Toby's Tristram Shandy Shop

by Tobias Kaspar

Tobias Kaspar presents Toby’s Tristram Shandy Shop, a complete and fully-functioning shop devoted to the retail of a single book: the very rare original edition of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, the iconic novel by the 18th century writer Laurence Sterne. The shop re-assembles an unprecedented series of five copies of the first edition of Tristram Shandy, offered within a custom-designed interior, with its own branding, staff uniform, labelling, and packaging.

With Toby’s Tristram Shandy Shop Kaspar both revisits Sterne and extends his own investigations, typically played out in indeterminate commercial institutions of his own creation. Previous ventures by Kaspar include Provence, a limited edition magazine (itself colonising the pages of pre-existing publications) with echoes of Mallarme’s enigmantic journal La Derniere Monde, limited edition sets of porcelain, and limited edition fashion brands presented in repurposed gallery and museum spaces.

Toby’s Tristram Shandy Shop - named for Toby Shandy, a character in the novel - offers for sale one of the great literary artefacts. First published in 1760, Tristram Shandy has proved an eternal anachronism, whose influence is hard to overstate. Marx’s favourite novel, it was idolised by Joyce and Beckett in turn, and claimed by the 20th century as both the original modernist and postmodernist text. The ultimate example of a book aware of its own medium, it is a vertiginous object to behold. At once written, yet it is not: Sterne introduces pages entirely printed in black, blank pages the reader is invited to fill in, diagrams of gestures, and thousands of typographical inventions which can never be uttered, only seen. At once a multiple, each copy is unique, including pages that appear in no other. As Nietzsche, another of his admirers, wrote of its effects: “it produces in the right reader a feeling of uncertainty as to whether one is walking, standing or lying: a feeling, that is, close to floating”.

For theorists today, with an increasing appreciation of Sterne’s outrageous performances in fashionable worlds beyond the page, Tristram Shandy seems more than ever a prefiguration of all the strategies of current cultural production. Sterne is now widely identified as the first “celebrity author” in the modern sense of the term, and it is undoubtedly not only Sterne’s manoeuvrings in print but also his staged appearances in 18th century London society that led to a parallel existence for Tristram Shandy: within weeks of its first appearance, original copies had become an ultimate object of desire, and have remained so ever since, circulating for centuries in an exclusive world of private collections.

Taking his cue from the endless recursions and artifice of Sterne’s writing and social performances, Kaspar now re-states the selling of Tristram Shandy in a shop of his own creation, co-opting an existing gallery and its staff, offering both his own account and an iteration of Sterne’s uniquely liberated procedures.

Tobias Kaspar (*1984) currently lives in Rome. His works have been exhibited in numerous solo and group-shows at institutions including the Kunsthalle Basel, Artists Space New York, Kunsthalle Vienna, Kunsthalle Zurich, Museum Hamburger Bahnhof, Midway Contemporary Art Minneapolis and CAFAM Art Museum Bejiing amongst others. In 2012 Kaspar launched his limited edition series in the form of a jeans brand. The new model “Est1863" designed with Fabio Quaranta will be released in conjunction with THE STREET.