cover image Sheep Machine

Sheep Machine

Vi Khi Nao. Black Sun Lit, $16 trade paper (152p) ISBN 978-0-9994312-2-1

Nao (Umbilical Hospital) bases this brilliant procedural work of short prose blocks on individual still frames of Leslie Thornton’s eponymous video installation of sheep feeding in a Swiss alpine field. In much the same way that the original artwork interrogates how viewers see, calling attention to the ways vision determines reality, Nao’s book urges readers to understand seeing as a cultural construct rife with imbalances of power, agency, and visibility. As Nao’s speaker says, “I am a backdrop against another backdrop.” She subtly and skillfully asserts that language provides a framework for the gaze, an architecture that is both necessary and problematic. Fittingly, Nao’s work appears in pristine, cleanly reasoned sentences, which imply a particular set of causal relationships: “A sliver of wheat flashes intermittently on the chest region of monkey clouds.” The language fits the strictures of grammar, but doesn’t offer meaning in the way one would expect it should. Indeed, Nao invokes and ultimately resists clean grammatical logic, particularly the assumption of an active agent and a passive subject who is merely gazed upon. By rendering language and its implicit hierarchies suddenly strange, Nao forces readers to look more closely. Through its innovative style and aggressive attention to detail, the project succeeds in unearthing extraordinary possibilities, resulting in a work that exists as an “important acuity” in the face of “today’s technological age.” (June)