Catrin Morgan has a history of sticking pins through words. (Check out her ongoing project, Pinning, which was installed at the Bromley House Library.) Maybe this is her real attraction to Ben Marcus’s The Age of Wire and String, which she just illustrated for Granta’s new edition: finally, a book with text she can’t easily pin down. In graphite drawings, Morgan builds disassembled—or, nonrationally assembled—architectural objects, maps, and containers, many of which seem to act as entry points to systems with unfamiliar parameters. The illustrations define and rely on their own language, complementing the language of The Age of Wire and String nicely, self-contained discourses with overlapping vocabularies.
Your designs for The Age of Wire and String are almost all diagrams, fanciful maps or systems that have some kind of chronological or other organizational logic. Can you explain how the content and structure of the book informed your decisions here?
It seemed to me that by attempting to illustrate The Age of Wire and String directly, by illustrating very faithfully the images suggested by the text, I would close it down. What I love about The Age of Wire and String is the space it opens up in my imagination and I didn’t want my images to take that space away from new readers. In the end, the images I created aimed to respond to the tone and construction of the text and to behave in a similar way. The text subverts our expectations of familiar patterns of language, and so I created images that appear familiar but in fact are always doing something that belies their appearance, so what appears to be a map is in fact composed of sleeping figures, and a circuit diagram is based on the floor plans of a building. The images also reference directly illustrations from manuals and encyclopedias, as I felt like the deadpan tone of this kind of illustration suited perfectly the tone of the novel.
The set of illustrations I ended up with are a representation of the world that The Age of Wire and String projects within my mind, and some of them were created without planning exactly where they would go in the text. When placing them I looked for shared co-ordinates between an image and a piece of text, so that the image and text spoke to, but did not explain each other.