Los Angeles

David Bunn

David Bunn acquired the roughly seven million cards that made up the Los Angeles Central Library’s now-obsolete card catalogue in 1990. In 1993, he installed 9,506 of them in the library’s two new elevator shafts in such a way that they could be viewed through the passenger-car windows. Sometimes an artist’s source material turns out to be more compelling than his or her work, and knowing how many of those cards remained made me worry that for Bunn this problem might be right around the corner. But though a lesser artist might have turned into a one-trick pony engaged in an unengaging session of “And there’s more where that came from,” Bunn has proved that his windfall was a real opportunity. He’s now the master and connoisseur of a strange and special domain and has produced from it consistently thought-provoking Concrete(-esque) poetry, performances, readings, videos, and installations.

For a body of work made in 2004, the most visually bold incarnation of what’s been until now a rather subtle art, Bunn employed an ultra-high-resolution scanner to create unique iris-print blowups of the marks and changes chance has wrought on his collection. Curious puns and ironies are exhumed, and literal and literary boundaries toyed with. A bit of ink once spilled between cards for two books on utopia yields a humanoid Rorschach blot. A soiled card for The Confessions of Aleister Crowley has what looks like a bite taken out of it (though this is more likely the result of rough handling). An apparently oft-consulted card for a book called Secret Societies and Subversive Movements bears an enigmatic stain. A pair of cards from a section on vampires reveal two suspicious tiny red marks. And during the artist’s search for buried treasure, he even unearthed the work of another artist, someone by the name of Rosalea, who in 1979 hid postage stamp–size prints depicting suggestively coupled valentine hearts among the cards in the art section.

Of course, there is more where all this came from. This fact provides Bunn with endless potential for new wonder yet also presents the ever-present risk that the work could slip into laziness and redundancy. But his recent offering shows how he has once again managed a return to his source and a reinvention of his project, emerging as a conceptualist with a soft spot for the hands-on and as an appropriationist playing an ongoing, multifaceted game of exquisite corpse in which the authors of the books, the authors of the cards, and the authors of their anonymous annotations and alterations could never have known they’d participate.

Christopher Miles