Books

9/11 in Miniature

Scott Blake's “9/11 Flipbook” (all photos by author)

Scott Blake, 9/11 Flipbook, 2011, self-published

Scott Blake’s rectangular, black two-inch wide and one-inch tall flipbook looks pretty harmless. It’s small enough to fit in a pocket and has two normal, plastic covers bound by staples. The shock comes on the first flip through the book: it presents a moving image of the airplane hitting the second of the Twin Towers on 9/11, followed by the beginnings of the building’s explosion and collapse.

This might sound like a project aiming for shock value, provoking audiences by trivializing a serious, historically significant moment. Yet the flipbook itself doesn’t feel sarcastic; it’s not a cynical take on 9/11 or a Pop-styled, postmodern repackaging of the event, a la Warhol’s screen prints of race riot photos and car crashes. Scott Blake’s 9/11 Flipbook is more of a document, a reminder that what happened actually happened. When so much of news is experienced vicariously through the flattened media of television or the internet, this little printed object serves as a more visceral, physical form of transmission.

Tobias Wong's “NYC Story (A Small Book)” (via canadiandesignresource.ca)

Rather than seeking to provoke or anger, the flipbook becomes the target of feelings, opinions and memories rather than the cause of them. Viewing the flipbook, it’s hard not to be reminded of your own individual experience of 9/11, divorced from the greater context the event has today, 10 years on. It’s a jump back to the moment when these images were first spreading. For me, seeing the jerky animation is like a meditation on 9/11 and its impact on recent history and on my own life, as the defining event of my adolescence.

It’s funny to me to see so much history and so much tragedy condensed into a few square inches. But I don’t think the stature of the flipbook in any way diminishes the import of the event it documents. Like the novel-ending flipbook of a figure either falling from or ascending towards the towers in Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Blake’s work is all about what you bring to it. It could be offensive or it could be sincere, it might be painful but it also might be healing.

The project also reminds me of late designer Tobias Wong’s “NYC Story (A Small Book)” (2002), a remix of Tibor Kalman’s matchbook design for Florent. Wong cut the forest of matchsticks into NYC’s skyline, including the now-missing Twin Towers. Another miniature effigy, Wong’s work is poetic and creative while remaining elegaic, moving beyond political commentary.

The small flipbook is part of a larger book project by Blake, collecting essays that record “the disparity of opinions and attitudes towards terrorist acts,” and the “polyphony of voices” surrounding 9/11. In the context of marshaling the different perspectives and voices on 9/11, the flipbook becomes a monument, the locus of memory.

Scott Blake’s 9/11 Flipbook is available through the artist’s website, as well as at Printed Matter in New York City, Bookart Bookshop in London and Heeza in Paris.

See a video of the flipbook as well as Blake’s book of essays embedded below.

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