Redacted art book

From 1966 until 2016, English artist Tom Phillips created a new story out of the Victorian novel A Human Document; he did not add any words, but selectively drew or painted over each of its pages to surface something entirely new.

William Hurrell Mallock
Elliot & Fry, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

A Humument is a unique book. It’s not unique because of its winding non-linear narrative. It’s not unique because of its many evocative illustrations. It’s not even unique because of the fifty years (!) it took to write. And it’s not even unique because it was adapted into an opera (released on Brian Eno’s obscure record label Obscure Records). No, A Humument is unique because the words in this book were not written by the author.

Back in 1966, the English artist Tom Phillips found an old Victorian novel in a warehouse sale: William Hurrell Mallock’s A Human Document. Phillips bought it for a dime. He then spent the next fifty years drawing a new book out of its staid text. He scribbled or painted over the pages, leaving only a few words or parts of words sticking out. By redacting most of the original text, Phillips created a new text and a new story.

A Human Document became A Human Document. The novel’s new hero, Bill Toge, appears any time the original text uses the words “together” or “altogether.” This is one of the rules that Phillips imposed upon himself when undertaking this art project. Different versions of the book have been published, the earliest in 1970, but Phillips continued to add to and evolve the book until 2016.

In his website – the third link below – you can see the whole thing. It includes both the original text and his multiple versions / editions. The text is poetic:

Touch her, or feel that variance near you Toge. Soften her heart as follows: let the past be; ask your heart; venture all; sacrifice all; forgive all. Few do.

A Humument

(The punctuation and ordering is my best guess; the actual text floats on the page.)

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