Bookmarking Book Art – Window display at Harvey Nichols

If Giuseppe Arcimboldo had been a sculptor, … ?

Book Man

Book Man

Image by markhillary
Window display at Harvey Nichols in London
via Book man | Books Images.

Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s portraits commissioned by the court of Rudolph II are his main claim to fame. Take some time with Jonathan Jones’ superb article on Arcimboldo and the 2008 exhibition devoted to his work at Vienna’s Kunsthistoriches Museum.

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Bookmark – Margins and making objects that live forever

Craig Mod modulates on margins here in Medium (18 August 2014).

Text printed on the best paper with no margins or unbalanced margins is vile. Or, if we’re being empathetic, sad. (For no book begins life aspiring to bad margins.) I know that sounds harsh. But a book with poorly set margins is as useful as a hammer with a one inch handle. Sure, you can pound nails, but it ain’t fun. A book with crass margins will never make a reader comfortable. Such a book feels cramped, claustrophobic. It doesn’t draw you in, certainly doesn’t make you want to spend time with the text….

On the other hand, cheap, rough paper with a beautifully set textblock hanging just so on the page makes those in the know, smile (and those who don’t, feel welcome). It says: We may not have had the money to print on better paper, but man, we give a shit. Giving a shit does not require capital, simply attention and humility and diligence. Giving a shit is the best feeling you can imbue craft with. Giving a shit in book design manifests in many ways, but it manifests perhaps most in the margins.

Reiterating his point by analogy, Mod channels the late designer George Nakashima:  “in order to produce a fine piece of furniture, the spirit of the tree must live on. You give it a second life … You can make an object that lives forever, if used properly.

For the fundamentals underlying Mod’s scatologically and poetically emphatic truth, you cannot find much better than Alexander Ross Charchar’s essay on the craft and calculations of “page canons” by Villard de Honnecourt (13th century!) , J.A. Van de Graaf, Raúl Rosarivo and Jan Tschichold:  “The Secret Law of Page Harmony“. Most delightful is Charchar’s dynamic diagram “The Dance of the Four Canons” illustrating the workings of each page canon:

Copyright 2010, Alexander Ross Charchar.

The Further Reading suggested by Charchar and his commenters is excellent, and I would only add Marshall Lee’s Bookmaking. For those who are irritated with the imposition of the print paradigm on the digital reading experience, there is a useful pointer to applying the page canons to website design that will cause a rethink of that irritation and equally make the imposers think harder as well.

For those who care about the book, what it is evolving into and the role that heart, mind and design still play in that process, read Charchar’s”The Secret Law of Page Harmony” –again and again.

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Bookmarking Book Art – Metamorphosis and the MBAE

The Mystery Book Artist of Edinburgh has emerged again – this time from a chrysalis in a cloud of butterflies. The work shown will be auctioned for the benefit of Macmillan Cancer. The Macmillan Art Show will be opened this month by the mystery author Alexander McCall Smith: http://macmillanartshow.org/.

20140803-110035-39635657.jpg

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Bookmarking Book Art — Francisca Prieto

Trained at Central St Martins, Francisca Prieto is a Chilean artist living and working in London where her work has featured in collections at the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Tate Gallery and the British Library among others. From 29 May through 21 June, her solo exhibition Underlined runs at Jagged Art, off Marylebone High Street in London.

Underlined extends — or rather deepens — her series Between Folds, which according to her artist’s statement “explores pages of rare and damaged books or forgotten ephemera, emphasising the beauty and detail of print that would otherwise go unseen.” Prieto’s grounding in typographical design drives Between Folds as is obvious from the letters created from the pages of Grays Anatomy and Bartlett’s British Scenery.Between Folds - Anatomy - Letter M

Between Folds - British Scenery - Letter O

 

Detail of Between Folds/Anatomy

Detail of Between Folds/Anatomy

The precision of the folds in Prieto’s work becomes even more evident in the eight compositions of Underlined, which is fitting as she now delves through source material past the letterforms and down to the line. Look how the folds align and intersect with the lines of the source material in the detail below.

Detail - Composition No. 1 © Francisca Prieto, 2014

Detail – Composition No. 1: A Diagonal Line
© Francisca Prieto, 2014

The source material in this case is The Wanderers Cricket Club Logbook, whose red lines strike vertically down the diagonal, the folds of the work “playing with direction and motion, as the ball of the game dictated each log of play”.  Prieto’s art is not only playful but thought-provoking, the cause of a sudden intake of breath from delight or even shock — what we most seek in our experiences of art. Do you not draw in your breath as you read between the folds and past the title and shape of Composition No. 2: One Horizontal Line to see that it is the line drawn under the life from whose last will and testament Prieto has created this work?

This dialogue between the parts and the whole to which Prieto’s craft and vision continuously draw the eye, heart and mind elevate her work and its audience.

Additional commentary on her work can be found at www.blankproject.co.uk.

 

 

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Bookmarking Book Art – Abigail Thomas

Image

Micro-Pages, a book arts exhibition curated by Abigail Thomas, toured throughout the UK in 2009 & 2010.

As a participating artist as well as being the curator and project instigator, and having worked in a library/archive for several years, I wanted to explore issues that affect libraries and archives as well as the book art world. Books have it in their nature to be handled; they are intimate objects whose feeling, texture, weight and smell are part of their artistic aura. Glass cases can remove the experience of the work, and you are unable to see it in its entirety, however, having books out also has its disadvantages. Should we treat artists’ books as archival material? This is the point that the project starts from. From the artist’s website.

The form of this exhibition also reflected Thomas’s concern with the book as machine, or reading machine. With microfilm, the reader is cast back into the age of scrolls and paginae, forerunners to the pages of the codex, yet is also suspended between the print codex and and arrival at what Thomas might agree is “an” imagined future escape from the page into the scrolling web.

Only “an” because Reading the Imagined Escape from the Page is Thomas’s live reading event, consisting of a projection, a leaflet/bookwork/handout and her lecture-style commentary. First delivered at the Arnolfini, Bristol in April 2013, the performance echoed and extended Micro-Pages in its collage/collision of visual projection, paper and screen.

Image

Image

Another instance of an imagined escape from the page can be explored in Thomas’s essay “Bob Brown’s Reading Machine and the Imagined Escape from the Page”published in Artist’s Book Yearbook 2014/15 (Impact Press, ISBN 978-1-906501-07-5). Here’s the author’s abstract:

Bob Brown imagined an escape from the page; the restrictive nature of the form of the ‘antiquated book’ following into new forms of technology and machine reading. This investigation functions as an inquiry into the idea of the reader as machine; in Bob Brown’s printed experiments in optical reading, can we ever escape the page? In writing for the imagined machine, and in using the page and its restrictions Brown was able to imagine these ideas and new ways of reading. Punctuation and page layout were devices used by Bob Brown and the poets involved with The Readies for Bob Brown’s Machine, The Readies, and Words to represent the movement and speed of a new form of reading through an imagined machine. This essay argues that they actually force the reader[s] themselves into becoming the reading machine perhaps without losing their humanity and without the need for the machine itself. The concepts contained within the writing, and the aspects of optical text design, challenges the page and the way we read, within all three books, and allows the machine to come alive within the text itself and so within the reader. From the author’s website.

Thomas’s works and their conceptual challenges to the page reify in a thought-provoking way the more academic explorations in Stoicheff and Taylor’s The Future of the Page. Rich in its consistent conceptualization, her work articulates the loss of the haptic but only seems poised to instantiate or at least insinuate a palpable physicality that would lift her art to new levels.

 

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Bookmarking Book Art – M.L. Van Nice

Plinitude, 1994

Plinitude, 1994                                   [seeds, bones, insect wings, feathers, wood, leather, paper, acrylic]

                  ” ‘In and around and under Pliny’s writing and scholarship lies the natural world,’ writes M.L. Van Nice. This artist favors an intuitive approach to learning rather than Pliny’s structured encyclopedia format. Fascinated with her own inability to read the original text, Van Nice creates an imaginative but unreadable script, drawing elements from the natural world into the artist’s book.”

From Science and the Artist’s Bookan exhibition by the Smithsonian Institution Libraries.

The Hole of Understanding (detail), 2004, from The Library at Wadi ben Dagh

The Hole of Understanding (detail), 2004, from The Library at Wadi ben Dagh

                  “Imagine coming upon a library where you could actually peer into your favorite books; where a copy of Lewis Carol’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland had its own rabbit hole for you to gaze into with openings in the shape of hearts, spades, clubs and diamonds. Would it be a real library or a library without structure and logic? M.L. Van Nice’s whimsical installation, The Library at Wadi ben Dagh, is just such a library…. Created by an anonymous character named Woman Doe, the books in The Library at Wadi ben Dagh are classified by recollection, associations, deductive reasoning, and curiosity.

This site-specific installation imaginatively conveys the conceptual weight of such popular titles as James Joyce’s Ulysses, Charles Baudelaire’s Flowers of Evil, and Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass….The library is an entire world unto itself – a private book collection of Woman Doe, who has since departed Wadi Ben Dagh, an imaginary place the artist roughly translates as the “dry gulch that is washed by the mountain.”… Woman Doe has thoughtfully selected each work, reflecting her experience of the world. Therefore, the library does not have structure beyond the personal. As Van Nice explains, the library ‘certainly does not, could not, and would not care to … satisfy a Mr. Dewey. Woman Doe created categories that structure her reality, and maybe ours.’” From Indepth Art News. See also Sheila Wickouski’s “Van Nice is art by the book”, Fredericksburg.com, 5 May 2005.

The installation appeared at the National Museum of Women in the Arts from April 11 to November 6, 2005.

Feast is in the Belly of the Beholder

Feast is in the Belly of the Beholder, 2010

Here is truly found book art.  All the work here was done by bugs.   As Van Nice relates, “I merely recognized the feast, or rather the scene of the feast. I did wonder, however, if they stopped to pause when they got to the entomology section.” From 23 Sandy Gallery.

Font, 2010

Font, 2010

“… Font is [a] trope. Much as we ‘consume’ books; so also we drink, sip, swig and quaff from the font, the fount, the cup of knowledge. These familiar and comfortable allusions seem to me to be oddly similar to the huntsman who honors and emulates his dead catch by eating its heart. We devour what we would choose to know and hence be.” From 23 Sandy Gallery.

Swiss Army Book

Swiss Army Book, 1990

For the artist’s statement, see the Clara database held by the National Museum of Women Artists.

 

 

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Bookmark – Phoenix in an Elegy for Paper?

fahrenheit-451In another elegy for paper, Mark Fox in Designers & Books leaps from the famous conversation between Ray Bradbury’s characters Professor Faber and Fireman Montag in Fahrenheit 451 that begins, “Do you know why books such as this are so important? Because they have quality. And what does the word quality mean?” to Jaron Lanier’s assertion that the remix culture is responsible for “the digital flattening of expression into a global mush.” Fox sets this against Professor Faber’s elaboration of what he means by “quality”: 

To me it means texture. This book has pores. It has features. This book can go under the microscope. You’d find life under the glass, streaming past in infinite profusion. The more pores, the more truthfully recorded details of life per square inch you can get on a sheet of paper, the more ‘literary’ you are. That’s my definition, anyway. Telling detailFresh detail. The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies.

Consider, however, this conversation between the artists Stefan Saalfeld and Gerhard Mantz published in the February 2013 issue of the Lumas Gallery Magazine, “The Liberation of Art“:

Saalfeld – … I’m interested in the changes that take place over time. In nature, the old sits alongside the new. There are always tensions, and injuries.

Mantz – That is exactly what characterises your images. This breaking apart and breaking through as if the colours were peeling off to reveal fragments of completely different pictures behind.

Saalfeld – Gaps appear through these breaks and dislocations. This allows something different to emerge from the image. There is always an unexplained story behind the story, another version. I no longer believe in a single, individual image.

Here is a healthy “anxiety of influence” that overcomes qualms about tradition, builds upon it and, yes, perhaps devours it as if it were seed corn. Its analogs in book publishing can be found in the work of Tom Abba, Duncan Speakman and others associated with WeAreCircumstance or in the works of Jonathan Safran Foer and others published by Visual Editions, all of which represent an intersection of narrative and the plastic visual arts.

Paper is not dead, digital is not still-born, creativity is a phoenix.

These Pages Fall Like AshThese Pages Fall Like Ash, Tom Abba

Short Films for YouShort Films for You, Tom Abba, Els Viaene, Reinout Hiel and Yoko Ishiguro

Foer2Tree of Codes, Jonathan Safran Foer

Composition-1Composition No. 1, Marc Saporta

WhereYouAreWhere You Are, Visual Editions

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Bookmarking Book Art — in medias res … Math Monahan

Math Monahan’s installation Specimen is book art that cannot be ignored.

SONY DSC

Specimen , 2012
Inkjet Print
Photo credit: Math Monahan

Specimen, 2012Inkjet PrintPhoto credit: Math Monahan

Specimen, 2012
Inkjet Print
Photo credit: Math Monahan

Specimen 5

Specimen, 2013
Photo credit: Math Monahan
© Math Monahan

Specimen 2

Specimen, 2013
Photo credit: Math Monahan
© Math Monahan

Specimen 3

Specimen, 2013
Photo credit: Math Monahan
© Math Monahan

Specimen 4

Specimen, 2013
Photo credit: Math Monahan
© Math Monahan

[ The book is an organism.  It lived, spread all over the world and, some would consider, is endangered today.  These creatures have a life of their own.  They manifest themselves in many forms but where did they come from?  If they are animals of paper and text, from what kind of beast did they evolve?  This series studies those primordial creatures that became the developed beings colonizing our homes and libraries.  By looking at growth patterns, mutations, and morphological similarities we can better understand this animal's rise in population for so many years, as well as its current decline toward extinction. ]

The images above constitute a mesmerizing series on Monahan’s site.  It is as if we are looking at photographs of deep-sea creatures or impressions of fossils or slides of microscopic organisms. The latter impression is reinforced by the petri dishes in which the circular images are framed, but of late, the organisms, shown in the rectangular photos, have escaped the petri dish to occupy an undefined abyss. Like snorkeling or diving for the first time in strange waters, the experience of viewing Specimen is beautiful, exhilarating and a bit scary. The words quoted above and fixed alongside the images are humorous, wistful but still, in the end, a bit scary.  The book: evolution or extinction?

Monahan hails from the Master of Fine Arts program at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor, whose library by chance was one of the original five library partners in the Google Library Print Project that began in 2004.  In March 2012, Jennifer Howard reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education that Google’s book-scanning project had reached its 20 millionth volume but was slowing down.  Even so, at its average rate, Google should have about 25 million books scanned now.   As if foreshadowing Monahan’s metaphor literally and using the Google collection like a literary genome project, Harvard’s Steven Pinker, Jean-Baptiste Michel and the Google Books Team “constructed a corpus of digitized texts containing about 4% of all books ever printed [enabling them] … to investigate cultural trends quantitatively”. From this reservoir of digital strands, they plucked out the references to each year between 1875 and 1975 in the books, plotted them and found

The plots had a characteristic shape. For example, “1951” was rarely discussed until the years immediately preceding 1951. Its frequency soared in 1951, remained high for 3 years, and then underwent a rapid decay, dropping by half over the next 15 years. Finally, the plots enter a regime marked by slower forgetting: Collective memory has both a short-term and a long-term component.

But there have been changes. The amplitude of the plots is rising every year: Precise dates are increasingly common. There is also a greater focus on the present. For instance, “1880” declined to half its peak value in 1912, a lag of 32 years. In contrast, “1973” declined to half its peak by 1983, a lag of only 10 years. We are forgetting our past faster with each passing year.

Ironic that.  Analysis of the “DNA” extracted from over 5 million specimens of the organism designed to preserve our past tells us that we are forgetting it more quickly year by year.

Curious about his interactions with the book species, I wrote to Math Monahan to ask if we could conduct the “in medias res” experiment: to go to his bookshelf, select a volume from the middle of any shelf, open the volume to its center pages, tell me what is there and answer a set of questions.

  • What are the objects immediately on either side of the selected book? As you take the book from its place, what are your physical sensations?  How does the book feel to you? As you open to its middle page, what do you hear, smell or see about it or around it?
  • Do you recall the circumstances of acquiring the book?  What were you doing when you acquired it?  Why this book?
  • As an artist whose work has an intimate relationship to “the book,” could you describe the effect this has on you when you are reading books in general?
  • Turning the question on its head, when the act of creating a work rather than the act of reading is in flight, how do books feed your working process?

MM: I decided to choose from my “to read” shelf. The book I found in the center felt “right” as soon as I saw it there. Although it was on my “to read” shelf, I decided to read it before replying. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to or not, I think it was the right choice. Anyway, here is my choice. As you can see, the book I’m using has a slightly different layout.

Tree of Codes, Jonathan Safran Foer Visual Editions, 2010

Tree of Codes, Jonathan Safran Foer
Visual Editions, 2010

 
Image from Visual Editions.

Image from Visual Editions.
Author of Everything is Illuminated, Foer took one of his favorite books, The Street of Crocodiles by Polish-Jewish writer Bruno Schulz, and used it as a canvas, cutting into and out of the pages, to arrive at Tree of Codes.

BoB: And what about the books and things around it, and what you felt as took Tree of Codes from the shelf?

MM: To the left stands the book, Folklore and Book Culture by Kevin Hayes. To the right, two wooden boxes stacked, act as a book end/space filler, followed by more books.  The larger box on the bottom contains various samples of handmade papers. The smaller box on top contains blank note cards.  As I removed the book I felt the unfamiliar squeezing of pages that I was surprised by when I first bought the book. It was caused by the cutouts on each page. They create the different densities that differ from the standard solid-block feel of a book.  When I opened the book to its estimated middle page, I remember being very gentle.  The layout of the book made the pages delicate lattices that I am very careful to keep intact. The carefulness must have overridden my other senses, because I don’t remember anything else.  I thought the book felt “right” when I found it because, as a book artist, I work with the form of the book and the book as an object.  That is my main interest.  This book is published by Visual Editions, a publishing company that believes “books should be as visually interesting as the stories they tell” (www.visual-editions.com).  This idea meshes well with ideas in my own work.

BoB: Now that you’ve read Tree of Codes, you will have noticed how The Street of Crocodiles has pretty much disappeared. Almost but not completely. Are there echoes of that phenomena in your own work?

MM: Yes. Often the content of the books I’m using in my work is irrelevant. I am exploring the book as a physical form.  Through folding, braiding, warping or any other alteration, I am revealing the transformative nature of the book. Each one holds different possibilities. My struggle is in convincing the viewer of this.  We have a tendency to immediately read text, almost instinctual.  Can text be texture? Is there more information contained in a book than words and images?

While a part of my process is (what I have been calling) relieving the book of text, I don’t feel this is an act of violence against any author(s).  It is clear in Tree of Codes that the removal of text is an act of love or admiration for the primary story. My admiration is for the object itself. The text will live on in many forms. I am not using rare or one-of-a-kind books here.

BoB: Do you recall the circumstances of buying Tree of Codes?  What were you doing when you decided to buy it?  What prompted the purchase?

MM: I found it in a Barnes and Noble. I remember being surprised to see it there because it is a sort of unconventional book.  I quickly put together that the author, Jonathan Safran Foer, recently had one of his books made into a movie and that could prompt the store to have all his works in stock.  Still, I was very pleased to find it.  I was introduced to the book about a year earlier by a friend.  It was coming home with me that day, no question.

BoB: As an artist whose work has an intimate relationship to “the book,” could you describe the effect this has on you when you are reading books in general?  The question may have different answers depending on the type of book or your intention on opening the book, so feel free to qualify your answer as you like.

MM: I think my relationship to “the book” changed how I approach books in any context. For better or for worse, I have noticed this change.  The phrase, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” comes to mind here.  I find myself judging a book not only by its cover but also by its weight, size and shape, the textures of its cover and pages. Even by the fonts used in the body of the text are included in this analysis. Of course I read the summary and printed comments on the back, but these often fall after the book passes the physical tests.

BoB: Turning the question on its head, when the act of creating a work rather than the act of reading is in flight, how do books feed your working process?

MM: This is where all the information gathered through the process described above come into use.  Understanding how paper textures interact with colors and fonts, how negative space in a text block affects how quickly you move through the book, how the lines of text change as you curl and warp the pages; all are now the backdrop to the creation of my own work.  Sometimes this raw data is in the forefront of my thoughts while I’m working, while other times it is synthesized into a cloud of intuitive responses. The latter is often what I’m referring to when I say something “feels right”.

BoB: Decades ago, Peter Frank commented that exhibiting artists books behind glass was to confine them ” in some anaerobic chamber”. Unless your “organisms” in Specimen present themselves in the equivalent of a petting zoo, their exhibition requires us to stand at a distance and prompts us to view the book as an object to be regarded rather than “read” in the usual sense.

Your installation Between is another case in point but intriguingly different. There, you have taken two sets of books, opened each book, braided its pages so that it stands open and arranged each set of braided books in a circle spine to spine.

Between, 2012

Between, 2012
Photo credit: Math Monahan
© Math Monahan

Between, 2012

Between, 2012
Photo credit: Math Monahan
© Math Monahan

The circle arrangement holds the set together, without adhesives or mechanical apparatus, and the pages slowly unbraid themselves, each book returning to its original form. Although the installations, one in the Penny Stamps Graduate Studio and the other in the Hatcher Graduate library of the University of Michigan, are not under glass or otherwise fenced away from the “reader”, the “reading” or art experience can only occur as the unfolding occurs.  And, of course, being in two separate locations, the installations do not allow us to experience them simultaneously. Yet, you intend “the installations [to] form a whole existing between the two spaces”. 

So while Specimen is “at a distance” from us in one way, Between is so in another. With Specimen, we are relatively passive viewers. With Between, although we are not reading the unbraiding volumes, we are more active, almost participating. Our “witness” to the unbraiding is a necessary element of the artwork, but is that unbraiding toward forgetfulness and extinction or memory and renewal?

MM: Participation is the point of books.  They are meant to be interacted with.  That interaction has become a recent focus, especially thinking of library books and other books as they pass through several hands.  I can admit, reading a good book leaves its mark on me. But what marks do we leave of books? What are the traces of these intimate interactions? Through time, whole communities are embedded in these artifacts. Find a book from a library or thrift store and try to imagine everyone that has ever handled that specific edition. Can you feel them around you? I aim to reveal that community. 

BoB: One last question. Between forgetfulness and extinction, on the one hand, and memory and renewal, on the other, where would you bookmark us and the book?

MM: Whether book sales are up or down, it’s irrelevant.  Even if the extinction of books never happens, the fact that text CAN be read digitally opens the book to possibilities beyond text, similar to (in my opinion) what happened to painting with the invention of photography.  Artists are still working in representation, even hyperrealism, but the rapid expanse of painting and thought behind what a painting is – that is the direction that I’d like to see our interaction with books move in.

Related

  • Klima, Stefan. Artists Books: A Critical Survey of the Literature. New York: Granary Books, 1998, p.67, citing Jacqueline Brody, “Peter Frank: A Case for Marginal Collectors”, Print Collector’s Newsletter, IX, no. 2, March-April 1978, p. 44.
  • Michel, Jean-Baptiste et al. “Quantitative Analysis of Culture Using Millions of Digitized Books”, Science, 14 January 2011, Vol. 331, no. 6014, pp. 176-182,  accessed 19 September 2013: DOI: 10.1126/science.1199644.
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