The System of Landor’s Cottage
Brussels, Belgium/Toronto, Canada: Yves Gevaert/Art Gallery of Ontario, 1987
312 pp., 24 x 16.5 x 3 cm., softcover
Edition of 250
Edgar Allen Poe's short story from 1850, Landor's Cottage, consists almost entirely of description. The narrator wanders an idyllic countryside and becomes lost, stumbling upon upon a cottage in a valley. The bulk of the 4755 word text is a detailed description of the house and its setting, which Poe compares to a work of art. The final paragraph reads "It is not the purpose of this work to do more than give in detail, a picture of Mr. Landor's residence-as I found it. How he made it what it was-and why-with some particulars of Mr. Landor himself- may, possibly form the subject of another article." It was to be Poe's last short story.
This original text takes up most of the first chapter of Graham's artist book, which is subtitled A Pendant to Poe’s Last Story. His interpolation involves adding an annex to the cottage (one that predates the original cottage, no less), expanding the Poe story into the dimensions of a novel. Landor explains the origins of the cottage to the narrator, and details the contents therein. The story expands into a tale about an 18th century composer named Sligo, a storyteller named Martingale and a young poet named Zopir. When the story returns to a description of the cottage, it is revealed that Landor's son plans to continue unending additions to the structure, eventually soaring into the sky. As the narrator leaves Landor's cottage, the son invites him to return, when the next wing of the building is completed, which could form "the subject of another article".
Graham's book is part of a larger work, also titled The System of Landor's Cottage, which includes an architectural model, drawings and a 'dummy book', alongside this volume. The work was at the centre of Graham's first solo exhibition in a public museum, curated by Philip Monk for the Art Gallery of Ontario. The AGO co-published this title and also produced a leatherbound version in an edition of four.
"In following a guiding architectural metaphor, I have tried to fabricate the text by means of a kind of readymade rhetorical style" said Graham of the work. He would continue the themes of implied endless expansion and interpolation ("a device used to extend what would normally be a regular phrase into an irregular and extended phrase") on his next work, the brilliant Verwandlungsmusik.
Poe's original story can be heard on Youtube, here.