The rhythmic tap-tap-tap from a manual typewriter reverberated across the galleries of the H&R Block Artspace at the Kansas City Art Institute on Tuesday afternoon.
On the second-level landing, Tim Youd sat alone at small desk. He faced an Olympia SM3 manual typewriter and a small stand holding open a book. Persistently, he struck away at the keys, working at retyping the entire novel.
In this case, it’s Evan S. Connell’s “Mrs. Bridge,” set in Kansas City.
“I retype each novel on the same make and model typewriter that the author used,” said Youd, a Los Angeles-based performance artist. He’s in the midst of a multiyear project to retype 100 classic novels. As part of the performance, he types in a location that’s “germane to either the novel or the author’s life; in this case, it’s germane to both.”
Which is why Youd is in Kansas City for about three weeks. He started his project at Block Artspace and will continue it at the downtown library by retyping Connell’s related novel, “Mr. Bridge.”
Connell, a Kansas City native and 1941 graduate of Southwest High School, used his hometown as the location for his two novels. “Mrs. Bridge,” published in 1959, and “Mr. Bridge,” published in 1969, depict the lives of a well-to-do but emotionally bereft Kansas City family.
In 1990, the British art-film team of Ismail Merchant and James Ivory turned the two books into a movie starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.
Youd started his project in 2013 and has retyped novels by such authors as Hunter S. Thompson, Henry Miller, Tom Wolfe and Kurt Vonnegut. The two Connell novels will be Youd’s 30th and 31st books.
Youd retypes each novel on one sheet of paper, which is supported by a second sheet. He cycles the two sheets through the carriage over and over again.
“The page, not only does it become this black rectangle, it starts to eat through,” he said. “In this case it has started to eat through both sheets.”
At the end, Youd separates the two pages and mounts them as a diptych.
“It becomes a very formal representation of two pages in a book,” Youd said.
An example of his work can be seen on his website, timyoud.com.
“The performance for me is a devotional act,” Youd said. “I’m really dedicated to the reading of the novel as closely as I can.”
He has read every novel at least once — some multiple times.
“When I get into a real rhythm, it’s just me, the novel and the typewriter,” he said.
As a two- or three-finger typist, Youd can’t type too quickly, which causes him to slow down and concentrate so he doesn’t lose his place.
“It is a real deep engagement with the text,” he said. “By the same token, I don’t mind somebody coming up to me and asking me questions or interrupting me.”
He will stop and talk, which he sees as part of the performance.
“More often than not, I get large chunks of time when I’m alone, so I’m happy for the interaction as well,” he said.
In addition to the two novels, Youd said he will try to retype the movie’s screenplay.
“They are shorter, and I can usually do a screenplay in a couple of days,” he said.
Youd will be at Block Artspace through Saturday. He will be at the Kansas City Public Library’s Central Library from Feb. 17 to 23.
Youd said he will be worn out by the end of the performance, but it’s nothing compared to people who spent their lives working in a typing pool.
“I can hack it through a 20-day performance,” he said.
Youd said his family is very supportive of his project and his method.
“My mom likes to tell people that her son is a typist,” he said. “She gets a few miles out of that.”
Go to Kansascity.com to watch a video of Tim Youd working at Block Artspace.