects, political frustrations, and the lunacy of everyday life.

All sheets are 22-1/2” x 22-1/2” gouache, ink, 22 karat gold leaf and/or silver leaf on Arches 300g paper.

2023 More awful reports [FaceBook Post]
Text: More awful reports from the front today. Powerless to do anything. Angry that a fucking autocrat can singlehandedly inflict such misery, destruction and death, nothing new. Guilty that I can go the movies, enjoy Spring’s arrival with no missiles slamming into my street while all I do for millions suffering is throw some cash at the problem, vote for politicians with a soul who will try to stop him. Plus offer a glint of gold on a bleak picture.
Text: VENERANDISSIMIS DIIS GLORIAM (from the Latin: “Glory to the Most Venerable
Gods”) Kim Kardashian, Cristiano Ronaldo, Khaby Lame, Charli D’Amelio, followed by the
numbers of followers of these top influencers on four social media platforms: Instagram, TicTok, Twitter, FaceBook

Source: Gladzor Gospels (14th c. Armenian illuminated manuscript), Gospel Table page
2023, Came across a 600-year-old map [Facebook post]
Text: Ken Aptekar is at Crimea, Sea of Azoz, mouth of the Dnieper River, Ukraine
5m – thewaltersartmuseum – Baltimore, MD

Came across a 600 year-old map in a museum. Deceptively marvelous outlines of a now blood-soaked war zone. Some kind of beautiful…. [sad smiley face]

Like Comment Share

2023, Says who? Says me. Diptych [Cellphone text exchange between the four Evangelists, Matthew, Luke, Mark, & John, image based upon the Egmond Gospels, 9th c., Netherlands

TEXT: Matteus (Matthew): “Says who?”, Lucas (Luke): “Says me.”, Marcus
(Mark): “Says you?”, Johannes (John): “Who’s you?”

Details below



2023, RIP Saint Fiacre?? [FaceBook re-post from artnet. Saint Fiacre died August 18, in the year 670.]
Text: artnet 18 months 23 days
At Frieze a 45-foot Herb Garden is an Unlikely and Highly Effective Visualization of the threat
to Women’s Reproductive Rights—Sarah Cascone, May 19, 2022
Like Comment Share
Ken Aptekar is in La Grande Verriere, August 18, 2023
RIP Saint Fiacre?? I don’t think so. Famous for your herb garden cures, you refused to treat
women after one called you an evil sorcerer. Some saint…. #theabortionherbgarden #triggerplanting #maureenconnor Like Comment Share

2023, Your Uber is on the way [UBER app message]
UBER 2m ago
En Route
Your Uber is on the way. Piru (4.9 stars) will arrive in 2 hours 8 minutes.

2023, Help! Fly torture! [FaceBook post]

Text: Ken Aptekar is in La Grande Verriere with Nestor
Help! Fly torture! Got any great ideas, FB pals? #bêtenoire #swatteam

2023, Just so you know, I’m worried [Text exchange with ChatGPT]

KA (Ken Aptekar): Just so you know, I’m worried about the perils of AI. But I want to make an illuminated manuscript about it. So what do you think would be a good angle?

(in Arabic): Artificial Intelligence

GPT (Generative Pre-trained Transformers): Suggest that the future path lies in using technology as a tool to enhance human abilities, rather than replace them entirely. The manuscript’s tone should be both contemplative and cautionary, inviting viewers to ponder the role of AI in their lives while appreciating the intricate beauty of the illuminated manuscript. Remember, this is just a conceptual framework to inspire your illuminated manuscript. Feel free to adjust and embellish the details to align with your artistic vision and the specific message you wish to convey.

(in Arabic): The Real Thing

KA (Ken Aptekar): Yeah, sure.

2023, After you died, Dad Diptych [Cellphone text exchange between my father, Milt Aptekar, and me.]

Ken: [in three separate text message boxes]
After you died, Dad, I got the Steinway. Was it 1949 that you and Mom gave it to each other for a wedding present? Can you believe I shipped it from Detroit to Paris? My studio there was the only place big enough. Later when I decided to build a studio in the house in Burgundy I sold the one in Paris. Everything in it including the piano went to Gauthier Moving and Storage while the new studio was getting built.

Remember when I used to call you on Skype from Paris, the computer by your desk
would pick up automatically. Sometimes I could hear you in the other room practicing Bach Two-Part Inventions, same ones I practiced on that Steinway when I was 12. Was your playing the piano then bringing Mom back to life? I sat silently until you stopped before calling out, Dad come on over I’m on the computer.

After a year the studio and a special room for the piano are finished. The day before
delivery the movers call to confirm, adding oh yeah, there was some damage to one of the piano’s legs. Nothing about months of water leaks in their storage unit. The next day I discover that our piano was totally destroyed.

Milt: [in one text message box]
How terrible, so upsetting. But you managed without me for 14 years now right?
You’ll breathe all the life of our Steinway into the new piano I know you’ll find. I’ll be
listening in.

Details to follow



2023, And it shall rain for ever and ever Diptych [FaceBook Memory Post with antiphonary]

Text [Left, from the Hallelujah Chorus, Handel’s Messiah]:

The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our [their] Lord and of His [their] Christ and of His [their] Christ

And He [it] shall reign [rain] for ever and ever and He [it] shall reign [rain] for ever and ever for ever and ever Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Text [Right, FaceBook Memory Post]:

Ken Aptekar shared a memory 3m 52 Years Ago Ken Aptekar is in Ann Arbor, MI Dec 3, 1971 Singing while Jewish in the chorus for Handel’s Messiah, sneaking in a few word changes. My pathetic act of resistance. Like Comment Share

Details to follow



2023, #deepsix45 Instagram post

Text: Liked by Larry Thompson and 65,872,439 others I know, I know…. Not good. But I just keep hoping I’ll wake up tomorrow and that’s it, game over. #badkarma #deepsix45

2023, BYO. I’ve got samosas! [Cellphone text exchange]

Text: KA: Meet up, Pier 46, say 6:30-ish? BYO. I’ve got samosas! KA: [five samosa emojis]


2023, Doctolib, lundi 25 septembre, 14h45 [Cellphone text message–Doctolib is a French app for doctor appointments] Based upon Les Trés Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, a calendar for prayers

Text: Doctolib, lundi 25 septembre, 14H45 (Monday, September 25, 2:45PM)
Dr Sonia Bebane, chirugien urologue (urologist)
Patient, Ken Aptekar
partager avec quelqu’un (share with someone)
Se render a la consultation (how to get to the appointment)
Clinique du Mont-Louis (Mont-Louis Clinic)
8 rue de la Folie-Regnault (street address)
75011 Paris
rez-de chausée (street level)
accés handicapé (handicap accessible)