“A Gardener at Midnight” : The rediscovery of Yabez Al-Kitab

In “A Gardener at Midnight” Peter Lyssiotis and his collaborators have created not only a visual masterpiece but a remarkable story that captivates the mind.

In 2003 Peter Lyssiotis won the inaugural Creative Fellowship at the State Library of Victoria. During his time there he discovered a three volume set of works by Scottish artist David Roberts who documented the Holy Land in the early 19th century. Also in 2003, Iraq was a war torn country, its libraries and archives torn apart and much of their contents looted and destroyed. Peter Lyssiotis and his collaborators took these two elements, added skill and creativity and produced an artists’ book that is an intricate blend of fact and fiction.

Portrait of Yabez Al-Kitab, from "A Gardener at Midnight", by Peter Lyssiotis.

Portrait of Yabez Al-Kitab, from “A Gardener at Midnight”, by Peter Lyssiotis.

The first part of the book takes you to Iraq in 2003 when it was being invaded by the ‘Coalition of the willing” and much of its cultural heritage was being destroyed. Peter Lyssiotis places you by his side as he imagines being there and rescuing a small folio from the flames. Amazed by what he has found, he consults an Arab and discovers that he has found the journal of “Yabez Al-Kitab”, a fictional young Arab boy created by Peter Lyssiotis who accompanied David Roberts on his expedition.

The second part of the book is what Peter Lyssiotis has found, the journal of “Yabez Al-Kitab” which consists of a number of pages of text, in random order, and a series of illustrations of the Holy Land. In reality the text was written by Brian Castro and the illustrations created by Peter Lyssiotis by scratching images cut from magazines to make new images that are unrecognisable to their source. The illustrations have been given the same title as David Roberts’s works but are completely different seen through the eyes of the young Arab boy rather than a foreigner trying to document his surroundings. It is interesting comparing the “scriblings” of “Yabez Al-Kitab” to reproductions of David Robert’s original works in “The Holy Land” held by the State Library of Queensland.

Convent of St Catherine, Mount Sinai, from "The Holy Land", by David Roberts, George Croly, Louis Haghe.

Convent of St Catherine, Mount Sinai, from “The Holy Land”, by Louis Hagne, David Roberts, George Croly

Convent of St Catherine, Mount Sinai, from "A Gardener at Midnight", by Peter Lyssiotis.

Convent of St Catherine, Mount Sinai, from “A Gardener at Midnight”, by Peter Lyssiotis.

The book was bound by Nick Doslov of Renaissance Bookbinding and typeset by David Pidgeon.

The State Library of Queensland also holds the original materials collection “Peter Lyssiotis Papers” which contains material connected to the construction of a number of Peter Lyssiotis’s artists’ books including altered magazine clippings and proofs relating to “A Gardener at Midnight”. This collection will soon hold the printing plates used to create this remarkable work.

Come and view this extraordinary work. You will not leave disappointed.

Interested in other artists’ books by Peter Lyssiotis? View the State Library of Queensland’s collection here.

Read another point of view? See guest blogger Normana Wight’s blog here.

 

Bec Kilner, Published Content Technician, State Library of Queensland.