Cynthia Beth Rubin

Layered Histories: the Wandering Bible of Marseiiles

Collaboration with Bob Gluck

Layered Histories is the imaginary story of a 13th century illuminated Bible. As an interactive work, it mirrors the many layers of this Manuscript: as a beautiful artifact, as a work of art reflecting the convergence of cultures in medieval Spain, and as a narrative text of layered meanings.


The history of this Bible is only partially known, leaving undocumented imagined wanderings to diverse places and peoples. Created in Toledo, Spain in 1260, the Bible visually embodies the multiple influences of Jewish convergence with Christian and Islamic cultures. When the 1492 Expulsion forced the Bible to flee Spain, it traveled to the Ottoman town of Safed, where it was amongst religious mystics seeking the means to repair the ills of the world. It subsequently disappeared until around 1894, when, mysteriously, two volumes of the Bible were discovered in the collection of the Bibliothèque Municipale of Marseilles, where they reside today.


Reflecting on the experience of culture as a phenomenon that evolves from influences of place and cross-cultural contact, the non-linear narrative of Layered Histories is drawn from the possible wanderings of the Marseilles Bible, as it is known today. The work brings together moving images and sound, shifting and changing in response to gestures by a viewer across a digitalized surface. Evolved from real world photographs and sound samples, the sources are manipulated to reflect the aesthetic experience of place, movement, and change, rather than direct documentation.


As the reader moves a pointer across the tablet, the densities and overlays of the sound and imagery change in response to the pace of movement and direction, resulting in shifts in the play between abstraction and recognizable references, as well as the intensity of layering. At times images and sound will move and layer in sync with one another, and at other times function independently.


The video clips are constructed from composited fragments of real world photographs, manipulated to reflect the aesthetic experience of place rather than documentation, and are then morphed together for fluidity. The sound is similarly digitally transformed, transcending the source of real sound until voices lose the specificity of language and become more universal sounds of human communication.


As a collaborative work, Layered Histories reflects the differing layers of vision of the authors. Music and Image are melded together in the viewer's experience, but each follows a separate course of interactivity, coming together in the moment. Both music and image were developed within the vision of reflecting the experience of a timeless Object which has seen history, much of the world, and has many stories to tell. The visitor to Layered Histories stands at a reading table, which is bare except for an embellished tablet resembling an illuminated manuscript, and a reading pointer. The visitor, as if engaging in a public reading of the manuscript, moves the pointer around the surface of the book, triggering shifting imagery that appears on a computer monitor, and diffusing unfolding sound.


The illusion of communal recitation is conveyed in part by the interface, crafted for interactivity by embedding a graphics tablet within a book, and enclosing the stylus within wooden casing. Gestures on the surface are mapped to a software interface, designed with the application Max/MSP/Jitter, algorithmically directing the changing display of sound and image. Active pen movement initiates sound and shifts in imagery and timing; inactivity silences the sound and image changes.


The work can be viewed on a computer monitor by a single viewer or small group, or projected onto a wall, allowing multiple viewers to share the "reader's" experience.

Cynthia Beth Rubin   ¬©2020