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Bookways No. 8 - Synesthesia
Tetenbaum, Barbara. Bookways No. 8, (July 1993).

Terence McKenna is an ethnopharmacologist and author of such books as The Archaic Revival: Speculations on Psychedelic Mushrooms, The Amazon, Virtual Reality, UFO's, Evolution, Shamanism, The Rebirth of the Goddess, and The End of History. Mickey Hart has referred to him as "an explorer, a circumnavigator of human consciousness." McKenna's enigmatic lectures mix science and shamanism, and videotapes of his performances are copied and swapped with an enthusiasm not unlike that given tapes of Grateful Dead concerts.

Tim Ely could be simply described as the visual counterpart of McKenna. He is a bookbinder and a mapmaker who charts a metaphoric, symbolic, and psychological landscape. His painted books are filled with indecipherable language, diagrams, and aerial views of invented landscapes. His bookworks "function simultaneously," wrote poet David Abel, "as works of visual art, carriers of information, and focusing devices of esoteric experience." Ely has his own following, and his workshops are filled with devoted students transformed by both his alchemical approach to materials and his metaphysical utterances.

When McKenna visited Granary Books, a New York City gallery that carries Ely's work, in July of 1991, he was handed Ely's densely layered Bones of the Book. He proceeded, Granary director Steve Clay reports, to read out loud the information buried in Ely's imagery, explaining its symbols in a broken narra tive that moved from sacred geometry to Jungian analysis to metaphysics. Clay, who was interested in publishing a limited edition book with Ely and liad been looking for a text that would "ground" Ely's work, quickly realized the possibilities of a McKenna-Ely collaboration, and work soon began for what was to become Synesthesia.

McKenna's words are interpreted through the typography of Philip Gallo, Hermetic Press, himself a concrete visual poet, who improvised with both typography and preexisting elements of Ely's drawings. Gallo's typography makes visible the tone and rhythm of McKenna's words as they move among shapes and washes. Ely's work for the seventy-five copies was produced entirely by hand. Large watercolor strokes and marks were "editioned" onto Rives BFK paper, which was then folded down to produce the pages. These were sent to Gallo, who adapted the printing of the typography to the slight changes of imagery within each set.

Daniel Kelm designed and executed the light, compact binding, which acknowledges the reader's human proportion and senses by its size, use of effortless wire-edge movement in the binding, and sensuous relief covers. The bound books went back to Ely, who added "articulated glossolalia refracted from the writing" to complete the project.

The restrained imagery and expressive typography allow space and guidance for the wandering eye. It is in this space between text and image that the magic of Synesthesia is found. Text and image merge, giving way to an experience that transcends the page, an idea inherent in the title, which means "a concomitant sensation, a subjective sensation or image of a sense (as of color) other than the one (as of sound) being stimulated." It is a rare and frightening experience, which has the potential of transforming the consciousness of the reader. (It did mine.)

This visionary project created by Clay, Ely, McKenna, Kelm, and Gallo shows us how a book can transcend its own walls and become sacred space.





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