Meus Corpus was a project that arose from my work as a lexicographer, in particular a desire to investigate its creative possibilities. Initially, I made installations for a couple of conferences in Glasgow using printed material from the Collins Bank of English.


The Bank of English was a corpus of around 500m words of text gathered from sources including novels, magazines, newspapers, websites, non-fiction and transcribed speech. It was used to investigate the meanings and usage patterns of words, mainly for reference books such as dictionaries but also for linguistic research. The name ‘meus corpus’ is Latin for ‘my body’.


In the installations I papered the surfaces of a rectangular room and a purpose-built maze using several hundred A3 photocopies that were large-scale reproductions of material from the Bank of English


Although the installations proved successful, I found their large scale, short duration and site-specific nature unhelpful, and decided to work with a more flexible and durable format from home. Using pre-cut plywood boards measuring approximately 45 cm x 60c m, I began by papering them with leftover A3 photocopies as a way of recording and commenting on aspects of the installations.


At  the same time, a long-term dictionary project I was working on was unexpectedly scaled back, creating an acute sense of crisis. This occurred at a time when I was becoming increasingly aware of my isolated, immobile existence sitting at a computer. In response to this sense of deincarnation, I had started practising yoga. With its emphasis on the connection between body, mind, breath and awareness, it acted as the complementary opposite to computerised lexicography.


Deincarnation is the feeling of attention or awareness being separated from the body for long periods, leading initially to discomfort, then to disorders such as obesity, back pain, heart disease, lethargy, anxiety, depression and ultimately to premature death. Historically, this process began with reading and writing when history itself got underway, but only really took off with the proliferation of cars, televisions, computers and smartphones. The word ‘yoga’ means ‘yoke’ or ‘union’, evoking a sense of harmony or balance that has been lost through the process of deincarnation.


One afternoon, while working with my son on a papier-mache landscape for his military figures, I had the idea of using text-specific papier-mache, perhaps to cover a large figure such as an Action Man. The first Meus Corpus piece was made in response to, on the one hand, the negative mental and physical aspects of the dictionary work I had been engaged in and, on the other hand, the initially overwhelming sense of crisis generated by its curtailment. The specific text I chose was the dictionary originally issued to me when I started work as a lexicographer.


I decided to use Action Man figures because they were readily available and were the right size for the boards I had. I also wanted to make use of cheap, readily available materials, especially those that had been discarded or were going to be repurposed in some way.


This use of the male human figure became a way of commenting on and questioning the relationships that exist between information, technology, consciousness and the body, based on my own lived experience. The female figures I came across were difficult to work with because they had fewer joints than Action Man, who is after all designed as a man of action. And while Barbie has Ken to join her in static, domestic scenarios, there is no Action Woman to accompany Action Man on his adventures in the wider world.


Enclosing a human figure in pages of a specific text has a meaning that depends on the text, which can in turn suggest the posture of the figure. Underlying this is an interest in the changing nature of information in human existence. Information was originally embodied in people; nomadic communities carried it around inside their heads, and manifested it through speech, ritual and song. With the development of writing and then printing, information for the first time became externalised via technology to become physically separate, a thing, a commodity, able to transcend the previous limitations of space and time and replicate itself by colonising the minds of its readers.


More recently, the infrastructure and technology of electronic information has grown to such a degree that, where once our information existed in us, we now exist inside of it. We live immersed in a vast matrix of electronic, digital and printed media, embedded in networks of production, storage, transport and consumption without which we believe it is impossible to function. Preliterate, oral cultures are being swept away, the original phase of human development is coming to a close and there seems to be little thought given to the profound implications for our welfare as individuals, as communities and as a species, other than the establishment of a new, secular religion whose name is Progress.


I eventually produced around twenty pieces using action figures combined with various texts and materials. For the first group of six, I chose half a dozen texts that are widely regarded as sources of authority. All are commonly preceded by ‘the’, denoting their influence and uniqueness, although not all are equally durable:


  • the Bible, for the moral and spiritual world (regarded as unchanging)
  • the Atlas, for the physical world (changing, but too slowly to notice) and the political (in a state of flux)
  • the Dictionary, for the world of language (updated every few years)
  • the Phone Book, for the world of interpersonal communication (updated every eighteen months or so)
  • the Radio Times, for the world of mass communication (updated weekly)
  • the Bank of English, for the hyperworld of electronic data (constantly changing, constantly updated).


The aim of the project was to promote bodily awareness in opposition to the ongoing process of deincarnation; and to advocate a more human sense of scale and proportion in the worlds we live in and make for ourselves.


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