Daniel Rapley has spent the last 18 months writing up the entire King James Bible, by hand, on standard feint ruled notepaper with a ballpoint pen. Or so, at least, we are told. When we enter the white cube space of PayneShurvell, London, what we see is a sturdy sheaf of feint ruled notepaper, each sheet sitting exactly one atop the other, beautifully presented in a tall, glass vitrine. The uppermost page of Sic (2010-2012) is, apparently, a hand-written reproduction of the opening of the King James Bible. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth…” in a tidy, no-nonsense hand.
“There are profound questions in this exhibition about authorship, authority, faith, meaning, about reproduction and authenticity, about God, even about the nature of reality.”
Daniel Rapley, Sic, 2010-2012. Ballpoint pen on A4 ruled paper. Courtesy PayneShurvell.
Belief In The Book: Daniel Rapley’s Sic
By Beverly Knowles
We are asked to believe something we can’t see with our own eyes and for which we have no proof. Has Rapley really spent the last 18 months reproducing the entire bible by hand or has he written up the first page and then made it look as though the rest of the massive next follows in that neat stack? Will we choose to have faith in what we are told? Will we sit in the space of not-knowing? Or will we invent an entirely different story about the work and choose to believe that instead? It’s a poignant metaphor for life.
On the wall to the left of Sic, as Rapley has labeled his “bible,” we see seven framed text works that purport to offer us behind-the-scenes tales about the production of the work. Recounted in mock-biblical style, they remind me of a low budget television program about the making of a television show. There’s also something quasi-confessional about the texts, like the writings of a religious zealot desperate to find meaning in everything.
At first glance I assume these works are printed, Times New Roman. I probably wouldn’t even have questioned that assumption if it hadn’t been for the Canadian mannerisms that floated from the PayneShurvell office, “They’re hand drawn, too.” Evidently I was not the first to make this erroneous assumption. I was being offered a guiding hand and I took it gratefully.
As I peered more closely, I began to detect tiny pencil markings in the otherwise flawless copy. I remembered the thing I’m constantly forgetting: that things are rarely, if ever, as they seem. The mistake now would be to make further assumptions, based on this new information, without reference to the fact that there were probably other illusions through which I had yet to see. Seeing through these other misconceptions may, or may not, have shifted the picture entirely. But how could I know?
It occurs to me that it’s possible that the first page of Sic, the one that I can actually see, isn’t even hand written. Perhaps Rapley designed a font after the style of his own handwriting, had it transferred to a computer program and some further piece of software then printed out the “bible” to look as though he’d written it. It sounds unlikely, of course it sounds unlikely, but how can I know it’s not the case? Far stranger things have turned out to have basis in reality. And isn’t that the point? That we simply don’t know. We don’t really know anything. Everything we think we know we only think we know because we don’t know any better; but we stick with our beliefs because the thought that we don’t know is too hard to swallow.
There are profound questions in this exhibition about authorship, authority, faith, meaning, about reproduction and authenticity, about God, even about the nature of reality. But for me, the most important thing it questions is belief, not just belief in divinity—whatever that might mean—but belief in our own thoughts. What would life be like if we didn’t project such authority onto the flotsam and jetsam of own ever changing minds? What would life be like if we had faith in something other than our own thoughts? Is the answer to that question available in the 3,116,480 characters of the bible? The answer to that is that I just don’t know. But I doubt it.