Illuminated Manuscripts in the Age of Social Media and Texting

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.

2020 Left my keys by the door, [Text exchange]
Text: You home?
left my keys by the door
[reply] Be there in 10
2020, Running out for grapefruit (Selfie), [FaceBook post]
Text: kcwitherell OMG LOL Kenaptekar
3 likes kenaptekar: Running out for grapefruit, milk both kinds, toilet paper,
peanut butter, chicken thighs, smoked paprika, horseradish, clementines,
fennel, worchestershire sauce, panko
2020, Red? OK, [WhatsApp message] Text: red? OK 5:35PM √√
2020, When will we know for sure? [Text exchange]
Text: …election proved that polls aren’t the only way to measure
public opinion trends. Other measures, like [social] media, may give us a window into
the enthusiasm among populations that polls are missing. It’s well past the time to
start realizing that what people say on FaceBook and in comments sections is what
they do mean. Ben Collins, a reporter on the ”dystopia” beat for NBC [TV News,] tells
Axios. Newsrooms [are looking to] investing more heavily [in coverage] of social
media and internet trends as a way to observe political sentiment.
Message exchange: –when will we know for sure?
–minutes? an hour? a day? a week? a month? two?

2020, I want to touch the world, cellphone video and text: “I want to touch the world”—George Floyd,
1992, Jack Yates High School, Houston, Texas, and BLM (“Black Lives Matter”)

George Floyd was a star high school football quarterback (#88) in Houston,
Texas. After his murder a buddy of his from high school was interviewed. He
told the reporter that he asked George back then what he wanted to do when
he grew up. The text on the scroll is what he told his buddy, scrolling over a
sequence of cellphone video stills of Floyd catching the ball and leaping to
the ground over the goal line to make a spectacular touchdown.
2020 Minnoli Aya, [Text exchange]
Minnoli Aya is the 19 year-old college-student daughter of a health care worker. Her mother was hospitalized two blocks away from her home with Covid at the height of the pandemic. Minnoli could only communicate with her by texting. After receiving no reply, Minnoli learned that her mother had died. Still, she continued sending her mother texts from her cellphone.

Minnoli Aya: Hi mommy. College is getting so much more stressful now that it’s at home.
I’m still praying for you and haven’t gave up hope.
[Two blank replies]
Minnoli Aya: I miss you.
Minnoli Aya: Thank you for coming to me last night in my dreams.

2020, Read the headlines? [Text exchange]
Text: Read the headlines?
They’re winning
We’re fucked
Drank the kool-aid
We are Fucked
Need a good binge series desperately. suggestions?