Yann Guitton

Outsized Artifacts the overwhelming prints of memory

This project was born after a trip to Saint Petersburg in the late 20th century.


Leaving the Hermitage Museum, after a long and enlightning visit, I was accosted by a former Russian history teacher who was forced, by the course of history, to become a tourist guide. He was selling some Russian banknotes from his own collection. He displayed several beautiful mint vintage bills. Most of them came from the communist Russian era. He rightly  believed that the iconic quality of the revolution graphics would catch my interest. They did but, to his surprise, the one that really caught my attention was a torn, worn-out banknote from 1910. The banknote was bearing the portrait of Catherine II at the peak of her reign. This parchemin-like bill was uncommonly big and finely detailed. Somehow, it perfectly reflected the indisputable power of the pre-revolutionary Tsarist era.

This well-educated man told me that in 1910, this 100 ruble banknote was the equivalent of the annual salary of an  imperial guard officer! Ironically, some 80 years later, this symbol of magnificence, cost me only ten current American dollars!


Ever since I first held the banknote in my hand, my eyes began travelling all over the intertwined arabesques of this exceptional craftsmanship. In fact, that old piece of paper, worn-out, stained, partially torn, smelling of old books, plunged me right onto Nevsky Prospect, as if I was walking the path of Rodion Raskolnikov from Crime and Punishment. What a wonderful feeling it was to hold this print to a journey back in time. It made me shiver.


I then fold carefully my treasure and put it in my notebook, thinking that one day,  I would do something with it.

 Only 15 years later, after reading Michel Houellebecq’s The Map and the Territory, which features the birth of an artist whose work is to take pictures of details taken from Michelin maps so as to produce huge prints, I had the revelation: what if I were to enlarge my 100 ruble banknote to such a size that it would recreate and magnify my memories from my trip to Saint-Petersburg?!


The Outsized Artifacts project was born.


Originally, I wanted to use the word “Oversized” but my friend Ike suggested “Outsized”, which evokes something extra-ordinary. “Artifacts” means ‘made from the hand of man’, in opposition to what was created by Mother Earth.

Indeed, this project is, for the most part, a contemplation on the ‘prints’ left by mankind. Not those immortal priceless pieces of art that hang in the world’s prestigious institutions, but these minor artifacts, produced in vast amounts which were made to last for a definite time and to disappear one day. These little remains from another time fascinate me because they nevertheless depict the heroes of an era in an impressive manner. These prints transposed into the contemporary context can still speak to some people whilst striking others as aberrations. In fact, these ‘little paper witnesses’ remind us the relative value of things and indeed people have emerged as the symbols of our existential contradictions: whilst being considered a great man of his time could easily become, less than half a century after, the rejected villain for another generation.


I started making my own Time Travel Vessel by reproducing the banknote in a gigantic size, piece by piece as if I were putting together all the overwhelming fragments of memory that I experienced in Saint Petersburg.


Once assembled, the banknote graphic quality details are stunning! Thanks to those great craftsmen and engraving artists. 1000% enlarged details have virtually lost none of their definition. However, even if one can marvel at the pictorial quality of the banknote, the experience is nevertheless incomplete. I’m actually missing the essential quality of what I felt, back there in Saint Petersburg, by the Hermitage.


I’m missing what makes it unique! I’ve lost its battered, torn-out appearance. Its soul seemed to have somehow faded into bare graphics. Yet, I wanted to live the singularity of his journey through time. I wanted to experience the fragility of his material. I wished to trace back its one hundred years of existence, from its release back at the printing factory to the safe of the bank, from the wallet of an officer to the hand of a grocer, from a worn moleskin jacket to a overcrowded bar at a bistro in Moscow…


So I picked up the huge piece of paper, I put it on the floor and I eagerly shaped it so that it evoked something of its otherwise untold life experiences. It was then and only then that this assemblage of paper became the first ‘Outsized Artifact’.


This artifact, originally coming out of the printing press, was identical to thousands of fellow 100 ruble banknotes. However it became unique overtime. As unique as its defects and alterations. Unique because it is also the only one bearing the serial number 166488, an identity as specific as a birth certificate. That is why, I limit myself to making only one single copy of each artifact, as a tribute to his uniqueness. Because ultimately, it is not the graphic representation nor the monetary reference that interests me, but the emotional resonance of the unique lifetime journey of this fragile paper witness.


Yann Guitton