Bookmarking Book Art – in medias res … Andrew Hayes

When Andrew Hayes told me it was e.e. cummings’ 100 poems he had found in the middle of the stacks of books awaiting a bookshelf he planned to build, I winced. Cummings has always been hard for me to figure. I was hoping for a more accessible book as a pretext to kick off our interview.

If you have not encountered one of these  interviews on Books on Books, I should explain. The idea is that the book artist selects a book from the middle of the home or studio bookshelf, opens it to the middle, and tells me the author, title and page number. After tracking down the book, I send off some questions and so the interview begins.

Stalagmites of books in the home of Andrew Hayes, book artist

Stalagmites of books in the home of Andrew Hayes, book artist

It turned out that cummings was hard to access for Andrew as well. He wrote:

As I took the book from its place in the middle I had to take care, as you can see this is not the most efficient way to retrieve a book. I was able to carefully remove the book with out the top half toppling down, this time…

Just like extracting the meaning from the poem that just happened to be bookmarked in the middle of the cummings volume. The poem begins:

kind) 
YM&WC 

(of sort of) 

A soursweet bedtime

and ends:

iSt 

ep 

into the not 

merely immeasurable into 
the mightily alive the 
dear beautiful eternal night

Until Andrew carefully pulled out this volume bookmarked by his partner Kreh Mellick, he had not read it. “To be honest, I do not read as much as I would like, ….” Still, I wonder if, as his eyes moved through the broken-up layers of syntax and the juxtaposition of the “soursweet bedtime” story with “the mightily alive the/ dear beautiful eternal night”, he recognized something of his own?

Hade, Andrew Hayes Steel, book pages, and copper 16'' x 6'' x 3''  2013 Reproduced with permission of the artist Photo credit: Steve Mann, Black Box Photography

Hade, 2013
Steel, book pages, and copper
16” x 6” x 3”
Reproduced with permission of the artist.
Photo credit: Steve Mann, Black Box Photography

The title of this piece is Hade. “Hade” is a geological term, like Placer and Lode (titles of these other striking sculptures).

Placer, 2013 Steel, book pages, and brass 10'' x 7'' x 9''  Reproduced with permission of the artist Photo credit: Steve Mann, Black Box Photography

Placer, 2013
Steel, book pages, and brass
10” x 7” x 9”
Reproduced with permission of the artist
Photo credit: Steve Mann, Black Box Photography

Lode, 2013 Steel and book pages 16'' x 7'' x 2.5''  Reproduced with permission of the artist Photo credit: Steve Mann, Black Box Photography

Lode, 2013
Steel and book pages
16” x 7” x 2.5”
Reproduced with permission of the artist.
Photo credit: Steve Mann, Black Box Photography

Hade refers to “the angle of inclination from the vertical of a vein (geology), fault, or lode”. In Hade the yellowed pages slip between the parenthesis of steel plates like the sense lode through the fractured syntax of e.e. cummings’ poem. This is book art for the sensualist, much as most of cummings’ better poems are words for the sensualist. It exudes appreciation and care for the material of which it is made. That comes through clearly in Andrew’s response to my question “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?”:

… as I read a book I love watching it wear and change as I pass through the pages. I’m sure this happens with everyone’s books, but I love this transformation. I find it happens best in shoes and books. I have a hard time keeping my hands clean so my books take a beating, I almost don’t need a book marker because I can just turn to the first clean page. It is funny I don’t like to dog ear pages I feel like that is almost disrespectful in a way, but I just like seeing what happens to the book as it serves its function. … for me finding a book that has been seasoned is like finding two stories. I like figuring out who read the book before and reading the notes and things I find in the books I end up using for sculpture.

An e.e. cummings poem can amuse like a Rube Goldberg or Heath Robinson contraption, but always with a sting at the end.  Andrew clearly has a love of contraptions, words and paradox as well.

Ballistae Steel and book pages 16'' x 8'' x 3'' 2013

Balastae, 2013
Steel and book pages
16” x 8” x 3”
Reproduced with permission of the artist
Photo credit: Steve Mann, Black Box Photography

“Balastae” is an ancient variant on “ballistae”– the oversized Roman crossbow,  comparable to a catapult or trebuchet. Its kinetic energy is captured here in the potential energy of the pages of words poised to fly over the steel. The contrast and tension between the kinetic and potential, between noun/verb and tool/rest, between paper and metal, characterize many of Andrew’s titles and works, for example, Kedge and Plow.

Kedge Steel, book pages, and brass 9.5'' x 18'' x 9'' 2013 Reproduced with permission of the artist. Photo credit: Steve Mann, Black Box Photography

Kedge, 2013
Steel, book pages, and brass
9.5” x 18” x 9”
Reproduced with permission of the artist.
Photo credit: Steve Mann, Black Box Photography

My favorite works are Shift, Waver, Swarm and Kedge. The latter, in particular, captures the paradoxes in Andrew’s works; the word is noun and verb (transitive and intransitive) all in one: a nautical term for a light anchor, also the term for the act of warping a vessel and the term for moving a vessel by pulling on the anchor. Shift and Waver capture the kinetic energy of his works and beg to be circled and viewed from every angle like any of the dynamic figures of Giambologna.

Shift, 2013 Steel, book pages, and brass 11'' x 5'' x 2''  Reproduced with permission of the artist Photo credit: Steve Mann, Black Box Photography

Shift, 2013
Steel, book pages, and brass 11” x 5” x 2”
Reproduced with permission of the artist.
Photo credit: Steve Mann, Black Box Photography

Waver, 2013 Steel, book pages, and brass, 16'' x 9'' x 9'' Reproduced with permission of the artist. Photo credit: Steve Mann, Black Box Photography

Waver, 2013
Steel, book pages, and brass, 16” x 9” x 9”
Reproduced with permission of the artist.
Photo credit: Steve Mann, Black Box Photography

And Swarm – ah, yes – like swarming bees, words have gathered across the splayed edges of the pages, whirling up framed by brass-riveted metal. Swarm is one of the biologically allusive pieces along with Divaricate, reflecting how Andrew’s imagination ranges over the words, objects and concepts in so many domains: the architectural (Prohedria, Mullion),

Swarm, 2013 Steel, book pages, and brass 13'' x 14'' x 3''  Reproduced with permission of the artist. Photo credit: Steve Mann, Black Box Photography

Swarm, 2013
Steel, book pages, and brass
13” x 14” x 3”
Reproduced with permission of the artist.
Photo credit: Steve Mann, Black Box Photography

nautical (Helm, Kedge), agricultural (Harrow, Plow) and military (Sentry, Citadel) as well as others ripe for verbal and visual puns. Witty as well as sensual, there is almost something of the Metaphysical poets about his work. One such work of metaphysical visual and verbal punning is Wry. Definitions of the word invariably include “twisted”, “distorted”, “lopsided” and apply it to facial features such as “a wry grin” or “wry mouth”. Now take a look at Wry:

Wry, 2013 Steel, book pages, and brass  7'' x 8'' x 3''  Reproduced with permission of the artist. Photo credit: Steve Mann, Black Box Photography

Wry, 2013
Steel, book pages, and brass
7” x 8” x 3”
Reproduced with permission of the artist.
Photo credit: Steve Mann, Black Box Photography

Book art can easily fall off into mere craftwork. On the one hand, the book artist requires the freight that the book’s content and form carry, requires it somewhat analogously to the way Eric Gill required Hopton-Wood Stone for his sculpture. But the degree to which the freight weighs down the treatment, or the handling does not take the material beyond itself, that is the degree by which the work is closer to handicraft than to art. From the way that Andrew writes of his perspective on the freight that his found material carries with it, you can understand why each of his works — solid and dense as they are — translates the raw material beyond itself:

When making work I take my love for the used book and search for pages that I can use in my sculpture. The book pages are a loaded found material. Other materials I use like steel that I find at the scrap yard come with built in history as well but it may not be as universal as the book pages. The books I am drawn to are usually worn or rich with color or deckled edges, but that is just the beginning. It is always a surprise when I cut the pages from their binding. This is when I try to find a way that I can compose the pages into a new shape in combination with steel.

To find a union of metal and the printed page as rich and tactile as that created by Andrew, we would have to hark back to the days of hot metal typesetting or farther still to the chained library. But, while the titles of Andrew’s works may evoke the historical or archaeological, the works themselves do not assume the printed book’s demise; they emphasize and celebrate the material of the book.

It is strange how these objects – books and scraps of metal that have their own individual logic and structural coherence, both material and semantic – become an object of art. In each – book or scrap steel – raw material has been amassed and wrought (words, paper, ink and cloth; or iron, carbon, manganese and nickel) to make a finished thing whose physicality inheres and obtrudes. The ways in which those raw materials are amassed and wrought into objects such as dictionaries or kitchen sinks create meaning and accumulate meanings by use and context. Then along comes Andrew Hayes. Drawing on his experience as a welder, his work as a student with fabricated steel and his time as a Fellow at the Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina, Andrew takes these found objects with their own logic and transforms them into this realm we call art.

To see more of Andrew Hayes’s work, visit http://andrew-hayes.squarespace.com/.

Related publications

Sara Baker, “Andrew Hayes – Artist”, American Style Magazine, November 2010, accessed 28 August 2013: http://www.americanstyle.com/2010/11/andrew-hayes/

Stacy Dacheux, “Sleek Sculpture Combines Metal with Pressed Book Pages”, Beautiful Decay, 7 August 2013, accessed 10 August 2013: http://beautifuldecay.com/2013/08/07/sleek-sculpture-combines-metal-with-pressed-book-pages/

Erin Fletcher, “Artist: Andrew Hayes”, Flash of the Hand, 20 August 2013, accessed 28 August 2013: http://www.herringbonebindery.com/blog/tag/andrew-hayes/

David Mendez, “Former Tucsonan Has a Warped Way of Using Old Books”, The Range, 9 August 2013, accessed 28 August 2013: http://www.tucsonweekly.com/TheRange/archives/2013/08/09/former-tucsonan- has-a-warped-way-of-using-old-books

Penland, “Focus on: Andrew Hayes”, The Penland Sketchbook, 15 August 2012, accessed 10 August 2013: http://www.penland.org/blog/2012/08/focus-on-andrew-hayes/#sthash.7JYFQ9sW.dpbs

Melissa Walter, “Interview #7 – Andrew Hayes”, Crafthaus, 8 October 2012, accessed 28 August 2013: http://crafthaus.ning.com/group/artist-interviews-where-are-you-going-where-have-y/forum/topics/interview-7-andrew-hayes

Matthew Wengard, “Art As Inspiration: Andrew Hayes”, A Fine Press, 16 August 2013, accessed 28 August 2013: http://afinepress.com/andrew-hayes/

L. Kent Wolgamott, “Lux exhibition ‘Strata’ turns books and metal into graceful sculpture”, Ground Zero, 17 August 2013, accessed 28 August 2013: http://journalstar.com/entertainment/visual-art/l-kent-wolgamott-%20lux-exhibition-strata-turns-books-and-metal/article_b92b4448-e298-53a3-a3f9-034db95d9d4f.html

Michael Yonan, “Toward a Fusion of Art History and Material Culture Studies”, West 86th: A Journal of Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture, 20 September 2011, accessed 11 January 2014:http://www.west86th.bgc.bard.edu/articles/yonan.html#. Yonan notes the discomfort of art historians in addressing art as I have addressed Andrew Hayes’ work: ‘… fore- grounding the idea exalts art history into a philosophical endeavor, whereas emphasizing matter renders the discipline subject to what could be called “the fear of the tchotchke.” … the trinketization of art.’

Meghan Young, “Artist Andrew Hayes Manipulates Metal and Novels”, Trendhunter, 9 August 2013, accessed 10 August 2013: http://www.trendhunter.com/trends/andrew-hayes

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Bookmarking Book Art – Basia Irland

Basia Irland’s art project ICE BOOKS: receding/reseeding gives a formidably tangible and new meaning to “publishing as dissemination.”  As Irland describes the project on her site:

River water is frozen, carved into the form of a book, embedded with an ‘ecological language’ or ‘riparian’  consisting of local native seeds, and placed back into the stream. The seeds are released as the ice melts in the current…

Tome I

I carved a 250-pound book from clear ice and embedded it with a seed text of Mountain Maple (Acer spicatum), Columbine flowers (Aquilegia coerulea), and Colorado Blue Spruce (Picea pungens). Four people carried the heavy book out into the current of Boulder Creek.  As it rested between two large rocks, viewers cold see the water flowing under the ice.  Ice Books.   Accessed 17 February 2013 and 11 September 2014.

This is book art as performance art and conceptual art but with a twist: the performance yields results beyond the on-site viewers’ memories or any photography and video of the event replayed in galleries or museum installations.  Whether the seeds that float downstream in local rivers do take root is uncertain. As there is at least a chance that it will happen, it is more than the concept that counts.

“Performed” across 18 locations around the world, Irland’s project has been going since 2007. Fittingly the first performance began with Lucy R. Lippard’s Weather Report exhibition in 2007, but the concept has a rich heritage. With some further reading and the help of Peter Verheyen’s listserv BKARTS, I have tracked down some of that other “ramifying” or “ecologically political” book art.

Lucy Lippard, Six Years

Lucy Lippard, Six Years (1997)

Starting with Lippard herself, there is Six Years, the 1973 seminal, long-subtitled work that drew attention to  Hans Haacke’s Wind in Water  (1967) and other conceptual and environmental art.  And then came Doug Beube’s pieces from the 80s and later such as Organic and The Chair of Censorship.  In the late 90s, we had Ann Marie Kennedy’s Plant Dreams. In 2010, Maggie Puckett’s “Thaw“.

And now, this conceptual book art has revolved back into books:

Pequeño Editoran Argentinian children’s book publisher, has published Tree Book Tree with ecologically friendly ink and acid-free paper embedded with jacaranda seeds. As the video explains, “Books come from trees. Today, a tree comes from a book.”

Tree Book Tree Published on 3 May 2015 The first book that can be planted after it is read. FCB Buenos Aires

Tree Book Tree, 2015
Video published on 3 May 2015
FCB Buenos Aires

The act of reading then planting the book echoes the twist in Irland’s performance and conceptual pieces. The book as read (the performance) resides in the memories of the readers, the concept (books are made of trees) resides in the mind, and downstream in time, a jacaranda blossoms overhead.

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Bookmarking Book Art – Large-Scale Installations

Book RiotIn her note in BookRiot, Nikki Steele takes Brian Dettmer’s  TED talk remark that books are created to relate to our human scale and builds on it elegantly, if all too briefly, by bringing together the installation works “Literature versus Traffic”, “Scanner”, “Book Cell”, “Singularity”, “Biographies” and “Contemporaries”. She’s not the first to provide a Pinterest– or Flickr-style burst of “ooh, look at this”, but unlike her predecessors, she makes the point worth pondering: this art that is not on a human scale evokes wonder and awe.

This challenges and expands on Dettmer’s point that people are disturbed by book art because we think of the book as a body, a living thing. As John Milton said, “As good almost kill a man as kill a good book: who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God’s image; but he who destroys a good book kills reason itself”. That was in the context of book licensing laws that led to the confiscation and destruction of unlicensed books. Still, Milton would probably react as angrily to individual works of book art, and he might view the installations as if they were on the scale of the massacre of the Waldensians in the Piedmont.

Dettmer’s justification of book art that books “also have the potential to continue to grow and to continue to become new things”, that “books really are alive”, leaves us still squirming on the hook when Steele asks, “what happens when artists explode the scale and take books much, much larger?”. If you think cutting up or destroying a book is sacrilegious, what is your reaction to the 10,000 splayed in the streets of Melbourne by Luzinterruptus or the equal number cast by Alicia Martín into frozen defenestrations in Madrid and elsewhere in Spain? Miltonic eruption? Or Steele-ish delight, awe and love of the art?

Let’s raise the stakes and confusion. What if the books used in the single-volume work and installations were the Koran, the Bible or the Torah? Art and ethics are rarely happy bedfellows. Is there such a thing as “responsible art” that does not run afoul of the principle of the creative spirit or the integrity of art? Is art wholly without cultural, ethical or social contextual obligations?

This is why I like book art. It provokes just by coming into being. Its existence and appreciation are hard won.

Links on book art installations:

http://www.mymodernmet.com/profiles/blogs/10000-books-tom-bendtsen?context=tag-books  Tom Bendtsen

http://www.melissajaycraig.com/artwork/installation/library/library.html  Melissa Jay Craig

http://wp.me/p2AYQg-o4  Julie Dodd

http://www.mymodernmet.com/profiles/blogs/list/tag/installation?page=30 Flux Foundation

http://www.refordgardens.com/english/festival/garden-91-jardin-de-la-connaissance.php?EC=1#  Thilo Folkerts and Rodney Latourelle

http://www.blouinartinfo.com/news/story/1129157/bookworm-samuel-levi-jones-at-the-studio-museum-in-harlem  Samuel Levi Jones

http://wp.me/p2AYQg-Lu Anselm Kiefer

http://www.matejkren.cz/cs/passage/  Matej Krén

http://www.anoukkruithof.nl/work/enclosed/  Anouk Kruithof

http://www.mymodernmet.com/profiles/blogs/list/tag/installation?page=30  Miler Lagos

http://www.mymodernmet.com/profiles/blogs/luzinterruptus-literature-vs-traffic-light-in-winter   Luzinterruptus

http://sfcb.org/blog/2011/09/26/alicia-martin/  Alicia Martín

http://inhabitat.com/spiraling-tower-of-babel-made-from-30000-donated-books-pops-up-in-buenos-aires/  Marta Minujin

http://wp.me/p2AYQg-yP  Math Monahan

http://www.mymodernmet.com/profiles/blogs/jan-reymond-rosace-book-sculpture-installations  Jan Reymond Rosace

http://www.mymodernmet.com/profiles/blogs/mike-stilkey-full-of-smiles-and-soft-attentions  Mike Stilkey

http://www.mymodernmet.com/profiles/blogs/book-hive-new-giant-interactive-book-display  Rusty Squid

http://inhabitat.com/liu-weis-chaotic-cities-are-made-of-stacks-upon-stacks-of-recycled-text-books/  Liu Wei

http://wp.me/p2AYQg-qJ     Vita Wells

http://wp.me/p2AYQg-pq  Wendy Williams

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Bookmarking Book Art – Francisca Prieto (II)

Prieto, London 1827 (i)

London 1827 takes us back in time, unfolding the nineteenth-century city before us. In a fluttering of pages we are cast among the grand stone of new buildings, under bridges, along the paths of Regents Park, up to a long-forgotten skyline – an elegant rising of church spires. — Francisca Prieto, Between Folds

Prieto, London 1827In August 1827,  William Blake’s family walked along these London streets in the cool of the buildings’ shadows to the site of an unmarked grave in Bunhill Fields in the Borough of Islington. If the mind’s eye lets the spectator step into those shadows, the metallic edging of the folds in this work recalls Blake’s invention of relief etching on copper plate to enable the “Illuminated Printing” of his “Illuminated Books”.  Where the eye passes Lincoln’s Inn Fields, Blake’s apprenticeship springs to mind — for 50 guineas to an architectural prints engraver (James Basire, 1730–1802) for the tasks of polishing the plates, sharpening the gravers, preparing the surfaces for the acid, guiding the graver’s bite through the copper and, eventually, creating the sketches for the plates in Richard Gough’s Sepulchral Monuments in Great Britain

Prieto, London 1827 (ii)Gradually becoming aware of Prieto’s painstaking mathematical precision and calculation to expose between the folds just the right text and illustrations from London and its Environs in the Nineteenth Century by Thomas H. Shepherd, published the month before Blake’s death, the flâneur of London 1827 might wonder whether Blake would have cast Prieto’s lot in with those of Newton, Locke and Bacon, his sterile scientific materialists.  But no, Blake praised the unity of art and science:

“What is the Life of Man but Art & Science?” (Jerusalem, plate 77)

“Art & Science cannot exist but in minutely organized Particulars, and not in generalizing Demonstrations of the Rational Power.” (Jerusalem plate 55: line 62).

Prieto’s works consist of these “minutely organized Particulars” and, being so, they bring the viewer to “Life” and assert their place in the tradition of book art.

See also Bookmarking Book Art – Francisca Prieto (I) and www.blankproject.co.uk.

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Bookmarking Book Art – The Banff Centre, Paul D. Fleck Library & Archives

From Alberta, Canada

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now added to BooksOnBooks’ blogs followed.

The Paul D. Fleck Library & Archives at The Banff Centre has over 4,000 artists’ books and multiples. Inspired by Ed Ruscha’s seminalbook “Every Building on the Sunset Strip”, we will display every item in the collection in a case in the library, rotating through 15 items weekly. Here you will find a photo log documenting the items, chosen randomly for display. Click through on any photo for title and creator caption.

For more information and full catalogue records for the items pictured, visit banffcentre.ca/library/.

Kudos to book artist Jaye Fishel for setting up Every Item in the Artists’ Books Collection and to Silvio Lorusso for the interview with Fishel.

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Bookmarking Book Art – Mending Pages

M4qPagG - ImgurR6fTbxTmpG4XVO - ImgurWilliam Dean Minter, Senior Book Conservator in the Digitization and Preservation Department at Pennsylvania State University drew my attention to these images. At first, they reminded me of passages in Annie Tremmel Wilcox’s A Degree of Mastery, in which she describes mending rare books with kozo paper under the hawkeye of the late Bill Anthony. Then, dreamcatchers sprang to mind. DreamcatcherWhat were the images, sounds and thoughts caught in words now missing on these pages, words slipped from the dreamcatching pages? But book artist Esther Kibby, who teaches photography, graphic design and web design at the Art Institute of Dallas in Texas, came up with the most telling association: kintsugiKintsugi

Kintsugi (or kintsukuroi) is a Japanese method for repairing broken ceramics with a special lacquer mixed with gold, silver, or platinum. The philosophy behind the technique is to recognize the history of the object and to visibly incorporate the repair into the new piece instead of disguising it. The mastery of the book restorer is to invisibly repair the book. Our “dreamcatcher” restorer seems to have in mind the kintsugi philosophy and lets the repair draw attention to itself and creates “a new piece”.

In the hands of a book artist, such a technique could generate ironic expressions of biblioclasm: the restored book that is no longer a book? Or echoes of Walter Benjamin’s presumption of and preoccupation with the modern world’s fragmentary nature? Or the pain and sorrow of Al-Mutanabbi Street?

Bettina Pauly, The Sun that Rises, 2013

Bettina Pauly, The Sun that Rises, 2013.  Made for An Inventory of Al-Mutanabbi Street.

 

Or a tongue-in-cheek answer to those horrified by the destruction of “the book”?

When the Japanese mend broken objects, they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold. They believe that when something’s suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful. —Barbara Bloom

 

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Bookmark – Aldus Manutius, 6 February 1515 – 6 February 2015

Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, Venice: Aldine Press, 1499.

Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. Venice: Aldine Press, 1499.

Late afternoon before the long worn wooden benches in the Bodleian’s Convocation Hall, 500 years after the death of Aldus Manutius, Oren Margolis served his audience well, providing them with a richer appreciation of the “finest printed book of the entire Renaissance”* – the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili – and of its publisher Aldus Manutius.

Drawing our attention to the more sculptural qualities of Venetian Renaissance printed books over the Florentine and to the  evidence of the humanist agenda that drove Manutius, he led us to the page where Poliphilo (lover of all things, but in particular Polia, the ideal woman pursued to the end of the book) stands before a carving that foreshadows the Aldine Press device: a dolphin entwined around the shank of an anchor. The Aldine Press device was inspired by a similar image on an ancient Roman coin given by Pietro Bembo to Aldus, who wrongly associated it with Augustus and his proverb “Make haste slowly” and adopted both for his printing and publishing business.

Erasmus praised Aldus, saying that he was “building a library which knows no walls save those of the world itself”. Five hundred years after Aldus’s death, publishers continue to make haste slowly – at least in the eyes of most of their authors – and this has led many to try their hand at self-publishing over the internet. Now, the walls of that analog “world itself” have fallen. The Digital Public Library of the World beckons. But arriving there, will we – like Poliphilo in concluding his struggle to possess Polia – wake to find that it was all a dream?

For all of 2015, the world can enjoy a multitude of celebrations of the contribution of Aldus Manutius to publishing, printing and the book. The Manutius Network 2015  provides a running list, links for some of which are provided below, including the online exhibition associated with Margolis’s talk.

 

 

 

See the New York Times coverage here

*Alexander Lawson. The Anatomy of a Typeface. Jaffrey, NH: Godine, 1990. 

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Bookmarking Book Art – Helen Douglas

Helen Douglas, In Mexico: in the garden of Edward James, 2014 (reviewed in Der Tagesspeigel)

Helen Douglas, In Mexico: in the garden of Edward James, 2014 (reviewed in Der Tagesspeigel)

Helen Douglas has been kind enough to forward the notice above of her most recent work – In Mexico: in the garden of Edward James Based on her invited residency in Mexico City, this concertina book takes the viewer through Edward James’ jungle garden Las Posaz, its buildings and staircases, James’ surreal imagination and, best of all, Douglas’s own imaginative experience of them. See the interview at BookArtBookBlog that preceded the work’s unveiling at the London Art Book Fair at the Whitechapel Gallery and Berlin Art Book Fair.

When I go to Weproductions, the website of founding partners, Telfer Stokes and Helen Douglas, it is like taking a walk in Yarrow, Scotland, taking the measure of paper samples between forefinger and thumb, browsing in a bookstore, lingering in an art gallery. Two of Helen Douglas’s works in particular elicit this: The Pond at Deuchar (2013) and A Venetian Brocade (2010) .

Helen Douglas, The Pond at Deuchar, 2013 © Helen Douglas. Artist’s acknowledgment to Armadillo Systems (www.armadillosystems.com)

Was it London Book Fair where I first saw this bookwork, appwork, scrollwork … this work of art?  What you see above leads you to the app. Clive Philpott’s postscript to this work, featured on Weproductions and published by the Tate, offers all the background and appreciation of the work you need to read. Read it, then go to The Pond at Deuchar*, lean forward and trail your fingers through its waters. A Venetian Brocade equally makes the act of looking tactile and the act of touching insightful. I have my copy, so I am happy to urge anyone with a pair of eyes and hands to go and buy one of the few remaining.

You will see how these two strong works lead to In Mexico: in the garden of Edward James and wonder, where next?

Helen Douglas and Marina Warner, A Venetian Brocade, Weproductions, 2010

Helen Douglas and Marina Warner, A Venetian Brocade, Weproductions, 2010

See also JMW Turner, “Deuchar Old Bridge, Near Yarrow, Selkirkshire, 1834″ from The Edinburgh Sketchbook, 1831-34.

See also Joseph Brodsky, Watermark (New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1992).

… bipeds go ape about shopping and dressing-up in Venice for reasons not exactly practical; they do so because the city, as it were, challenges them. We all harbor all sorts of misgivings about the flaws in our appearance, anatomy, about the imperfection of our very features. What one sees in this city at every steep, turn, perspective, and dead end worsens one’s complexes and insecurities. That’s why one—a woman especially, but a man also—hits the stores as soon as one arrives here, and with a vengeance. The surrounding beauty is such that one instantly conceives of an incoherent animal desire to match it, to be on par. This has nothing to do with vanity or with the natural surplus of mirrors here, the main one being the very water. It is simply that the city offers bipeds a notion of visual superiority absent in their natural lairs, in their habitual surroundings. That’s why furs fly here, as do suede, silk, linen, wool, and every other kind of fabric.

See also The Secret Life of Edward JamesGeorge Melly’s documentary film from 1975.

*Deuchar is pronounced “dew-ker”, the “k” as in “loch”.
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