On one hot, humid North Carolina day, I had the pleasure of stepping into Scott Hazard’s workshop behind his home in Raleigh to talk to him about his artwork — in particular, Endless Sea and Rise, which had caught my attention on his site.
Looking at Endless Sea, you might think of Robert Frost’s poem “Neither out far nor in deep”, where the people looking at the sea
… cannot look out far.
They cannot look in deep. But when was that ever a bar To any watch they keep?“
Or looking at Rise, another of what Hazard calls his “text constructs”, and its brilliantly white Canson’s archival paper Edition, you might recall Wallace Stevens’ “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”, where
Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.
By making the viewer’s eye move from layer to layer — looking in, through and side to side — Hazard’s work achieves a sense of movement. But somehow, despite or because of that, a sense of stillness takes over. When I noted the Zen-like sense of stillness I felt from the two works, Hazard showed me a photo of the Fushimi-Inari torii, whose influence on his art is clear, and spoke of how the creation of the text constructs — stamping the same word in archival black ink in precisely the right spot on carefully torn sheets of paper, then placing each sheet one behind another in wooden lattice boxes to create landscapes — is Zen-like in itself.
This idea — that the creative process, artistic result and the beholder’s response coincide — flirts with what the last century’s New Critics scorned as the “intentional fallacy” (assessing a work by the creator’s intent). What the New Critics had not experienced was the self-reflexiveness or recursiveness of minimalist, conceptualist, performative, land, and text (or book) artists’ works. By virtue of their fusion of text/image/structure, Endless Sea and Rise are intentionally recursive.
So, here is another statement of intent: In the context of America’s and the West’s complex, conflicted sense of nature and the wilderness, Hazard says that, where once the aim of gardens seemed to be to wall out wilderness, he finds himself seeking to bring the wilderness into the enclosed. Hazard’s comment reminded me of what the book artist Joan Lyons once said to Cathy Courtney in the late 90s:
Life needs some translation and transformation to become art. I’ve always visualized the point at which personal consciousness encounters the phenomenal world as experiential screen or filter that separates the interior from the exterior, the personal from the public space. It is very much like a garden I once visited with a great lawn and tidy rows of annuals that hovered eight thousand feet on the edge of the Rocky Mountains. The place where garden and wilderness meet is the place where creative work is born and where work exists. (Cathy Courtney, Speaking of Book Art, 1999, p. 52)
In assessing Hazard’s work as “the place where garden and wilderness meet” — or “the place where creative work is born and where work exists” — I am picking up on the artist’s intention as reflected in material aspects of the work and in how the artist/work is manipulating my faculties of perception. To understand better Hazard’s artwork and its effect, I followed up my visit with a series of questions.
BoB: Can you walk me through the process of preparing the structures? What kind of tools? How long does it take?
SH: I use soft maple or ash wood for the bulk of the structures I make. For a piece like Rise or Endless Sea I start with rough cut ash, mill the wood using a small jointer and planer, and then cut the slats for the multiple frames using many passes on a table saw to rip the wood. I then clean these up on the planer, cut miter joints with a chop saw, glue and then sand all sides. The additional wood pieces that hold the individual frames in place are made with ash also – I cut the dados with a dado blade so the frames fit snugly in the dados. The more simple box like frames I make are typically soft maple. These are made with all of the same tools. I have not kept close track of time spent on the production of my work but estimate a piece like Endless Sea might take 30+ hours for the wood elements. The smaller box frames might take 3 to 5 hours each – I typically make these in batches so there is some efficiency built in. Some of the larger boxes or frames for pieces such as Read This Line are fabricated by an excellent furniture maker in Raleigh that I like to work with.
BoB: And the process of preparing the paper, stamping it, fixing to the structure, etc.?”
SH: After sketching the concept for the work and then drawing the piece to scale, I then cut the multiple sheets of paper and backing/spacing materials to size. After all of the sheets are prepared I create a template for the text if necessary, and then proceed to carefully apply the words to the first sheet. Once the desired form and texture is on the sheet, I sketch the outline of the hole to be torn in the sheet and then carefully tear it. I cut a larger hole in the backing material and insert both into the frame to assess. I then remove the sheet from the frame and trace the outline of the first hole onto the back of the second sheet. I then repeat the process for the second and all remaining sheets, assessing the development of the work to make minor adjustments along the way to completion.
On larger pieces it has taken me over 2 hours per sheet/layer in the composition. On smaller pieces, depending on the complexity of the form and amount of text, it can take anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes per sheet. My most recent pieces have had 25 to 45 layers – a small one might take 20 to 40 hours for the production of the paper sculpture. Time spent on concept, concept development, and installing it in the structure are on top of that and add anywhere from 6 to 20 hours per work.
BoB: Which artists and landscape architects have influenced you – early and later?
SH: Artists who have had a significant influence on my thinking and work include Robert Irwin, Robert Smithson, Nancy Holt, and Vito Acconci. I am a big fan of Acconci’s early poetry/concrete poetry and the architectural/built work he had focused on since the 1980’s. Additional artists that have influenced me include Aldwyth, John Cage, Martin Puryear, Oskar Fischinger and Jackie Winsor. I often refer to the Hudson River School painters and traditional Japanese garden design.
Designers and (landscape) writers that have had impacts on the evolution of my work and understanding of the natural and built worlds include James Wines/SITE, Rudolph Schindler, JB Jackson, Anne Whiston Spurn and Peter Schaudt. I was fortunate to have had the chance to work with Mr. Schaudt as a consultant on a few landscape projects over a span of about 10 years – the sense of restraint in his work grounded in an intuitive and tacit understanding of landscape, as well as his enthusiastic and collaborative demeanor were a big influence.
I had a lot of fantastic instructors in my undergraduate studies, but two professors from that time were very important in opening doors and exposing me to a lot of visual art that was new to me at the time; Terry Hargraves (architecture) and Gary Dwyer (landscape architecture). Both helped me drastically expand my notions of what space and landscape could be, and fostered my interest in the exploration of how materials and ideas can inform and articulate space and landscape.
BoB: Some of your “photo constructs” — for example, Introjection: Education — echo the very title of the Acconci studio’s 2012 digital animation “WHEN BUILDINGS MELT INTO AIR & THE AIR RE-FORMS INTO BUILDINGS”, but I am curious: How did text come to play the role it plays in your more three-dimensional work? After all, despite the trompe l’oeil, the photo constructs are two dimensional; words and letters are creatures of the two-dimensional page or screen; landscape and architecture generally do not feature words and letters — certainly not in the way your paradoxical enclosure of paper landscapes within wooden lattice-work boxes features them. From where did your distinctive use of text come?
SH: With a background in landscape design and construction, I tend to look at the physical built world as a manifestation of ideas. Every building, built landscape, piece of furniture, tool, article of clothing, pencil, etc. exists initially as an idea. Whether the idea is drawn as a rough sketch, explained in detail, or carefully drafted, reviewed and vetted before anything is built – it is providing the direction for the physical realization. Even something like a protected forest or national park, as untouched as it might be, essentially exists the way it is because someone had the idea at some point in time to protect that place. In this sense everything we perceive and experience is a mix of physical reality and information. (We can go deep into a rabbit-hole (or the matrix) on this topic, but I’ll try to keep this brief…)
With this in mind, I am very keen on how the information we absorb from many, many sources, in turn informs how we perceive the world, and to a large extent what we perceive in the world. Text, whether a poem, novel, essay or song lyric, can obviously articulate ideas, and can articulate space as well. In Walden, Thoreau wrote about people being able to read and understand the landscape. Most people don’t have the skill set or temperament in this era in the same way Thoreau might have fashioned his own perceptual skills, but we are still reading our environment, most of us with minds overflowing with stimulus and information.
My aim with my text-based work is to create an experience that allows people to read in space – the content of the text informs how the viewer might perceive the sculptural elements in the piece, and the forms of the piece affect how the text reads also. I am exploring how text can become as much of a material as any of the physical matter incorporated into the work.
BoB: What is the earliest exposure to art that you can recall from childhood and adolescence?
SH: I don’t recall a lot of significant experiences with art in my childhood years – other than what I might have seen in history museums or pop culture, visual art was not really on my radar. In high school I was exposed to a number of forms of art through an excellent humanities course. My exposure to visual art increased significantly in may late teens and early twenties through landscape architecture, architecture and fine art courses I enrolled in. My interest in art really took hold in the last two years of my undergraduate education, and steadily increased from there.
Two installations I experienced around this time had a big impact in solidifying my drive in visual art. One was The eyes of Gutete Emerita by Alfredo Jaar. I can’t forget the visceral effect this piece had on so many people who experienced it. A work of art can’t ever relay the complete magnitude and protracted horror of something like the Rwandan genocide, but Mr. Jaar managed to succinctly and poetically capture a brief but intimate glimpse of one person’s story, while also conveying the immensity of the genocide.
The other piece that I have vivid memories of is “1° 2° 3° 4°,” by Robert Irwin. Installed at the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego, Mr. Irwin had three rectangles cut in the windows overlooking the coast. Each hole cut in the windows effectively became an aperture for viewing and tacitly connecting people with the environment, in this case the coastal breeze and sound of the ocean, outside.
BoB: There is a technically unusual chromatic effect in text constructs like Rise, where the intensity of the black ink is modulated in a way that works strikingly with the shadow from one layer of paper to the next. Do you recall what led you to blending the chiaroscuro effects of one material with another?
SH: To heighten the effect of the text flowing and dissipating from the back of the piece to the front, the text at the back and top of the work is much more dense and dark versus the lighter gray and graduates to a much less dense text at the bottom and front. Moving from front to back, layer by layer the density and darkness of the text increases until the paper is nearly solid black at the rear of the piece which is also the darkest part of the work. The interaction of light with the work is paramount and helps reinforce the rhythm found in the multiple layers of paper. I am intent on trying to pull the viewer perceptually into the work to heighten a sense of focus and departure. The interaction of lighter and darker areas of light on the layers of paper encourages the viewer to track their vision into the space in the work layer by layer. Ideally this provides both an invitation to delve in and also a sense of mystery.
BoB: You mentioned that you are experimenting with repurposing printed book pages in your constructs. Can you tell me more about that? Will you combine that material with the archival paper or replace the archival paper entirely? What prompted the experimentation?
SH: Yes, this has been an interesting and slightly different strain of work I have been pursuing. I have been interested in experimenting with and developing work with portions of pages from books, periodicals and catalogues for a few years. About a year ago a curator I enjoy meeting with suggested trying the use pages from books in my work so I put some more energy into this body of work. It has been a fascinating, slight diversion from the ink stamp based text work I have been focused on lately , and the used books I have been collecting over the past couple of years have been great catalysts for new pieces and great sources for words used in my other text based work.
BoB: Are there other materials beckoning for experimentation?
SH: Of course! I am still focused on the many, many possibilities I see in the wood/paper/ink/text based work and how that will evolve, but I would love to work with steel, stone, concrete and other landscape oriented materials at a larger scale.
BoB: You mentioned that, with your text constructs, you seem to be cycling back to fewer layers as in Intermediate and Landscape Meditation or flatter objects like your photo construct Reaching Branch compared to Rise and Endless Sea. What lies behind this return? Technical, conceptual, textural effect, chromatic effect?”
SH: The recent move back to work that is more shallow than the deeper text based work I have been making is focused on conceptual and technical aspects of the work. I love the spaces that can be created in the deeper works like Rise and Endless Sea. I am also very interested in exploring the interplay between the use of text and the forms/voids housed in the physical work. Using text to help articulate a physical and conceptual space, and shaping forms and space in the work to in turn impact the reading of the text is a very large part of what drives my thinking and energy in developing the text-based work. Making the work more shallow is in many ways very challenging – it forces the composition in each work to be more concise and focused.
BoB: The installation shown on your site must have been even more striking live. Do you have plans for future installations? How does creating the timebound experience of installations compare with creating more permanent sculptures? ”
SH: Thank you for your comments! Yes, I do have plans for future installations but nothing immediate. I am often on the lookout for projects or venues to do an installation. It is exciting to literally envelop the viewer in a space where passing through the space impacts how the space and work is perceived. As you reference above, I consider each piece I make to ‘function’ and be experienced much like a garden (whether 4 inches wide or 400 feet (or meters) wide they are spaces for exploration, meditation and/or a moment of respite). The text in my work is composed to be read in conjunction with movement – to be read in space. Larger, installation scaled work allows for the physical immersion of the viewer as they pass through the space along with the perceptual immersion that can come from simply viewing a work from a single point in space. This notion brings us back to Japanese gardens, which were often designed to be experienced by passing through them.
Although not an installation, Hazard’s latest exhibition echoes his concluding comment above and takes me back to that moment of stepping
from his workshop back into the Piedmont heat: I immediately began to yearn for one of his installations in whose cool I could immerse myself. Character Space remains on display in Gallery 2 at Artspace until 27 January 2018.
Sam Winston’s Darkness Visible at the Southbank Centre aims to give its “viewers”/participants a taste of what the artist has experienced during seven-day stretches of living and working in his studio plunged in total darkness. Despite the title being taken from one of the best of blind John Milton’s lines in Paradise Lost (“No light, but rather darkness visible Served only to discover sights of woe.”), Winston’s work has little to do with blindness and even less so with hell.
Come along and see.
The weighted black curtain I pushed aside swept quickly closed behind me. I fumbled to find the parting in the second black curtain and, briefly switching on then off the flashlight provided by the attendant, found my place on a bench in darkness. Two young women stifled nervous giggles as we waited for the first recorded poet to speak. It was surprising how time seems to stretch in the darkness.
It seemed a long time before my eyes’ biophotonic activity from staring and blinking settled down. Then my peripheral vision picked up a leak of light in the lower right hand corner of the booth. At first I felt an urge to turn toward the light, but then an urge to look up and to the left toward more profound darkness took over. I thought of holding up my hand in front of my face, but did not. I wanted to see the dark, not what I knew I couldn’t see. I wondered why my ears also seemed, at first, to want a silence as profound as the dark but then accepted almost any sound as part of the darkness.
George Szirtes began to speak his twelve strophes of plain lines, at least the ones that were not muffled seemed plain (“I have not talked about blindness./ I can’t see how I could”) and reminded me in the darkness of Wallace Stevens’ “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” (“It was evening all afternoon”). Then silence, broken by a train or trains crossing the Thames. Kayo Chingonyi, second to speak, intoned words of praise, again difficult to follow on this one-off hearing, which allowed another poem to intrude, W.S. Merwin’s “For the Anniversary of My Death” and its last line “And bowing not knowing to what”. Then silence, broken by an announcement from the nearby auditorium telling theatre-goers to return to their seats and an airliner passing. Emily Berry, the third poet, innovated with a snatch of the hymn “Jerusalem” and uhms and uhs to mimic her words groping in the dark against a “continuous hum” and finally stopped mid sentence, the overall effect being to evoke Denise Levertov’s “O taste and see“. Another silence, now broken by a child squealing (laughing or shrieking?) somewhere in the building, by more giggling until one then the other young woman parted the curtains to leave, breaking the darkness briefly. My eyes “readjusted” to the dark — that is, accepted it and again looked into it without seeking light. I re-membered in it half the image I’d seen of the recently invented carbon nanotubes surface. If you wondered, as I did, how the artist managed
the unrelenting darkness for a week, he has written about it here and spoken of it here.
Being reminded of other poems in the darkness, I was also reminded of two other artists (Maloney and Beuys) who had locked themselves away in pursuit of creativity. So I wondered whether there was a some tradition of this and, on the train home, searched and found:
Het Observatorium’s Dwelling for Seclusion — New York (1997), “a pavilion erected in the gardens of Snug Harbor Cultural Center on Staten Island, New York City, [that] arose from the desire to place art at the service of an individual experience of quietness, seclusion and prolonged observation”;
Alan O’Cain’s Hunting Schiele (2012), drawings, writings and a web recording of their creation during the artist’s overnight stay, locked in the cell where Egon Schiele was imprisoned in Neulengenbach in 1912.
In a way, Sam Winston is Walt Whitman-like — expansively absorbing this tradition and its future: like those of Maloney, Beuys and O’Cain, Winston’s “aktion” has yielded tangible works of his own in multiple forms; like Het Observatorium, Winston has created a participative space for its audience and invited creators. How will any artists ever close themselves off, invite others in, without taking account of Darkness Visible?
Yet, he is utterly unlike Whitman: in the non-egocentric generosity of Darkness Visible, rooted in a genius for sharing, evident in the planned immersive performance with photographer Andy Sewell, composer Jamie Perera and film-maker Anna Price (with live readings by poets Emily Berry, Kayo Chingonyi and George Szirtes) scheduled for 11 January 2018 at the Whitechapel Gallery. Somehow Winston’s “darkness visible” is not an invitation to influence, just an invitation to creativity.
Where this generosity and genius come from is hard to say, but it seems hardly an accident that much book art and many artists’ books have been the fruit of collaborative effort.
The exhibition “Designing English” at the Bodleian’s Weston Library (1 December 2017 — 22 April 2018) showcases almost 100 of Oxford’s medieval manuscripts, objects and books illustrating graphic design and the book arts.
Jules Allen was kind enough to provide additional photographs and some background on the making of Pilgrim Shoe.
Guided by the anthology of possible texts, I made Pilgrim Shoe in response to Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. The following points in the brief inspired me:
Where and on what should you write if you seek ‘to do things with words’?
Does form always fit function? Does a function only have one form?
Is looking more sensuous than reading?
I approached the project from the perspective of a Medieval Cordwainer seeking to attract wealthy customers and found that although it was common practice to decorate shoes by engraving or cutting patterns into the leather, other forms of decoration were rare during Medieval times. An inventive Cordwainer might have thought of personalising shoes for specific purposes or events using text, images, or even a charm for luck.
With this in mind I made a Poulaine style shoe with wooden patten specifically for Chaucers’ ‘The Lady of Bath’, who may have been attracted by the decorated shoe both as a unique, sensuous status symbol and a map with which to find her way from London to Canterbury. Such a shoe might have been admired or found useful by fellow pilgrims en-route, and with a recipe for love (from the Anthology of texts) concealed within the rein-forced heal, perhaps she might attract a new husband during her pilgrimage.
I hand painted images and added calligraphic text on the shoe. The place references from London to Canterbury were researched using various historical sources including the Gough Map http://www.goughmap.org/about/
Materials: Leather, artificial sinew, watercolour and acrylic paint, calligraphers ink, wood. paper, metal studs, starch paste and wax
Dimensions: L30cm W10cm H16cm
Paper charm: Selected from a section on Medical Remedies and Charms from the 1400’s for the concealed charm written by hand on paper, housed in the heal of the shoe.
Credits also to Ernst Allen for the wooden patten and Eileen Gomme for the passage of calligraphy on the paper charm.
Selected for the 2017 Manly Library Artists’ Book Award exhibition in New South Wales, Australia, The Future of an Illusion by Helen Malone and Jack Oudyn demonstrates an effective collaboration in a field of art densely populated with — almost defined by — collaborative efforts:
Edouard Manet and Stéphane Mallarmé; Bertrand Dorny and Michel Butor; Dorny and Michel Deguy; Barbara Fahrner and Kurt Schwitters; Ron King and Roy Fisher; Telfer Stokes and Helen Douglas; the Art + Language Group (Terry Atkinson, David Bainbridge, Michael Baldwin, Ian Burn, Harold Hurrell, Joseph Kosuth, Christine Kozlov and Mel Ramsden); Tom Rollins + K.O.S.; Julie Chen and Clifton Meador; and Chen and Barbara Tetenbaum.
That list is by no means comprehensive nor representative – chronologically or categorically — but it flags the strength of the tradition. One pair that is particularly apropos for Malone and Oudyn is Sonia Delaunay and Blaise Cendrars. Over a century ago and half a world away, they collaborated on La Prose du Transsibérien et de la Petite Jehanne de France, also in the leporello, accordion or concertina format. Malone writes that it “has always been very influential generally on my work.”
Cendrars as poet and publisher and Delaunay as painter were interested in achieving what they called simultaneisme, or a “simultaneous book.” They wanted to create a form of art in which painting and text could be united in expression. Delaunay painted the left column of color and abstract shapes guides us through the text, which is set in various typefaces, allowing for movement as the reader mimics the journey across the page as described in the train ride in the poem. Claire Kelly, Melville Books
The Future of an Illusion springs from two imaginations struck by two literary works: Sigmund Freud’s eponymous book on belief in an afterlife and Jim Crace’s novel Being Dead.
It delivers an emotional simultaneity that echoes the different kind of simultaneity Sonia Delaunay and Blaise Cendrars achieved. Malone and Oudyn have the advantage of their subject — death, decay and the afterlife — that provokes simultaneously conflicting emotions and states of mind. Fear, humor, sorrow, hope, despair, etc.
The choices of two texts, the double leporello and techniques — and the way they are applied — play with that emotional simultaneity beautifully. The use of Crace’s text (and the “reverse-ekphrastic” influence of the whole novel, which documents the decomposition of a dead body left in nature) adds to the work’s physicality. The choice of title from Freud’s book centers the artwork’s perspective on death — the void toward which the central tunnel leads.
The Future of an Illusion appeared in exhibition at Grahame Galleries in Paddington, Brisbane, and a copy resides in the collection at the State Library of Queensland.
Where to go to compare and contrast the book art in Germano Celant’s pioneering “catalogue” of the Nigel Greenwood Gallery exhibition in London (1972) with that of the last half century?
Being a sort of small and portable catalogue and curator’s explanation for the gallery’s exhibition of ca. 300 works, Celant’s Book as Artwork is arranged chronologically and then alphabetically by artist. Presumably it was organized to match the exhibition’s organization (note the year 1967 in upper left of the photograph below and the distinctive Hidalgo cover, fifth from the left). With no photographs of the works, Book as Artwork gives no easily accessible visual sense of the 300 works in that exhibition. If we had that starting visual touchpoint, it would be easier to “place” the period or individual works in relation to book art from the 80’s onward.
Stephen Bury’s Artists’ Books: The Book as a Work of Art, 1963 – 2000 (2015) includes, by design, only a handful of the artists and works selected for the Celano/Greenwood exhibition.
Lucy Lippard’s Six Years: The dematerialization of the art object from 1966 to 1972 (1973, 1997) — a “bibliography into which are inserted a fragmented text, art works, documents, interviews, and symposia, arranged chronologically” — comes as close as one might hope in black-and-white print for a starting visual touchpoint. Lippard’s scope, however, ranges beyond book art, so the number illustrated limits systematic visual comparison and contrast with the book art of the ensuing decades.
Phaidon’s Artists Who Make Books(2017) provides good coverage and bridges the 1960s to the 21st century. The essays and descriptions bring the book art off the page and into the mind’s hands.
Best of all is Lynda Morris’s mini-memoir of her role in organizing the Celant/Greenwood exhibition.
Germano had sent Nigel [Greenwood] a wonderful, arty handwritten letter in pink capitals … on December 22, 1970:
DEAR PUBLISHER I AM PREPARING FOR A NEW INTERNATIONAL MAGAZINE A COMPLETE ANTHOLOGY OF BOOKS MADE DIRECTLY BY ARTISTS.
…Nigel had met Germano and had his telephone number in Genoa. I was sitting beside him when he phoned and proposed Book as Artwork exhibition for September 1972. Germano immediately agreed.
For sources of book art since the close of the Celant/Greenwood exhibition, we are spoilt for choice. Print and digital, image-rich aggregations of book art abound. We can return to the Phaidon and Bury books. We can turn to the well-illustrated print and online publications from the Centre for Fine Print Research at the University of Western England, online library collections such as the MassArt Library or Chicago’s School of the Art Institute, the websites of dealers such as Zucker Art Books displaying their wares, the dozens of websites for recurring book art fairs such as International Artist’s Books Triennial Vilnius (1997 – present) and CODEX International Book Fair (2007 – present) and community sites suchas Artist Books 3.0. Present-day online access challenges Mallarmé’s dictum: ”Everything in the world exists to end up in a book.” Now it seems:
Everything in the world exists to end up on the web.
As far as that premise holds, this annotation and rearrangement of Celant’s bibliography — a “webliography” — offers an online starting point for connecting the book as artwork 1960/1972 with the book as artwork since. In providing some images of the works and links to images, the webliography offers anyone interested in book art the means to gain a more colored impression of the period’s book art. That the primary impression is still black and white underscores the impact of xerographic technology on artists then as well as that of conceptualism driven by text or photograph. A webliographic approach also offers the opportunity to link the book art of the Celant exhibition with book-oriented Web-art or Net-art such as that of Amaranth Borsuk, Taeyoon Choi, Gunnar Green, Johannes Heldén, Bernhard Hopfengärtner and many others referenced below.
The reorganization here of Celant’s and Morris’s list — by artist alphabetically then chronologically — makes it easier to see the curators’ tendencies in selection as well as the influence of practical factors. The curators’ selection is obviously more Western, less Eastern European and even less Middle Eastern and Asian. Individuals’ prodigality surely played a role in whom and what was included. As Morris’s essay in the Phaidon book reveals, the geographical proximity of works available to be chosen played a role; so, too, the influence of the then-contemporary art network played a role (Atkinson, Beuys, Celant, Dwan,Greenwood, Hansjorg Mayer, Walther König, Maenz, Siegelaub, Sperone and the many other personalities of the Art-Language, Arte Povera, Conceptualist and Fluxus movements); and even the size of suitcases and availability of transport for bringing the artwork into the UK played a role.
Generally the online links for the artists’/authors’ names lead to biographies, either in their official websites, Wikipedia or other news sources. Where an artist/author is listed multiple times, the links vary from instance to instance to provide a wider range of information about the individual and, in some cases (such as Dieter Rot’s), more images. The links behind the publishers’ names go to publishers’ websites or Wikipedia entries about them. The links that follow each entry resolve to images of the work, videos, audio, interviews or essays relevant to the work. For selected entries in Celant’s list, a compare/contrast takes the user to websites or works whose juxtaposition might shed light on the similarities or differences between the item in Celant’s list and book art of the subsequent decades.
The webliography also supports the haptically as well as digitally inclined. The links behind the titles of the works provide information on the nearest library location of the work (although not all titles could be located). Be sure to enter your own location and refresh the results. And when you visit, be sure to take a copy of Germano Celant’s little book, which, thanks to 6 Decades Books is possible by download and, thanks to online used-book sellers, can still be purchased in print.
Lole, Kevin; Smith, Paul. Handbook on Models. Coventry: Self-published, 1972. [Unable to locate a work of this title in WorldCat, but one with the title The Relativism of Emotion Handbook to the Model and same date of publication is described in Paul Robertson‘s “A Collection of Rare Art+ Language Books and Internal Documents – Many Unknown in Literature”, Gorebridge, Midlothian: Unoriginal Sins/Heart Fine Art, n.d.
30 x 21cm, 50pp (printed recto only) plus printed card covers. Xerox inner pages as issued. The first and only edition of this theoretical work based on a physical model (electro-shock, photo beams and electronic buzzers) acting as metaphor for analogue, theoretical and representative models. Cover is very minority marked on the front and back cover has a faint diagonal crease else VG++. From the archive of David Rushton who believes only 10 or fewer of this book was published.
“30 x 21cm, 16pp (recto only). White card covers – with offset title. A text published by Bischofberger from a theoretical document written by Kevin Lole, Philip Pilkington, David Rushton and Peter Smith (formerly Analytical Art and by this time fully regarded as members of Art & Language) which applied Thomas Kuhn’s theory of paradigm shift to art (the original theory by Kuhn being a view that revolutions in scientific thought only occurred when sufficient contrary evidence to the prevailing orthodoxy had mounted up and the original hypothesis could no longer explain the physical evidence emerging from empirical studies). It is worth noting that at this time Bischofberger bought a great deal of Art + Language material from the group and published other documents by them including some of the group’s rarest publications – storing many of the more three-dimensional works for later resale. Bischofberger did not print the books himself – rather Art and Language arranged design and publication in Coventry (for free using the University’s resources) and David Rushton drove the books over in a camper van to Switzerland (breaking down just on the edge of the city due to running out of petrol and having little money left, Rushton coasted the last mile down hill on an empty tank).
The limitations of these series of books are usually placed at c. 200 but Rushton remembers taking far fewer than that with him and this Analytical Art book was in fact only produced in 50 copies taken to Zurich plus a few retained by the artists in the UK.
That said this is one of ONLY 5 copies which were numbered in roman numerals (this one being III/V) and signed by ALL of the four writers in pencil on the first title page.”]
“30 x 21cm, 28pp carbon copy pages and printed cover. This was one of ONLY four copies made and published by the group – two copies being signed by David Rushton and Peter [sic] Pilkington and created from original typed sheets and two copies remaining unsigned and created (as here) using the carbon copies from the originals. These latter two examples were regarded by the group as artist’s proofs of the book. This is the only copy of this book available for sale anywhere as from the original four prices: one is in Paul Maenz’s archive and another two copies are in the hands of private collectors (who purchased them from ourselves). This copy is signed by David Rushton and Philip Pilkington and has been stamped on the inside front cover with the official Art & Language Stamp and also designated in blue ink “Second Copy”. Fine estate and clearly rare.”]
Renée Riese Hubert and Judd D. Hubert’s The Cutting Edge of Reading: Artists’ Books (Granary Books, 1999) is a signal work of appreciation and analysis of book art. Nearly twenty years on, it can be read and appreciated itself more vibrantly with a web browser open alongside it.
To facilitate that for others, here follows a linked version of the bibliography in The Cutting Edge of Reading — a “webliography”. Because web links do break, multiple, alternative links per entry and permanent links from libraries, repositories and collections have been used wherever possible. These appear in the captions as well as the text entries. Also included are links to videos relating to the works or the artists. At the end of the webliography, links for finding copies of The Cutting Edge (now out of print) are provided.
Ruston’s art celebrates the natural world and human spirit, inviting viewers “to follow, to unravel secrets, and to pay close attention to the world around them”.
Part of a series called Ocean Blue, the book She Returns uses a double concertina fold and ink on Fabriano watercolor paper to invite us to follow the image of a leatherback turtle making its way through the deep, which fluctuates between the depth of blue-black and the shallows of blue-white. The text reads
SheReturns BLACK and GLEAMING
in the Moonlight
her Primordial needs Roaming WaveWashedDreams.
Originating from the Tang dynasty (A.D. 618-908) in China as the Orihon, the concertina fold is also called the accordion fold and sometimes the leporello*. For “She Returns”, Ruston employs a variant of the binding approach in Figure 9. It is
essentially two pages folded together into a concertina fold, but in origami terms, the “mountain” fold of one page is inverted to a “valley” fold, which creates “small boxes” between the pages when the concertina is opened as seen below. The single signature of transparent paper with text is sewn into the centre page. It is bound by a simple stitch top and bottom of each fold.
Painted board covers were then attached.”The stitches at the top and bottom of the page work well as it allows some small movement of the two concertina folds. As I saturate it with water and ink it needs to be a bit more robust but this means it can be bulky when put together.”
The Bárðarbunga volcano in Holuhraun, Iceland, is active. From August 2014 to February 2015, it erupted for 181 days.
Ruston responded to that natural event with the work Holuhraun, 2014-2015.
The box contains “181 individually painted pages, signed and dated for each day the volcano erupted producing ‘new land’.”
Ruston’s Holuhraun reflects that duality of nature’s destructive creation and creative destruction. The sides of the box falling away mimic the volcano’s production of new land. But the work is more subtle than that; it implicates the viewers in that duality. In taking apart the closed object, we “create” or, at least, reveal another object of art.
Ice is the countervailing passion in Ruston’s art.
What a sight to wake up to on a cold winter’s morning – a blanket of thick frost over everything. Armed with camera, and a thick warm coat, I couldn’t resist taking a detour on my way to the studio. The air was still, the grasses and branches coated with ice crystals, all bathed in a soft gentle light. I spent a pleasant hour surrounded by the gentle rustle of ice crystals softly falling to the ground. (12/12/2012)
In response to her natural surroundings, as well as powerful films such as James Balog’s Chasing Ice (PBS, Nova, 2102) and installations like Olafur Eliasson’s Your Waste of Time (MoMA, New York, 2013), Ruston created Are We Listening?, a work of small pieces of handmade paper into which random text is incorporated and overlaid with transparent paper. Human time and earth time, destruction and creation, recurrently emerge as central themes in Ruston’s art whether touched by fire or ice.
In capturing these themes, The Great Gathering (2015) may be Ruston’s masterpiece — so far — in making visible how the world touches us, and how we touch the world. In this work, she has drawn her inspiration from ammonite fossils on display in the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, Cambridge, and the Colchester Natural History Museum. The Great Gathering first appeared as an installation at the Colchester Natural History Museum, which is housed fittingly — especially for this work — in a deconsecrated church.
Using the ammonites spiral shape as a starting point, these books represent the unfolding story of evolution. The humble ammonite is an abundant index fossil, easily recognised, and a regular feature in museum collections. Often associated with journeys, symbolically these particular fossils are believed to have absorbed the knowledge of the Universe from across the centuries.
Science and art are the presiding geniuses over many works of book art.
In The sciences of the artificial (1969), Herbert Simon emphasized: “The natural sciences are concerned with the way things are” and engineering, with the way things ought to be to attain goals. Like the scientist, the artist, too, is concerned with the way things are. They are the raw material with which the artist works or to which he or she responds. But like the engineer or the designer, the artist is concerned with the way things ought to be to make visible “the way things are”:
how a solander box ought to be constructed to operate with the work and, in enclosing it, be “the work”;
what materials (photos from the Hubble telescope) ought to be used to reflect a moment in time;
how thread, tape and stitch ought to be to hold together a spine that will flex and spiral into the shape of a fossil;
how the color of the material ought to be juxtaposed with the material’s altered shape to carry meaning;
how the shift from content to blankness ought to be juxtaposed with the material’s altered shape to carry meaning;
how the selection and alteration of text ought to be made to show the fixity and flux of knowledge and ourselves;
and how our reflection in the mirror in Volume VII under the maker’s tools and the made thing ought to implicate us — a theme echoed above by Holuhraun, 2014-2015 — in an ongoing process of making and remaking.
For her next invitation to the viewer to follow, unravel secrets and attend closely, Ruston is returning to the ocean.
Inspired by Philip Hoare’s Leviathan and his fascination with Melville’s Moby Dick, Ruston recently began research into whales and whaling logs for her next work. Like evolution, here is a subject of grandeur, expanse and time, even fire and ice. The sketchbook pages below tantalize. How will the artist, this time, make visible how the world touches us?
By its compressed and sealed form, reticulation and shifting colors, The First Cut evokes Ovid’s epic poem about “bodies which have been transformed into shapes of different kinds.” The words and stories of the three Loeb Library volumes are locked away beneath the bent covers in the penetrating and embracing furls and whorls of the pages. Much like the human cries and feelings of the subjects transformed into mute trees and senseless stones in Ovid’s tales of the awful and the tender, the terrifying and beautiful, the violent and loving.
The end-on image looks like a cross section of a tree, appropriate for the work material’s etymology: Old English bōc, Dutch boek, German Buch, and Gothic bōka. Highly appropriate, in fact, as the artist whimsically devised this form of sculpture as
a result of an ongoing series of work started in 2013 in which [she] inserted a sculptural book form into the cavity of a tree to simulate a whorl in a tree hollow. What was initially an artistic, whimsical gesture became one where conditions were set in action, and consequently, over time the books returned to their botanical origins and were gradually subsumed by nature. The books changed state; at first “painted’ by a natural patina of mold in which the colours mutated and muted over time. The forms then became petrified and wood-like, with traces of their former texts still present, but like cultural artifacts: positing how time, changing weather conditions, and insect activity would finally affect the narrative of the original work. As iconic vessels of culture, knowledge, and classification systems, WHORL resonates as an imprint on how we leave our mark on nature, and how nature eventually leaves its mark on us a larger, comprehensive system at work.
In the following commissioned work — based on Ovid’s Tristia — the artist has applied the technique from her 2007 inked series “… when [she] was also working with the sculptural and expressive qualities of paint and sumi-e ink. Referencing page layering, and the earlier faded ink fore edges of [her] Volumes series..this work invokes the meditative through the act of applying ink and obliterating meaning to create new meaning.”
The Tristia consists of letters and meditations that Ovid sent to Rome from Tomis on the Black Sea Coast, where the Emperor Augustus had exiled him for what Ovid mysteriously calls his carmen et error (poem and mistake). Silenda is from the Latin for “mysteries” and “that which must be kept silent.” The ink-saturated and unfurled pages of Silenda echo the poet’s black despair, the barrenness of exile, and the scarlet edging echoes his bleeding heart.
The sister work referred to in the caption is shown below.
In informal usage, nous means common sense or practical intelligence; in its more formal philosophical usage (from the Greek), it means the mind, intellect or intuitive apprehension. The artist’s alliance of title, technique and material here enriches the work but also presents the viewer of Nous and Silenda with questioning insight into book art.
Since the technique has blacked out the volume’s essays on central issues in metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of religion, philosophy of mind, and ethics, as well as debates over the value of philosophy and the meaning of life, of course there is “no why Here”. Rush Lee is an exceptionally witty artist, so I wonder whether the pun also arises from the absence of a section on Aesthetics in the Feinberg anthology.
But that’s not the main query that Nous and Silenda taken together prompt. Both works are so similar in appearance that they could be mistaken for one another. For book art in which the innovative technique yields such similarity of works, how should we react to pieces where meaningful distinction is implicit in such differences in the material used that can only be known from labels that may or may not accompany the works? If we were to switch the labels of these two works, would we “mis-appreciate” them?
I think we would. Despite the close technical similarities of these two works, my reaction to each is enriched by knowing those differences and matching the choice of title of the work to the material used. That is a lesson I would apply even to works titled “Untitled” — the lesson really being to look harder, even beyond the “why”.
Jacqueline has been working with books for fifteen years and is recognized for working with the book form. Her artworks are featured in blogs, magazines, books and international press. Selected bibliography include: BOOK ART: Iconic Sculptures and Installations Made from Books; PAPERCRAFT: Design and Art with Paper and PLAYING WITH BOOKS: The Art of Up cycling, Deconstructing, and Reimagining the Book. Jacqueline’s work will also be featured in Art Made from Books, Chronicle Press, 2013 by Laura Heyenga. … She exhibits her artwork nationally and internationally and her work is in private and public collections, including the Allan Chasanoff Book Under Pressure Collection, NY.
The Chasanoff collection connects Lee with Doug Beube, whose work has been noted here. Beube was the curator of the Chasanoff Collection from 1993 to 2011. In his interview with Judith Hoffberg in Umbrella, Vol 25, No 3-4 (2002), he comments on the purposes of Allan Chasanoff, a book artist in his own right, in putting together the collection The Book Under Pressure:
There are a number of ideas that meets Allan’s criteria in acquiring work, of which I’ll try to convey a couple. The first is; the problem of the book to perpetuate information is inefficient, it’s an obsolete technology due to the advent of the computer. Another premise is; at the latter part of the 20th century the book is being used for purposes other than its utilitarian design. Allan has been working extensively with computers and digital imaging since 1985 and understands that the book is as “an outdated modality”, he’s fond of saying. He’s not interested in the book decaying or in its destruction, nor is he referring to the content of books, artist’s books, production costs, mass appeal or where they get exhibited. His interest is in the book as an antiquated technology.
Lee’s process of kiln firing to transform individual books, as with the dictionary above, strikes a harmonious chord. The kiln does not reduce the book to ash but rather petrifies it. Another way of exploring “the book under pressure.” Lee’s and Beube’s work are brought together again by Paul Forte at the Hera Gallery for an exhibition entitled Transformed Volumes.
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
In 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.
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.
In the hands and mind of Anouk Kruithof, book art is made to sound intimate notes (Automagic, 2016) and grand notes (Enclosed Content Chatting Away in the Colour Invisibility, 2009 ongoing). She has packed so much art, enterprise and life into her life that it is hard to find sufficient time and resource to keep up with her activity. In 2017 and at the turn of 2018, a flurry of commentary arrived to mark her show ¡Aguas! at Foam Fotografiemuseum in Amsterdam. A fortunate effect of social media and the Web is that current news seems to pull retrospective links in its wake.
Here are some of the videos and sites featuring Kruithof, her activities and art:
At the end of a year when we have been reminded that creative works of merit often issue from the dungheap, The Guardian reports that Rome’s city council has decided to revoke the 8 AD exile of Publius Ovidius Naso. Ovid whiled away his time in the backwater of the Black Sea composing the Tristia and The Black Sea Letters, respectivelybewailing in couplets his condition and pleading with the recipients of his letters to intervene with the emperor.
We don’t know what “carmen et error” (poem and mistake) caused Augustus to banish Ovid. But should the city council have focused on the works rather than the man? Does great art justify “rehabilitation”? Who knows.
At least the news prompts a new look at Jacqueline Rush Lee‘s transformation of the Tristia and Black Sea Letters.
“Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World,” now appearing at the Guggenheim Museum in New York through January 7, 2018, includes work from Xu Bing and Huang Yong Ping. The exhibition attracted animal rights protestors and removal of works, one of which was Xu Bing’s video of his 1994 installation A Case Study of Transference. In a pen littered with books, Xu Bing presented two pigs, one tattooed with words in his now famous nonsense Chinese calligraphy and one with nonsense English words. The piece became infamous when the pigs, bored with the intercourse offered by the books, engaged in more mutually interesting discourse.
The exhibition also occasioned this article in “Art in America” by managing editor Richard Vine. He has held up art’s hard mirror to us all in this essay.
In the middle of a shelf in Diane Stemper’s Ohio home, Umberto Eco’s Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages sits bookended, on the left, by two books about Francis Bacon and, on the right, by a small monograph on Pierre Bonnard and another book Art and Culture of Japan. The books are not organized alphabetically or chronologically. When she pulls the book out, it feels perfect, not too thin or thick, its dimensions and weight ideal for carrying in a shoulder bag. It has a feeling of secrets and importance.
Since discovering Stemper’s work at the Center for Book Arts (New York, 2014), I have wanted to talk to her about the themes and material that drive that work. Art and science, paper and glass, the universal and the particular, ink and watercolor, the physical and the spiritual. We finally arranged it in medias res, and she agreed to this oblique approach to her mind and art.
BoB: As you open Art and Beauty to its mid-point, what do you hear, smell or see about it or around it?
DS: Well, not sure if you mean inside of the room I am in or the memory it conjures, so I will go with memory. The words “cathedral”, “Chartres”, “vestibule”, “allegory” take me from the immediate space of my front room to the interior of a European cathedral or even perhaps as a child to the pews of St. Paul Cathedral in Minnesota during midnight mass. There is the fragrance of incense, the dark light of an imposing building, chanting and mystery. There are also the many hands of craftsmen chipping away at stone, painting glass and the laborers who put it all together and probably were not treated all that well.
Then there is that word “parabolic” and Eco’s explanation of Aquinas’ description of the arts as being literal, that the poetic image and its meaning were in the mind of the “reader” and that this association was a “matter of habit” – this reminds me that I and my viewers have different habits of mind, from the museum visitors I once toured who loved Impressionism and were hostile to Rothko, to the viewers responding to my specimen series – “why are they dead, did you kill them, that’s icky”. Surface literalism can be a matter of what one is familiar with and fearful of what one does not understand, but it can also be a “way into a piece” if the viewer is willing.
BoB: At the end of his book, Eco sums up his explanation of how the medievals looked at art with this startling statement, “They saw the world with the eyes of God”. What of today’s viewers of art and, in particular, those who look at your art?
DS: When originally picking the book from the middle of the middle shelf and then opening it to the middle, that sentence you mentioned — “The association of an image with a certain meaning is a matter of habit” — leapt out. Eco was referring to the ability of people of the Medieval period to read an image as if it were a literary text, for example, knowing instantly which animals or colors represent which biblical figure or story. However, I am reading Eco’s words from my 21st century vantage point, where there isn’t necessarily a concrete set of universal meanings assigned to objects or colors that every person understands and knows.
He also writes that the medieval mind loved a puzzle, that it was part of public discourse to figure out symbols and the inherent meaning within images. That there was adventure in the act of discovery. And another phrase that struck me: “Grasping reality through sense knowledge.”
Today’s “matter of habit” is problematic when viewing art. For some of my pieces, in particular Universal Sample and my drawings and prints of specimens, the viewing can be rather cursory, a knowing, habitual glance that says, “oh I see what that is”. The glance sums up the object in very simplistic terms. In this case, for the viewer, the specimen represents death or some distasteful high school experience of dissecting a small creature, and nothing more. It is possible to look at visual art not just with visual sense but in partnership with other physical sensations conjured by the image. Looking at the work as if there is more than meets the eye, that there is an underlaying sensibility to the image that references another experience or feeling or bit of knowledge, a smell, a sound…or that of the animal or that of the instance in which the animal finds itself, or the moment that a curious person finds such an animal. Imagining that moment — “What was it like?”
So, I hope that people will approach my artwork with imagination and not as a matter of habit — to look at my work as if it is a bit of a puzzle, not a straightforward statement or concept but more of a string of thoughts, feelings and visual and sensate information to be arranged and rearranged to come to some sort of conclusion or idea about the meaning, however uncertain that may be.
BoB: Do you recall the circumstances of the book’s purchase? What were you doing when you decided to buy it?
DS: I absolutely remember. I was living in London with my spouse and family as part of a study abroad program my spouse was leading. Each day, after all were at school or otherwise occupied, I would head out in pursuit of art, medical museums, natural history oddities or any number of things and on one day I went to the British Library to see an exhibition, Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination. This was an exhibition of the several collections representing centuries of books commissioned by kings and queens and to my delight there were books on medicine, science and nature. After spending a very long time in the exhibition, I went to the gift shop where I found the Eco book. The extraordinary detail of the manuscripts I had just seen and the enormity of the exhibition itself put me in the mood to purchase the book.
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 or when revisiting the Eco book in particular?
DS: In general, when I am reading a book versus the screen of a device, I enjoy the structure of the book and understanding the manner in which it is assembled. The type of binding, the quality of paper, the action of the pages, do they lay flat or do they fight. I find the term “perfect binding” ironic as I am reading a book where the pages are falling out. I typically notice the condition of a book, faded covers, mildew or wear on the edges. Books with these qualities I feel a bit sorry for as I wonder where their next home will be, probably not my local library or the used book store, since here in Ohio, we haven’t many of those. Maybe they will live a short while at the Goodwill Thrift Store and from there, the recycle bin. Books are a bit like an endangered species and I am at times concerned that the youth (I have one at home) are only relating to books as they are required to do so at school and not as a place of refuge, ideas and travel. It is hard for books to compete with the ever-present screen and digital speed of information and interaction.
The Eco book in particular is a pathway back to London, to other centuries, to a time when art was the screen of the day and to the Royal manuscript exhibition. The books in the exhibition survived over centuries; the hours and hours of skill, artistry and dedication it took to not only create the books but to also preserve them gives me pause. The Eco book itself is not a great work of craftsmanship as an object, it is, after all, bound as a “perfect binding”. Still, it has not fallen apart yet, so the binders must have used a better-quality glue. Instead, the Eco book is a vessel of ideas and murmurs of what it meant to have art and beauty in one’s life hundreds of years ago. What are my intentions when opening a book? To be lifted away from the present, to enter another time period or another person’s circumstance or to be visually transported.
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?
DS: For my series on Darwin, all seemed to fall into a flawless moment. I happened upon dozens of petri dishes and had already been thinking about Darwin’s 200th birthday. It is an instance of form and content playing together without much conflict or negotiation. From that came many books that really seemed to define themselves both in structure and content.
My books built into petri dishes are a different viewing experience for people because the dish itself is so familiar and suddenly the viewer finds the dish in an unusual circumstance, that of being a book. People pause, take notice and naturally ask questions, they seem unleashed from any customary reaction or habit and are open to an idea. The dish is an entry to figuring out a puzzle and not a barrier, such as an image of a dead bird or a dissected lizard might be.
The first books (Cell: Compendium) were in direct response to various nearby communities that were pushing for “creationism” to be taught in the public schools. The petri dish is a universal item repositioned and viewers find it humorous, unique or “creative” and while some stop there, most people are prompted to go further. The recognition of the petri dish spurs and opens the door to more meaningful connections and interpretations.
Mostly however, when making my art work, initially the book structure is secondary, a simple vehicle for the content. Imagery, content, text and the oblique narrative story are primary and the development of the images and content are the key portions of my studio work. I use other books in my work, discarded textbooks and spines, for instance, that I take apart and rework. I also use books as reference, looking for a word or phrase, a bit of information to jumpstart a narrative about a topic I am interested in. I borrow science imagery to create and integrate with my own images. I am an observational artist and that includes observing via books as well as nature.
Once the content and images are in motion, the book structure comes into play and that is when the many possibilities of the structure interact with the content and it is really the most significant challenge of creating an artist book. I do not like to use book forms for the simple novelty of the structure or for the entertainment factor (for instance a pop-up or tunnel book) unless of course it really fits the topic. I want viewers to focus on the images and feeling or message of the work, so the book structure becomes, is, or should be a thoughtful object that houses an idea or an experience, it is in service to the artist, to the viewer, it invites the viewer in and then steps aside.
BoB: Let’s turn to Universal Sample in some more detail. I’d like to ask you to comment on the intersection between the words in Universal Sample (“universal” and “sample”, “chance” and “order”, “moment” and “decay”) as well as the intersection of the words with the prints, their color, the paper you used, and the star structure.
DS: First, let me say the entire book, the six images and the text, is meant to present obliquely a life cycle of early life forms. The images are inspired by my own source material comprised of many drawings of specimens that I did at the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons in London.
The title, Universal Sample, is singular and expansive. A sample is one bit of something larger that is collected and taken from a whole and isolated, universal represents a larger inclusive whole. In this case “Sample” is not numbered or identified. It is in relationship to all else, is composed of and is evidence for all else.
Dispersal – Begins the book and alludes to creation.
Vestigial – Ends it and alludes to remains.
Chance – In part I feel the world is a chaotic place where the intentional can be overcome by chance and luck, circumstance and happenstance.
Order – This is about human systems (religious, scientific) within a chaotic world and about the molecular combining and recombining relative to evolution over millions of years which bring about reasonable order within an ever-changing environment.
When I place the words “chance” and “order” together, I am referencing religion as a human system attempting to bring order to chaos, to explain the inexplicable. The images progress from an unidentified plasma or bubbly life form to a life form that appears to be lizard like, one of the early animal forms on earth. One print shows three lizards, a trinity of sorts, impaled perhaps, especially as specimens might be. Floating, they represent the substance, atom, molecules, electrons, neutrons that I know exist versus the Trinity as espoused by Christianity that I am not so certain about. In this way, I am harking back to the root of an entire body of work that I have made that draws upon Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.
Moment and Decay are read together with the image of a frog, a frog that is decomposing, reordering and redistributing its cells. I want the text to key viewers into the idea of a space, gap, a line or moment when decay begins. The last print is of an imaginary cellular structure of a life form as it is releasing and redistributing entirely into another space whether that is air, dirt or water or the space beyond our stratosphere.
The book structure, font and print size and paper choices are all subject to various constraints, such as paper and press bed size, size of copper, or availability of type face at the printmakers cooperative where I do my printing. For this book, I worked the structure of the book, image and text placement and layout simultaneously with content development and made at least a few small mock-ups to help me see the possibilities, resolve problems and keep me on track. I like book structures that are straightforward and that are an entry to the images and content. Sometimes, as with the Cell books, the structure is integral to the content of the work. For Universal Sample, what was going to be a simple accordion changed as I saw that the images and text could offer different ways in which to view and read the book. The star structure which consists of a series of three-page short accordions sewn into a concertina spine is elegant, seems like a standard book, a good frame for the images and when opened it can go beyond being a standard book and be manipulated and reconsidered.
BoB: Where next with your art?
DS: I like anything that can be described as a collection, the more personal and odd, the better, and I find opportunities to visit natural history or medical museums when I can. Currently, I am finishing a book object that incorporates several of my drawings of backyard specimen finds. This work includes test tubes and refers to the challenge of birds to avoid hazards and remain undetected. I am also thinking about a series of artist books that somehow reveal the dozens, hundreds, thousands of birds that are housed in the drawers of collecting institutions.
BoB: With thanks to Diane Stemper for her time and reflection. To enjoy more of her work, see her site and also:
Diane Stemper received her B.F.A. in printmaking from the San Francisco Art Institute and a M.A. in Interdisciplinary Arts from San Francisco State University. Her work is included in the Artists’ Book Collections of: DAAP Library, University of Cincinnati, Ohio; Main Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, Cincinnati, Ohio; Special Collections, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio; and the Lucille Little Fine Arts Library, University of Kentucky.