Tate Shaw, Afterimage No 35, Vol 1
Levergneux calls the volumes artists' books, and at first glance this assertion seems a misnomer. There is little here that refers to the book form literally or conceptually, which is to say that there is no form to move through. Books are places with real or implied spaces. Each issue of City Shields is representative of a place, and the photographs imply space, but a form to hold them in relation is noticeably missing. The question is what motivates a purposefully absent book form? An answer may lay--as the shields themselves do--in the square, plastic jewel cases most often associated with Zip discs, portable file storage for computers. Levergneux's City Shields project is a database-inspired archive about distances: between one point in time and another, between people and places, and the progression away from books in their traditional form.
Levergneux's project is not about photography in the expressive sense; her approach is that of a cataloger. She visually describes, archives, and makes her subjects individually retrievable by cutting out their shape from the surrounding city context. Each little disc invites rotation. Many of the images carry serviceable words such as sewer, gas, sanitation, or water. For the reader, the text is less practical and more playful, providing a point of reference to imagine one's orientation. In doing so the shields supply an unusual perspective, one parallel to the ground. Reading the ground in this way is reminiscent of statements from One-Way Street (originally published in 1928) by Walter Benjamin. He associated books with horizontality, as opposed to the vertical plane of advertisements, signage, newspapers, and film. What can be more visually perpendicular than manhole covers inset in concrete and asphalt? City Shields relates to books through an orientational metaphor.
Levergneux suggests an advertising-free perspective of cities, but by keeping her head down she avoids the eyes of the reader as pedestrian. Levergneux's project is part of a tradition of flanerie, walking the streets for entertainment, to gain familiarity of a place, and observe the people who crowd its sidewalks. As characterized by Charles Baudelaire, the flaneur is linked to the intricate city while at the same time is disaffected, cynically perceiving of the city's crowds, especially those abundant in commercial spaces. Levergneux's project maintains a similar disengagement through objects. The entries in Levergneux's archive are figuratively and literally detached. As a result, considerable distance is maintained between reader and author. This is compounded by the unbound nature of a card index as opposed to a book's temporality. To turn a page in a book is to walk some lengths of a city's limits. Within City Shields pages are not connected so there is nothing to circumambulate. This denies the reader the benefit of setting a course; each card entry is the inset of absent larger maps.
It was Benjamin, again, who called the card index a foray into three-dimensional writing. With City Shields it is easy to read a card autonomously, holding it before the eyes, and imagine its path as somehow separate from our own. To me, the project implies certain trajectories, the series of successive states over time. It does so by cataloging the physical evolution of objects--from the manhole coverings themselves, the changing technology used to make and print these photographs, to the plastic, computer-disc cases in which they are housed. Each succeeding volume of pictures is a folder within a city directory within the index of the overarching project. In this way, City Shields is between a book and database. Levergneux walks the city at a time when most acts of flanerie are performed online. Levergneux's City Shields project is clearly positioned between the horizontal plane of books and the vertical scroll of computer screens.
Tate Shaw, book artist and co-publisher of Preacher's Biscuit Books