c.c. And that was the end of the marbling phase for you.
g.d. After I’d finished the marbling I gilded the intertwined ribbon border, you know how it is, your working on something that needs concentration but you don’t have to think about it and so your mind wanders, starts to speculate about making other things that might be interesting to try.
c.c. Such as?
g.d. Things I’d come across, like Serpinski’s theory that a cube of finite volume can have an infinite surface.
c.c. Not infinite surely.
g.d. Apparently, as a theory; forever reducing evenly and systematically. You have to imagine new smaller particles and tools that microbes would find clumsy. The theory seemed to me like a description of life, you couldn’t get to the bottom of it everything came from somewhere. So I made a picture illustrating the theory out of Chinese paper that had been brought back to England by a Methodist missionary in the l920’s which I partly gilded, partly marbled and partly burnt, each square stamped with consecutive numbers and arranged a la Serpinski.
c.c. That was ONE WAY TICKET.
g.d. By now I had settled down into workng on one big project after another and it was through first meeting Rose Issa on the tube one day that I got into the next big thing. It was through her ability to speak and read Persian, Arabic and French that I got a wonderful insight into middle eastern art. She explained the nuances of Persian classical poetry, she brought the culture alive, I was no longer a voyeur. One of the most renown Persian texts is the Manteq-al-Tayr, the Conference of the Birds by Farid ud-din Attar a 12th century sufi from Nishapur. His poem, written in rhymic couplets with the same metre as Rupert the Bear stories, is a tale of pilgrimage. The birds of the world gather and decide to search for their fabled king the Simurgh. The different birds represent a variety of human types such as the timid finch, the coy duck, vain peacock etc. They fly over seven valleys that represent the increasingly difficult terrain that the neophyte must pass, on their route to enlightenment. Only thirty birds survive the arduous journey and come face to face with the object of their desire. Now, simurgh also means thirty birds in Persian: si 30 and murgh birds. This pun is crucial to the story yet when Chaucer published his Parliament of Fowls, a remix for English readers with no mention of Attar less than two hndred years later he retained the thirty birds but lost the pun.
c.c. What form did your CONFERENCE OF THE BIRDS take?
g.d. I eventually collected thirty examples of letters arranged into the shapes of birds; zoomorphic calligraphy was a Turkish speciality where it neatly sidestepped the Koranic prohibition on image making, the letters making up the words could be thought of as only temporarily taking up the shape of say an elephant or a pear, they were read not seen, just like the text pieces that I’d made in the late 60’s. I had made a study of this type of ‘concrete poetry’, of which there are Greek, Hebrew, Chinese and European examples in addition to Persian, Arabic and Turkish ones 49. I cut the bird letters onto blocks and printed them down, using them like big rubber stamps, rearranging the same thirty blocks in accordance with the stanzas that I had chosen from key parts of the book. By also printing on very thin transparent Nepalese conservation tissue paper I doubled the number of images in my repertoire because they could be reversed and remain visible when stuck down. Repetition is in your blood if you are into print.
49 See ‘The Word as Image ‘ Berjouhi Bowler. Studio Vista 1970