Bookmarking Book Art – Chris Ruston

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”.

Chris Ruston She Returns (2011) Ink, Watercolour Paper, Concertina Fold, 23.5cm x 18.5cm, Edition of 2

Chris Ruston
She Returns (2011)
23.5cm x 18.5cm, Edition of 2

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

ruston-ocean-blue2

ruston-ocean-blueShe Returns
BLACK and GLEAMING
in the Moonlight
her Primordial needs
Roaming
Wave Washed Dreams.

 

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

From Hedi Kyle, "Orihon's Triumph: Origin and Adaptations of the Concertina Fold", The Ampersand, Vol. 3, No. 2, December 1982.

from Hedi Kyle, “Orihon’s Triumph: Origin and Adaptations of the Concertina Fold”,
The Ampersand, Vol. 3, No. 2, December 1982.

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.”

Binding detail of She Returns

Binding detail of She Returns

Binding detail of She Returns

The Holuhraun lava field, on 4 September 2014, during the 2014 eruption

The Holuhraun lava field, on 4 September 2014, during the 2014 eruption

The Bárðarbunga volcano in Holuhraun, Iceland, is active. From August 2014 to February 2015, it erupted for 181 days.

Lava fountains of the fissure eruption in Holuhraun on 13th September 2014 around 21:20.

Lava fountains of the fissure eruption in Holuhraun on 13th September 2014 around 21:20.

Ruston responded to that natural event with the work Holuhraun, 2014-2015.

Holuhraun, 2014-2015. Top view of closed box.

Holuhraun, 2014-2015 
Top view of closed box

Holuhraun, 2014-2015. "The pages are contained within an exploding box structure where the sides collapse as the lid is removed."

Holuhraun, 2014-2015
“The pages are contained within an exploding box structure where the sides collapse as the lid is removed.”

The box contains “181 individually painted pages, signed and dated for each day the volcano erupted producing ‘new land’.”

Holuhraun, 2014-2015. View of the pages.

Holuhraun, 2014-2015
View of the pages

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.

Chris Ruston Are We Listening? (2013) Handmade paper, ink, transparent paper 15cm x 10cm

Chris Ruston
Are We Listening? (2013)
Handmade paper, ink, transparent paper
15cm x 10cm

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.

View of exhibition of The Great Gathering Natural History Museum Photo credit: Chris Ruston

The Great Gathering, Seven books, seven moments in time (2015)
Natural History Museum, Colchester, Essex, England
Photo credit: Chris Ruston

Chris Ruston The Great Gathering, Seven books, seven moments in time (2015) Mixed media

Chris Ruston
The Great Gathering, Seven books, seven moments in time (2015)
On display at Turn the Page, Norwich, England, May 2016
Photo credit: Chris Ruston

Ruston writes:

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”:

Artist: Chris Ruston The Great Gathering, 2016 Photo credit: Chris Matthews

Chris Ruston
The Great Gathering, 2016
Photo credit: Chris Matthews

how a solander box ought to be constructed to operate with the work and, in enclosing it, be “the work”;

Chris Ruston The Great Gathering (2016) Photo credit: Chris Matthews

Chris Ruston
The Great Gathering (2016)
Photo credit: Chris Matthews

what materials (photos from the Hubble telescope) ought to be used to reflect a moment in time;

Chris Ruston The Great Gathering (2016) Photo credit: Chris Matthews

Chris Ruston
The Great Gathering (2016)
Photo credit: Chris Matthews

how thread, tape and stitch ought to be to hold together a spine that will flex and spiral into the shape of a fossil;

Chris Ruston The Great Gathering (2016) Photo credit: Chris Matthews

Chris Ruston
The Great Gathering (2016)
Photo credit: Chris Matthews

how the color of the material ought to be juxtaposed with the material’s altered shape to carry meaning;

Chris Ruston The Great Gathering (2016) Photo credit: Chris Matthews

Chris Ruston
The Great Gathering (2016)
Photo credit: Chris Matthews

how the shift from content to blankness ought to be juxtaposed with the material’s altered shape to carry meaning;

Chris Ruston The Great Gathering (2016) Photo credit: Chris Matthews

Chris Ruston
The Great Gathering (2016)
Photo credit: Chris Matthews

how the selection and alteration of text ought to be made to show the fixity and flux of knowledge and ourselves;

Chris Ruston The Great Gathering (2016) Photo credit: Chris Matthews

Chris Ruston
The Great Gathering (2016)
Photo credit: Chris Matthews

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.

41ypojq70jl-_sx307_bo1204203200_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?


More of Chris Ruston’s work can be found here.

*In Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni,  the main character’s manservant is Leporello, who, when singing the Catalogue Aria, produces a book that endlessly unfolds the list of Don Giovanni’s conquests.

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Bookmarking Book Art – A “white book report” on “The White Heat” at MARC STRAUS

Cardboard Box (White) for Invisible Text, “Called Back,” Epitaph for Emily Dickinson
Jeanne Silverthorne, 2017
Platinum silicone rubber, acid free paper, archival invisible ink
9 x 17 x 13 inches / 23 x 43 x 33 cm
Edition 1/3 with 1 A.P

Dare you see a soul at the white heat?
Then crouch within the door.
Red is the fire’s common tint;
But when the vivid ore
Has sated flame’s conditions,
Its quivering substance plays
Without a color but the light
Of unanointed blaze.
Least village boasts its blacksmith,
Whose anvil’s even din
Stands symbol for the finer forge
That soundless tugs within,
Refining these impatient ores
With hammer and with blaze,
Until the designated light
Repudiate the forge.    –  Emily Dickinson, Part One, Life, XXXIII

MARC STRAUS, the contemporary art gallery in the Lower East Side of New York, opened “an exhibition of white paintings and sculptures by an international selection of artists” on 3 June 2017. It runs through 3 July, and its title The White Heat comes from the first line of Dickinson’s poem above.

Books on Books offers this “white book report” on book art not included to put attendees in the mood for their experience of the works in white by artists such as

  • Damien Hirst
  • Nicole Eisenman
  • Enrico Castellani
  • Robert Barry
  • Fernanda Gomes
  • Antonio Santin
  • Jeanne Silverthorne
  • Joan Levison and others.

Book Faced Down – Embedded in Plaster, 1999
Found cook book and plaster block
Irwin Susskind, born 1935
34.6 x 20.9 x 6.5 cm (13 5/8 x 8 1/4 x 2 9/16 in.)
The Allan Chasanoff, B.A. 1961, Book Art Collection, curated with Doug Beube

Irwin Susskind‘s “Book Faced Down” is an example of the technique of mixed media – a stark white plaster block facing down the objectified cookbook –  to create book art. A piece of sheet cake, a cutting board?

Zurbarán’s Color Plates, 2011
Jonathan Callan
Chiseled book in perspex
46.4 × 71.1 × 5.7 cm

Jonathan Callan‘s piece denies viewers the colorful still lifes of Francisco de  Zurbarán and leaves them with this drained-of-color, chiselled double-page spread of a book on the artist.

Work of Linear – Actions, 2000
Noriko Ambe

Where Callan chisels away from the edges inward, Noriko Ambe carves from the inside almost to the edges in her work above.

Absence, 2004
J. Meejin Yoon

As the Straus exhibition notes, “In Chinese cultures, White is associated with Death.” In J. Meejin Yoon’s book Absence, the absence of color in a solid white block of thick stock cardboard pages and the “text” of one pinhole and two identical squares die-cut into each of its 120 pages – one for each story of New York’s Twin Towers including the antenna mast – lead the reader down through the missing buildings to the final page where the footprint of the absent structures ends in a die cut of the entire site of the World Trade Center.

Your House, 2006
Olafur Eliasson
Teixeira de Freitas, Lisboa, Portugal

Your House, 2006
Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson seems to have followed Yoon’s technical approach in Your House, 2006, although the effects are far more intricate.

Coral Colony, 2017 in progress
Julie K. Dodd

Untitled
Julie K. Dodd

Echoing Yoon’s somber note, Julie K. Dodd‘s paper and book art often dwell on environmental issues, such as the death of a coral colony above and the contours of the natural landscape versus manmade as shown in Untitled.

The Great Gathering,  VII The Time is Now, 2016
Chris Ruston
Photo credit: Chris Matthews

A more hopeful note is struck in the whiteness of Chris Ruston’s final “ammonite” book in the series The Great Gathering, inspired by Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. The mirror under the maker’s tools and the made thing implicate the viewer here and now in an optimistic ongoing evolutionary process of making and remaking.

Michael Mandiberg, Print Wikipedia, 2015
Exhibition “From Aaaaa! to ZZZap!” by the Denny Gallery, 261 Broome Street in New York City, 18 June through 11 July, 2015.

Where the white of Yoon’s and Dodd’s works evokes absence and the white of Ruston’s work evokes the blank invitation to singular creativity, Michael Mandiberg‘s installation of multiples, Print Wikipedia, evokes the plenitude of white noise that is our online lives.

Swiss Army Book

Swiss Army Book, 1990
M. L. Van Nice
Gift of Lois Pollard Price
National Museum of Women in the Arts

And just as technologically allusive, M.L. Van Nice‘s Swiss Army Book poses (tongue in cheek?) the single volume as somehow able to capture, store and transmit knowledge in ways it need not, albeit the meaning of the whiteness here is a bit elusive.

Legal Process Narrative, 1996
Werner Pfeiffer
Law Library, University of Connecticut at Storrs

Werner Pfeiffer’s works constitute an extensive treatment in white. The installation at UConn Storrs represents a small proportion of the works shown in retrospectives in the last ten years at Bucknell, Cornell and the Toledo (Ohio) Museum of Art. Pfeiffer’s works touch on censorship, and from his Cornell exhibition, he explains:

The objects I create are made with real books. They are not casts, nor are they sculpted imitations. At its core each piece has bound, printed pages. Glued together and painstakingly covered with gesso, they are silenced and sealed for good. I practice this destruction, this obvious censorship, simply as metaphor. It is to visualize, to demonstrate, to provoke. For these acts of violence are not about the damage done to stacks of paper, to books. The objects are about the harm inflicted on the human spirit. The ropes, the nails, the clamps, the hooks and knifes are real as well. They are symbols of pain, of torture, of suppression which are inevitably brought on by the censor’s act.

Knotty Story
Werner Pfeiffer

Difficult to Fit
Werner Pfeiffer

With the advent of ebooks, Pfeiffer celebrates the tangibility of the book with his white gessoed book objects and their punning titles as well as origami-like works such as Zig-Zag.

But back to the white works of art at the MARC STRAUSS gallery.  Book art is not entirely neglected. Following in their tradition since 1984, Tim Rollins and K.O.S. (“Kids of Survival”) pondered, discussed and “jammed” on 1895 novella by H.G. Wells to produce THE TIME MACHINE (after H.G.Wells), which is included in the exhibition.

THE TIME MACHINE (after H.G. Wells)
Tim Rollins and K.O.S., 2013
Matte acrylic, pencil, book pages on canvas
4 parts, each: 12 x 12 inches / 30.5 x 30.5 cm
Overall: 24 x 24 inches / 61 x 61 cm
Courtesy Studio K.O.S. and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong.

According to the artists, “We believe that every total work of art is a time machine – a synthesis of a living past and present located in an object that can only be completed by the social experience of a viewer in the future. The total work of art exists in the invisible fourth dimension of space/time and it is this notion that unites the works in the exhibition. We paint on historic texts in the present so that they can haunt our futures.”

Suitably prepared? Jump in your time machine and head over to 299 Grand Street, on the Lower East Side in New York, and immerse yourself in “The White Heat“.

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Bookmarking Book Art – Louisa Boyd

Flare
2013
Magnani handmade white wove paper
12cm x 12cm x 8cm
© Louisa Boyd, reproduced with permission of the artist

Through abstraction and symbol, Louisa Boyd‘s art focuses on sense of place and our intrinsic connection to nature. The titles of three of her artist’s book series – Infinity, Landscape, and Mapping – and those of the book art in them – Aether (2013), A Walk (2001), and Cartography I (2014)  – reflect that focus. How she manages abstract imagery and symbol across her range of material and techniques – paper (including hand-marbled paper), book structure, printmaking (block, screen, letterpress), watercolor, metalwork, leatherwork – adds to that unifying focus through a rightness of choice but also introduces a breadth of originality and variety.

In Aether, the crayon work, cutting and metalwork are applied with a three-dimensional sense wedded to an obvious understanding of the possibilities of the page and double-page spread. The st0p-motion animation video tour of Aether (click on the image below) makes you wonder if Boyd conceived the work as a flipbook in the first place. There is no wondering, however, about the place of human existence in relation to the aether. In the video, look at the lower righthand fore-edge of the book.

Aether
2013
Leather handbound artist’s book with box. Cover in leather and paper onlay. Edge coloring.
© Louisa Boyd, reproduced with permission of the artist
For a video tour of Aether, click on the image.

A Walk illustrates Boyd’s skill with freestanding three-dimensional sculpture, a skill that has grown in The Flight Series (more later on two of its works from 2009) and The Paper Manipulation Series, from which the work Flare above comes.

A Walk 
2001
Handbound artists book, torn and cut with each page individually painted to depict the different views of a walk through the landscape. Watercolour on paper.
© Louisa Boyd, reproduced with permission of the artist
For a video tour of A Walk, click on the image. (Caveat: The title of the work in the video varies from that here, which is taken from Boyd’s website.)

Her use of abstract markings and the Turkish map folding technique in Cartography I demonstrates again her careful marriage of abstraction, symbol and technique.

Cartography I
2014
Turkish map-fold book with etched pages and collagraph end papers. Somerset paper. Blind tooled leather cover.
Edition of 3
Dimensions open: H 5” x W 10”x D 4”
Dimensions closed: diameter 5”, depth 1”
© Louisa Boyd, reproduced with permission of the artist

The etching printed on each of the three internal folded pages is an abstract that nevertheless evokes mapping, which the form and fold of the pages reinforces. Each Turkish fold page can lay flat to be viewed individually, or as pictured above and below, the book may be viewed as a sculpture.

Cartography I from above
© Louisa Boyd, reproduced with permission of the artist

The video tours (links embedded the images of Aether and A Walk above) represent Boyd’s search for what she calls “a bridge between traditional and contemporary media”. So far, that exploration reflects the artist’s rootedness in the book arts and traditional skills and processes of drawing, printing and painting. It is intriguing to think what effect a bit of influence from Helen Douglas or Amaranth Borsuk might have on Boyd’s bridge. The use of stop-action video for Aether hints at an instinct for what Douglas calls “visual narrative”.

A professed recurrent theme in Boyd’s book art is “restriction and freedom”. Although it arises from periods of city dwelling and lack of access to the countryside, imposed by the UK’s 2001 “foot and mouth” epidemic, it manifests itself in the more “traditional” spur of constraint of form and structure that goads an artist’s imagination. Flock (2009) and A Walk bear close resemblance, but note the difference in invention whereby the former plays with the book form by placing the bird imagery at the edges, spirals the paper tearing upwards and gradates the watercolor from dark to light (like a flock dispersing) and the latter deals with the “restricted” walk by blending the watercolor with tearing and tunneling.

Flock
2009
Artist’s book with watercolour
© Louisa Boyd, reproduced with permission of the artist

Take Flight (2009) frees its bird imagery even more fully from the structure of the book and occupies space as a fully three-dimensional work.

Take Flight
2009
Artist’s book with watercolour
© Louisa Boyd, reproduced with permission of the artist

Detail
Take Flight
2009
Artist’s book with watercolour
© Louisa Boyd, reproduced with permission of the artist

 

Multifaceted
2014
edition of 4
Dimensions closed 4” x 2” x 1/2” (10cm x 5cm x 1cm) open 4” x 21 1/2” (9cm x 51cm)
Leather, oil-based ink, Somerset and Magnani paper
© Louisa Boyd, reproduced with permission of the artist

Although Multifaceted returns to the theme of different views that was the intent in A Walk, it tilts the theme more toward the abstract side of Boyd’s work. In this, Multifaceted is more akin to the works in The Paper Manipulation Series: Flare (2013), Whorl (2013), and Pleat (2013). It almost purely plays with the concept of differing perspectives. Again, techniques and form express concept with a simple rightness. This double-sided leporello is designed to be viewed from four different angles. The display of photos here cannot offer the intended perspective (pun intended): the viewer needs to circle the piece to view its facets. That word “facet” is tooled on the interior pages four times, the clue as to how the book should be read.

Multifaceted I from above
© Louisa Boyd, reproduced with permission of the artist

Multifaceted II collage view
© Louisa Boyd, reproduced with permission of the artist

The abstract imagery evoking landscape or skyscape – whether juxtaposed vertically or horizontally – plays with viewpoint. Even the print technique on the interior pages plays with viewpoint: they are prints of an etching inked up both in relief and intaglio.  Breaking free of the ultimate restriction of the book, the pages are not attached to the cover, allowing the piece to be read in four different directions. These features of the work and the seeming absence of that human figure from Aether throw it back on the viewer’s necessary engagement to establish fully the human connection: by engaging with Multifaceted – “reading” it –  the viewer enacts the human place in the aether around the work.

Since graduating from Manchester Metropolitan University in 2001 and winning the Paperchase Future of Design Award (2001) and receiving a high commendation from the judges of the New Designer of the Year (2001), Boyd has exhibited in 46 venues. Her 47th is the most significant so far: inclusion in the John Ruskin Prize Shortlist Exhibition at Millennium Gallery in Sheffield, UK (21 June – 8 October, 2017). If this book artist manages to continue her sure-handed forging of concept, material and method, the Ruskin Prize Shortlist Exhibition will not be her last significant exhibition.

 

 

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Bookmarking Book Art – Jacqueline Rush Lee, updated (2017)

The First Cut 2015 Transformed Harvard Loeb Library Translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses H7.75" x W5.5" x D6.5" Photo: Paul Kodama In Private Collection, NL

The First Cut, 2015
Transformed Harvard Loeb Library Translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses
H7.75″ x W5.5″ x D6.5″
Photo: Paul Kodama
In Private Collection, NL

The First Cut 2015 Transformed Harvard Loeb Library Translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses H7.75" x W5.5" x D6.5" Photo: Paul Kodama In Private Collection, NL

The First Cut, 2015
Transformed Harvard Loeb Library Translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses
H7.75″ x W5.5″ x D6.5″
Photo: Paul Kodama
In Private Collection, NL

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.

Detail from Whorl ("Nestled") 2016 Site-Specific Installation on view September 6, 2016- September 7, 2017 University of Hawaii at Manoa Art Building's Bamboo Breezeway © Copyright jacqueline rush lee 2017. All rights reserved.

Detail from Whorl (“Nestled”) 2016
Site-Specific Installation on view September 6, 2016- September 7, 2017
University of Hawaii at Manoa Art Building’s Bamboo Breezeway
© Copyright jacqueline rush lee 2017. All rights reserved.

Whorl. Transformed Book Sculpture Detail 2014. Part of an Ongoing Project H11.5" x W7.5" x D8" Photo Documentation: Jacqueline Rush Lee © Copyright jacqueline rush lee 2017.

Whorl, 2014
Transformed Book Sculpture Detail, Part of an Ongoing Project
H11.5″ x W7.5″ x D8″
Photo Documentation: Jacqueline Rush Lee
© Copyright jacqueline rush lee 2017. All rights reserved.

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.”

Silenda (Black Sea Book). 2015 (Sister of Nous) Transformed Peter Green Translation of Ovid's "Tristia and the Black Sea Letters." H9.5" x W12" x D6.5." Manipulated Text, Ink, Graphite Photo: Paul Kodama In Private Collection, NL

Silenda (Black Sea Book), 2015 (Sister of Nous)
Transformed Peter Green Translation of Ovid’s Tristia and the Black Sea Letters
H9.5″ x W12″ x D6.5.” Manipulated Text, Ink, Graphite
Photo: Paul Kodama
In Private Collection, NL

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.

Nous 2014 (There's no why Here) Manipulated Philosophy Book, Ink, Graphite Reason & Responsibility: Readings in Some Basic Problems of Philosophy, Fourteenth Edition. Feinberg & Shafer-Landau H13.5" x W12" x D9" H34.5 x W30.5 x D23cm Photo Paul Kodama

Nous (There’s no why Here), 2014
Manipulated Philosophy Book, Ink, Graphite
Reason & Responsibility: Readings in Some Basic Problems of Philosophy, Fourteenth Edition. Feinberg & Shafer-Landau
H34.5 x W30.5 x D23cm
Photo Paul Kodama

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”.

Bookmarking Book Art – Jacqueline Rush Lee (2013)

From the artist’s website:

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 UmbrellaVol 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.

 

 

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Bookmarking Book Art – Eric Gjerde

Specimens, 2016 Close-up of finished pressed page. Laser cut text pressed within 5 layers of bio-paper to form one large single sheet. © Eric Gjerde

Specimens, 2016
Close-up of finished pressed page. Laser cut text pressed within 5 layers of bio-paper to form one large single sheet.
© Eric Gjerde

Specimens is the first of its kind: a book created with a new bio-paper medium made entirely from bacterial cellulose. Its pages were once alive.

The quality of this new paper, which I developed over the past seven years, is its unparalleled strength and transparency. Each sheet is grown in a vat and harvested after several weeks. After processing, many layers — five or more — are laid on top of one another with the text block carefully placed within. Then the entire stack is pressed. The act of pressing these sheets is what gives them their strength.

Trapped forever within the thin lamina of Specimens’ pages is the poetry of e.e. cummings. The challenge of retaining the poet’s complex typographic wordplay required a new approach for placing text. Drawing upon my fascination with Voronoi tessellations — the natural pattern of cell structures in all living things — I created custom software to generate a Voronoi framework that would hold the text in place. The text block was then laser-cut from Korean hanji.

I would like to thank the Jerome Foundation and Minnesota Center for Book Arts for the opportunity and support to explore this exciting new medium. (Artist’s statement)

Gjerde’s Specimens exhibition — November 2016 through February 2017 —  continues in the new tradition of bio art.  One of the earliest and abiding proponents has been George Gessert. Since the 1980s, Gessert and artists/theorists such as Suzanne Anker, Eduardo Kac, Marta De Menezes, the Harrisons and Sonya Rapoport have constituted the bio art and eco art movements.  A collection of his essays appeared as Green Light: Toward an Art of Evolution in the Leonardo Book Series, published by The MIT Press in 2010.

More recently Dr. Simon F. Park’s  The Origin of Species was touted as  perhaps “the first book to be grown and produced using just bacteria”. Presented at the Edinburgh International Science Festival, the small book has pages made of bacterial cellulose, produced by the bacterium Gluconoacetobacter xylinus (GXCELL). Its cover is even printed with naturally pigmented bacteria.

Artist: Dr. Simon F Park The Origin of Species "The small book shown here was grown from and made entirely from bacteria. Not only is the fabric of its pages (GXCELL) produced by bacteria, but the book is also printed and illustrated with naturally pigmented bacteria. " Posted 27 March 2016 Photo credit: Dr. Simon F. Park

The Origin of Species
Posted 27 March 2016
Photo credit: Dr. Simon F. Park

The process underlying Gjerde’s work and its material inspiration — the bio-paper, e.e.cummings’ poetry, Voronoi tessellations and the software-driven Voronoi framework to hold the text block in place — are beautifully explored on his site.

The Voronoi framework is evocative of traditional papermaking technology. Here instead of the “deckle” — the wooden frame holding the mesh on which fibers are caught up from the soupy mash to form a sheet of paper — the Voronoi framework holds the text block between the laminations of the bio-paper.

The union of concept, process and the quality of the work make Specimens an outstanding work.

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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/

Bookmarking Book Art – Andrew Hayes | @scoopit

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 – Large-Scale Installations, Update 20170609

The Parthenon of Books, 1983/2017
Marta Minujín
Kassel, Germany

In 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 or the even greater number in Marta Minujín’s The Parthenon of Books, installed for documenta in Kassel, Germany?

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:

Tom Bendtsen

Melissa Jay Craig

Julie Dodd

Flux Foundation

Thilo Folkerts and Rodney Latourelle

Samuel Levi Jones

Anselm Kiefer

Matej Krén

Anouk Kruithof

Lacuna (Bay Area Book Festival and Flux)

Miler Lagos

Luzinterruptus

Alicia Martín

Marta Minujin

Math Monahan

Jan Reymond Rosace

Mike Stilkey

Rintala Eggertsson Architects

Rusty Squid

Liu Wei

Vita Wells

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 – Helen Douglas

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’s 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, or taking the measure of paper samples between forefinger and thumb, or browsing in a bookstore, or 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. The work reminds me of this passage from Joseph Brodsky’s 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.

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

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

If you are lucky enough to buy one of the few remaining copies of A Venetian Brocade, you will see and feel how it leads to In Mexico: in the garden of Edward James. Appreciation of that double-sided leporello work’s extension of the Douglas’s concept of Visual Narrative and its kinship with James’s surrealism can only be enhanced by viewing The Secret Life of Edward JamesGeorge Melly’s documentary film from 1975.

But having indulged the surreal elements, think back to the pond at Deuchar, think back to the Tate’s association with Douglas’s work, then consider this work also held at the Tate:

Joseph Mallard William Turner, “Deuchar Old Bridge, near Yarrow, Selkirkshire”, 1834, in The Edinburgh Sketchbook 1831-34, graphite on paper, 111×181 mm. Reference: D26161
Turner Bequest CCLXVIII 34 a

Here is a narrative of art across time and place to touch by looking and, by looking, to be touched by.

An update (30 April 2017) covering Douglas’s Winter: Celestial Mountain (2015) can be found here.

*Deuchar is pronounced “dew-ker”, the “k” as in “loch”.
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Bookmarking Book Art — Sam Winston

"Darwin" by Sam Winston

“Darwin” by Sam Winston

Presented here is an ongoing exploration of Charles Darwin’s ‘On the Origin of Species’ and Ruth Padel’s ‘Darwin, A Life In Poems’.

I initially separated the text of these two books into nouns verbs, adjectives & other. I wanted to present a visual map of how a scientist and a poet use language – a look at how much each author used real world names (Nouns) and more abstract terminology (Verb, Adjective and Other) in their writings.

via Sam Winston : Darwin.

By determining the frequency of each part of speech and generating pointillist-like dots with different pencil lead weights assigned to each part of speech,  Winston also creates what he calls “Frequency Poems.”

"Origin Drawing" by Sam Winston

“Origin Drawing” by Sam Winston

A similar result is achieved by categorizing all the words from “Romeo & Juliet” under the headings solace, passion and rage and then creating a collage for each heading with the actual words.  Here from the artist’s site is the collage “Solace”:

"Solace" by Sam Winston

“Solace” by Sam Winston

Winston’s work wrestles with paradoxical “divides” and “unions” — the divide and union of science and poetry, those of categories and the whole, those of non-linear (patterned) and linear (narrative) meaning, that of the word as perceived object and semantic signal.

In technique and process, Winston’s work also implies a divide and union of the print and digital.

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Bookmarking Book Art – Susan E. King

Susan E. King’s works held at the Corcoran Gallery and College of Art & Design in Washington, DC.


RECORD

Copy: 1 ARTISTS BOOKS
Call Number: NE508 .K55 1976
Status: Non-Circulating
Item ID: 52672010188608
Collection Type: ARTISTS BOOKS
Media: ARTIST-BOOK

Author:
King, Susan Elizabeth, 1947-

Title Statement:
Lessons from the South / [text and design by Susan E. King].

Published:
Atlanta, Ga. (608 Ralph McGill Blvd., N.E., Atlanta, Ga. 30312) : Available from Nexus Press ; Santa Monica, Calif. (P.O. Box 5306, Santa Monica, Calif. 90405) : Available from Paradise Press, c1986.

Description:
[10] leaves (5 folded) : ill. ; 28 cm.

General Note:
The leaves are tipped on to a backing strip folded accordion-style and attached to separated upper and lower boards.



Author:
King, Susan Elizabeth, 1947-

Title Statement:
Passport / Susan Elizabeth King.

Published:
Venice, Calif. : S. King ; Los Angeles : printed at Women’s Graphic Center, c1976.

Description:
ca. [32] leaves : ill. ; 18 cm.

General Note:
Cover title.

Subject:
Artists’ books — California.

Subject:
King, Susan Elizabeth, 1947-

Copy 1:
Non-Circulating

 

 

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Bookmarking Book Art – Amaranth Borsuk

borsuk-abra

Created for the November 2016 issue of The Bellingham Review, “Abra: The Kinetic Page” is a polymorphic tour de force – online prose poem, video, review of and homage to an installation at the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle, WA, in 2014 and a promotion of the artists’ book Abra: The Living Book by Kate Durbin, Amaranth Borsuk and Ian Hatcher, published in 2014.

From where did such work spring?  From a project called “Expanded Artists’ Books: Envisioning the Future of the Book”.

Inspired by the advent of the iPad in 2009 and a symposium held in 2011 with Bob Stein, Director of the Institute for the Future of the Book, Steve Woodall, then Director of Columbia College’s Center for Book and Paper Arts, secured funding for that project from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2012. That same year in a Tate Britain workshop, Woodall explained the intent of the project:

In its first phase, our project takes existing artist books and creates iPad applications that both represent and contextualise them. The apps will be made available as free downloads. With the many millions of portable devices running on the iOS platform, the reasoning goes that an under-distributed and too-obscure art form can gain wider reach and achieve greater public awareness. We will soon expand to include Android and other platforms, but we expect to stay within the ‘walled garden’ world of the app, as opposed to the open range of a purely browser-based platform – we feel that the smoother functionality and higher-quality user experience of the app work well with the expanded practices of authorship and craft engagement that define artist books.

In the project’s second phase we shall commission media artists to create born-digital artist book/apps, which will then be reverse engineered as physical books, or created in parallel with them. Owing to the creative countercharge it represents, we find this to be an extremely interesting phase of the project from a research standpoint.

It is the dialogue between the physical books and their digital avatars that provides a great part of the value of this project. … it is in the artist’s studio, whether that be an electronic workstation or a more traditional book art studio, where the dialogue will play out in the creative process. Artists will explore ways in which expression can take both virtual and physical manifestations, examining the advantages of each and how the interplay between the two can be leveraged to provide a comprehensive and powerful expression. – Steve Woodall, “Artists, Writers and the Future of the Book”, Transforming Artist Books Project, 2012.

Abra was funded by a grant from the project, and with Abra, Borsuk, Durbin and Hatcher have manifestly “embodied” the sponsor’s intent as will become clear as you read. But pause first on Borsuk’s Bellingham Review piece.

Borsuk is an inspired writer, a gifted conceptual and haptic artist. “Abra: The Kinetic Page” starts as a reflection on experiencing Ann Hamilton’s installation the common SENSE with its exploration and celebration of “touch”:

As I walked through the upper galleries, where newsprint images of the undersides of birds and small animals fluttered in the HVAC breeze, I thought about the way the exhibit invited us to read space. Hamilton’s juxtapositions, like the lines of a poem, rely on the visitor to bridge the between with their body. We provide the spark that leaps across the enjambed line where the tale of Cock Robin meets a downy hide.

I’ve strayed from what I wanted to tell you because Hamilton’s work requires it. It is, as she says, a form of attention she seeks to share with her audience—she creates installations as spaces animated by the viewer. She sets up the conditions for an experience or interaction, and then withdraws, trusting the reader / viewer / visitor to make meaning. To limn the contours of the work with their own gentle touch.

[Now note here how she pivots to experiencing Abra.] 

As I trace my finger along Abra’s cover, whose title is also the incipit, silently voiced by the reader, which activates the text, I’m invoking not only the magic word that brings things to pass as they are spoken, I’m invoking Hamilton, whose “handseeing” videos of the late 90s and early 2000s turn the fingertip into an eye, uniting reading and writing in a gesture that links dactyl and stylus, through the digital that fits like pen in glove.

Whether read on screen or heard in the video, Borsuk’s words and sentences are tactile. Listen:

borsuk-abra

Click on the image above for the video “Abra: The Kinetic Page” by Amaranth Borsuk

“Abra: The Kinetic Page” explores and celebrates the “fundamental relationship between the eye, the brain, and, critically, the hand” as Woodall hoped. It is a work of art as much as Abra itself.

If its artistry were not enough, The Bellingham Review piece takes things a bit further than might have been expected from the “Expanded Artists’ Book” project. Interestingly, The Bellingham Review piece also addresses changes in the value chain that hybrid books and hybrid book art must confront. As originally set out by Harvard’s Michael Porter, the value chain is the “set of activities that a firm operating in a specific industry performs in order to deliver a valuable product or service for the market.” Marketing is one of those key activities in the set.  In The Bellingham Reviewan online and print literary magazine, Borsuk has found not only a platform for marketing Abra, but a platform from which to offer a complementary work of art in the form of a video. An example of “art for art’s sake” that finally makes sense to the business school.

The example does not end there.  Reflecting in the Tate Britain workshop on the “Expanded Artist Book” project, Woodall remarked on “digitally trained designers … being drawn back to the fundamental relationship between the eye, the brain, and, critically, the hand, … photographers … combining digital processes with nineteenth-century ‘alternative’ techniques. … [and] … the enthusiasm most contemporary graphic designers have for letterpress printing.” Web skills, videographics and the YouTube/Vimeo channels are just as remarkably important, which is clear not only from the Abra siteThe Bellingham Review piece but from this shorter directly promotional video:

Abra: A Living Text Video editing by Louis Mayo: http://www.viewbility.com Shot by Nathan Evers at the Digital Future Lab, University of Washington, Bothell: http://www.bothell.washington.edu/dig... Music: Graham Bole, "We Are One": http://grahambole.bandcamp.com/releases

Abra: A Living Text
Video editing by Louis Mayo 
Shot by Nathan Evers at the Digital Future Lab, University of Washington, Bothell 
Music: Graham Bole, “We Are One”

Woodall did wonder whether the project’s prompting a dialogue of the physical and digital would have implications for practical matters such as distribution. While Abra has a paperback version as an entry in the traditional channels to market, that offers little insight into such implications — not like the insight realized by the combination of website, promotional video and The Bellingham Review piece.

In fact, from a perspective of craft and product, the experience promised by the videos and website is completely available only if you download the app and have a copy of the limited edition of the artists’ book. Constructed by Amy Rabas, the artists’ book allows you to insert an iPad in the back of the book creating a continuous touch-screen interface. This interactivity with the reader is one more aspect of the work that realizes perhaps more than was expected from the “Expanded Artists’ Book” project.

The book’s simple, mysterious foil-stamped cover. Created by book artist Amy Rabas. Courtesy of the authors.

The book’s simple, mysterious foil-stamped cover. Created by book artist Amy Rabas.
Courtesy of the artists.

The laser-cut openings coalesce into a pinhole that begins to reveal the iPad below.

The laser-cut openings coalesce into a pinhole that begins to reveal the iPad below.
Courtesy of the artists.

Readers can begin to interact with the iPad, on which the book’s text is mutating on its own.

Readers can begin to interact with the iPad, on which the book’s text is mutating on its own.
Courtesy of the artists.

At the end of the book, the iPad is revealed, and the reader can make Abra their own using the menu at the top of the screen to “Mutate,” “Erase,” “Graft,” “Prune,” and cast an unpredictable “Cadabra” spell.

At the end of the book, the iPad is revealed, and the reader can make Abra their own using the menu at the top of the screen to “Mutate,” “Erase,” “Graft,” “Prune,” and cast an unpredictable “Cadabra” spell.
Courtesy of the artists.

Another participant in the Tate Britain project was Johanna Drucker. Her comments on one of Borsuk’s earlier works – Between Page and Screen written with Brad Bouse – are relevant to this interactive aspect of Abra as well.  First, a description of the book:

Between Page and Screen chronicles a love affair between two characters, P and S. The book has no words, only inscrutable black and white geometric patterns that, when coupled with a webcam, conjure the written word. Reflected on screen, the reader sees him or herself with open book in hand, language springing alive and shape-shifting with each turn of the page.

The story unfolds through a playful and cryptic exchange of letters between P and S as they struggle to define their relationship. Rich with innuendo, anagrams, etymological and sonic affinities between words, Between Page and Screen revels in language and the act of reading.

Amaranth Borsuk and Brad Bouse Between the Page and Screen (2012) Now available from SpringGun Press: http://www.springgunpress.com/between...

Amaranth Borsuk and Brad Bouse
Between Page and Screen (2012)
Now available from SpringGun Press 

Drucker relates this interactivity between print and digital to “play with the condition of bounded-ness”:

The finitude of a bound codex quite literally defines its limits in analogue form. Even though the reference field of the work is broad, gesturing outward to the world of lived and imagined phenomena that comprise a shared realm of cultural knowledge, the book’s dimensions remain linked to its physical form. But where is such a book located in the spatial-temporal realms of networked environments? And when is a work produced? … Borsuk and Bouse’s depends on a linked connection between quick response (QR) codes on pages and files stored online. The capacity to conjure stored material that projects itself in augmented screens onto the perceived world further erodes the boundaries of interior/exterior edge and periphery that were traditionally defining features of an aesthetic work.

With its poems mutating on the iPad screen, Abra challenges the play with boundedness beyond the effect Drucker described in 2012. In its digital challenge to boundedness, Abra has much in common with Visual Editions’ reimagining of Marc Saporta’s Composition No. 1  in an app format. The original work was published by Le Seuil in 1962 and translated by Richard Howard for Simon & Schuster the next year.

Marc Saporta Composition No. 1 Translated by Richard Howard Visual Editions (2011)

Marc Saporta
Composition No. 1
Translated by Richard Howard
Redesigned and reissued by Visual Editions (2011)

Marc Saporta Composition No. 1 (2011) Introduction by T.L. Uglow, Google Creative Lab Diagrams by Salvador Plascencia Designed by Universal Everything

Composition No. 1 (the app)
Marc Saporta, Composition No. 1 
Diagrams by Salvador Plascencia, Designed by Universal Everything (2011)

Introduction by T.L. Uglow, Google Creative Lab (2011) Marc Saporta Composition No. 1

Introduction by T.L. Uglow, Google Creative Lab and YouTube (2011)

The unboundedness of Abra also has echoes in Field, the book, visual art and installation all in one produced by Johannes Heldén about the same time as Abra and The Bellingham Review piece. Field‘s interactivity, however, relies on a floor touchscreen of 20 square meters, one effect of which is to remove words from pages projected on a screen and another to animate a series of sculptural mutations of the Eurasian Jackdaw. The ephemerality of an installation combined with the effective of personal interactivity intensifies the challenge and play of unboundedness.

Field (2015) Produced, and premiered, at HUMlab, Umeå University Johannes Heldén

Johannes Heldén
Field (2015)
Produced and premiered at HUMlab, Umeå University

Which brings us full circle to the installation-inspired “Abra: The Kinetic Page” and the last aspect of Abra: The Living Text that carries it beyond the expectations of the “Expanded Artists’ Book”. The work began as a collaborative book-length poem between Borsuk and Durbin.  Writing separately using a series of constraints, then weaving their words together and editing them side by side, the authors found a new voice emerging from the conjoined poem, that of ABRA herself. To give a body to that voice, they created a series of conjoined costumes, each an avatar reflecting various aspects of the poems.

Abra Woodnymph

Abra Woodnymph
Courtesy of the artists.

When I hear sad tales of “The End of Books“, I think of these artists and authors and the distances between them – Borsuk in Washington State, Durbin in southern California, Hatcher in New York, Hamilton in Ohio, Rabas and Woodall in Illinois and Heldén in Sweden. Then I look at the distance between my finger and screen, between my hand and the copy of Borsuk’s Between Page and Screen lying on the table here.  Those sad tales fade before the palpable vibrancy of book art and the transformative effect of the digital.

 

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Bookmarking Book Art – Pauline Rafal

img_0293Among the several artists displaying works at The Riverside Gallery was Pauline Rafal.

Inspired by poetry and literature, and influenced by the tangible qualities of paper and print, my work focuses on linocuts, and pen and ink illustrations displayed either as individual artworks, or as artist’s books. The artist’s books vary in form, ranging from simple concertina folds to more sculptural pieces, with the aim of creating a journey for the reader, and encouraging a more intimate relationship with the words.

The experience of touching, folding, and opening a book plays an important role in my work – letterpress and linocut techniques matched with materials such as fine papers, Japanese tissue, or leather support the portrayed stories through their individual tactile characteristics.

Key themes that reappear throughout my work include reflections on the creative practice and artistic processes, the artist’s relationship with their creation, and memories and experiences of change.

In 2015, Rafal created a book art installation to accompany a piano recital by Annie Yim, an event that illustrates an unusual integration of literature, book art and music. (More here.) The year before, inspired by the prose poem “Windows” by Baudelaire, Rafal demonstrated yet another unusual bridging of artistic media and technique.

Pauline Rafal "Windows" by Charles Baudelaire (2014) © Pauline Rafal 2014

Pauline Rafal
“Windows” by Charles Baudelaire (2014)
© Pauline Rafal 2014

When closed, this accordion book appears as a non-descript brown parcel tied with string.

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As it is opened, the parcel becomes a streetscape with buildings through whose “windows” Baudelaire’s text reveals itself.

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The form of the book has been altered best to display the imagined flâneur’s prose narrative.

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For more of Pauline Rafal’s work, see her website and Facebook page.

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Bookmarking Book Art – On the Origin of Species

Charles Robert Darwin by John Collier

Charles Robert Darwin
by John Collier

It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us…. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

– On the Origin of Species, 1869, the final paragraph.

In disparate “entangled banks” and micro-climates around the world, book artists and Charles Darwin have evolved a symbiotic relationship. By date and place, here are some bookmarks on that evolution.

1995, Washington, D.C., USA

Carol Barton and Diane Shaw organized the exhibition “Science and the Artist’s Book” for the Smithsonian Institution Libraries and the Washington Project for the Arts. Barton and Shaw invited book artists to respond to works in the Heralds of Science collection in the Smithsonian’s Dibner Library.  Among twenty-one other pairings, George Gessert was invited to respond to Charles Robert Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, London, 1859.

Gessert’s response was Natural Selection (1994), an artist’s book consisting of computer-printed handwriting and Cibachrome prints of the results of Gessert’s own experiments in hybridizing irises. Citing Darwin’s description of the breeding of pigeons for their ornamental characteristics, Gessert contends “that Darwin also recognized aesthetics as an evolutionary factor”.  Since the 1980s, Gessert’s work and writings have focused on the way human aesthetics can affect evolution and the aesthetic, ethical and social implications.  His work and that of artists/theorists such as Suzanne Anker, Eduardo Kac, Marta De Menezes, the Harrisons and Sonya Rapoport have constituted the bio art and eco art movements.  A collection of his essays appeared as Green Light: Toward an Art of Evolution in the Leonardo Book Series, published by The MIT Press in 2010.

Gessert, George, “Hybrid 768,” Science Meets Art, accessed February 8, 2017, http://gamma.library.temple.edu/sciencemeetsart/items/show/37.

Gessert, George, “Hybrid 768,” Science Meets Art, accessed February 8, 2017, http://gamma.library.temple.edu/sciencemeetsart/items/show/37.

2004, Manchester, UK

Evolution Trilogy, 2004 Part 1 – 10 x 7.5 x 1 Part 2 – 12 x 9 x 2 Part 3 – 8.5 x 6.5 x 1 Emma Lloyd

Emma Lloyd
Evolution Triptych (2004)
Part 1 – 10 x 7.5 x 1, Part 2 – 12 x 9 x 2, Part 3 – 8.5 x 6.5 x 1

Inspired by Darwin’s The Descent of Man, Part I, and cell structures in biology texts, Emma Lloyd‘s Evolution Triptych sparks thoughts of fossils, woodcarved altarpieces or the tooled cover of the St Cuthbert Gospel, the code of life embedded in DNA structure and the code of information embedded in the codex.

Tree of Jesse Altarpiece Porto, Portugal

Tree of Jesse Altarpiece
Porto, Portugal


The St Cuthbert Gospel
British Library

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The artistic technique here – carving the book as artifact – is prevalent in book art; see the work of Doug Beube, Brian Dettmer and Guy Laramée, for example. Lloyd’s treatment of the Darwin volume is the only one of its type in this collection of bookmarks. Given the influence of On the Origin of Species, though, it would be unusual if other “book surgeons” have not been similarly inspired by it.

2009, London, UK

Storyteller and book artist Sam Winston set about categorizing the words in On the Origin of Species and poet Ruth Padel’s Darwin, A Life in Poems (Chatto & Windus, 2009). He sorted them by nouns, verbs, adjectives and “other”.  As Winston puts it, he “wanted to present a visual map of how a scientist and a poet use language – a look at how much each author used real world names (Nouns) and more abstract terminology (Verb, Adjective and Other) in their writings.”

To do that, he categorized the 153,535 words in On the Origin – a dot with a 4H pencil for the 50,567 words categorized as “Other”, a 2H pencil for the 38,266 categorized as “Noun”, an HB pencil for the 26,435 categorized as “Verb” and a 4B pencil for the 38,266 categorized as “Adjective”. The result – Darwin, a series of visual “frequency poems” on display at Le Gun Studio in London – is a book altered through the DNA-like pattern of its own words into a completely “other” scroll and into a topographical map of itself – guided by the artist’s hand and mind.

Sam Winston, Darwin, 2009

Sam Winston 
Darwin (2009)


Right view. Sam Winston, Darwin, 2009 Le Gun Studio, 19 Warburton Road, London, E8 3RT, UK

Right view. Sam Winston, Darwin (2009)
Le Gun Studio, 19 Warburton Road, London, E8 3RT, UK

In the same sesquicentennial year, in the same city, Stefanie Posavec collaborated with Greg McInerny to issue (En)tangled Word Bank, a series of diagrams, each representing an edition of On the Origin of Species, and the work’s title alluding to Darwin’s “entangled bank” passage presented above.  The pressed-dandelion-shaped chapters and subchapters are divided into paragraph ‘leaves’ with wedge-shaped ‘leaflets’ representing their sentences.

The sentences forming the ‘leaflets’ of the organism are of orange, senescent tones when they will be deleted in following editions. The green, growth tones are applied to those sentences that have life in the following edition. The tone of each colour is determined by its age, in editions, to that point. Through these differences in colouration the simplicity in structure in the early stages of the organism’s life develops into a complex form, showing when the structures developed to its changing environment. Around the organisms the textual code is provided, showing the changes in the size of the organism, and where the senescence and growth is derived in that code. A series of re-arrangements of the organism focus on changes at each level of organisation.

This is “structural infographic” as art.

Greg McInerny and Stefanie Posavec, (En)tangled Word Bank, 2009.

Stefanie Posavec and Greg McInerny for Microsoft Research, Cambridge
(En)tangled Word Bank  (2009)

2009, Boston, MA, USA

Across the Atlantic, Ben Fry, author of Visualizing Data (O’Reilly, 2007), created a similar work of art called The Preservation of Favoured Traces. Fry color-coded each word of Darwin’s final text by the edition in which it first appeared and used the data to build an interactive display at fathom.com demonstrating the changes at the macro level and word-by-word. Fry went on to produce a poster version and print-on-demand book version.

Ben Fry, The Preservation of Favoured Traces, 2009

Ben Fry 
The Preservation of Favoured Traces (2009)

2009, Vancouver, Canada

Three thousand miles away that summer, Canadian poets Stephen Collis and Jordan Scott placed multiple copies of On the Origin of Species in various outdoor locations “not … to put the natural into the text, [but] … to put the text out into the natural world and see what happens to it” (p. 2). After a year, Collis and Scott photographed the results in situ and collected and used the some of the still decipherable words as found text for their volume Decomp (Coach House Press, 2013).

Artist: Stephen Collis and Jordan Scott Decomp, 2013

Stephen Collis and Jordan Scott
Decomp (2013)


Artist: Stephen Collis and Jordan Scott Decomp, 2013

Stephen Collis and Jordan Scott
Decomp (2013)


Artist: Stephen Collis and Jordan Scott Decomp, 2013

Stephen Collis and Jordan Scott
Decomp (2013)

This blend of the technique of found text and artistic collaboration with nature harks back to Marcel Duchamp’s 1919 Readymade Malheureux , Finlay Taylor’s East Dulwich Dictionary (2007) and M.L. Van Nice’s Feast is in the Belly of the Beholder (2010) among many others.

2009, Phoenix, AZ, USA

Former science teacher and now botanical artist and bookmaker, Kelly Houle embarked on a 10-year plan to create an illuminated and scribed copy of the first edition of On the Origin. Where medieval scribes and rubricators had abbots to preside over them and their book art, Houle has University of Chicago Professor Emeritus Jerry A. Coyne and several other academics. As she notes about her process, the past techniques have also yielded to present concerns:

Artist: Kelly M. Houle The Illuminated Origin, 2009 - Watercolor, gouache, interference watercolor, gold foil, shell gold on Fabriano Artistico, 22 x 30 inches

Kelly M. Houle
The Illuminated Origin (2009 – )
Watercolor, gouache, interference watercolor, gold foil, shell gold
on Fabriano Artistico, 22 x 30 inches

Today many artists still practice the tradition of illumination using medieval and renaissance-era materials and techniques. While many of these have stood the test of time, there are more earth-friendly materials than those used in the past….

Detail of frontispiece Courtesy of the artist

Detail of frontispiece
Courtesy of the artist

The Illuminated Origin of Species will be written on hot-pressed Fabriano Artistico paper made in Italy. It is the best paper in the world for both calligraphy and botanical art. These are extremely smooth, beautiful, and durable papers. They are chlorine-free, acid-free, and 100% cotton. No animal by-products are used in the sizing. Combined with Winsor and Newton watercolors and gouache, this paper will be perfect for the demands of The Illuminated Origin.

Detail of frontispiece Courtesy of the artist

Detail of frontispiece
Courtesy of the artist

To mimic the play of light on various shiny and iridescent surfaces in nature, I am using 23k gold foil, shell gold, and interference watercolors, which contain small flecks of mica to produce an iridescent effect. These metals will distinguish The Illuminated Origin as a truly “illuminated” manuscript.                — Kelly M. Houle, “The Making of a Modern Illuminated Manuscript

Houle aims to complete her work in 2019, On the Origin‘s 160th anniversary.

2009, Farnham, Surrey, UK

Between its hardback covers lined in marbled papers, Angela Thames’ Darwin’s Poetic Words  has distilled the often liturgical, poetic passages of On the Origin of Species.

Artist: Angela Thames Darwin's Poetic Words Hardbound, 12 pages, 12 x 8 cm, 8 linocuts, Somerset paper

Angela Thames
Darwin’s Poetic Words (2009)
Hardbound, 12 pages, 12 x 8 cm, 8 linocuts, Somerset paper

Between 2009 and 2013, Thames created four more artist’s books besides Darwin’s Poetic Words, based on excerpts from On the Origin of Species. In this focus and technique, Thames takes and interprets portions rather than the whole of the source as do Houle, Collis and Scott, Fry, McInerny and Posavec, Winston, and Lloyd in their differing ways.

Angela Thames Evident Evolution (2009-13) Collagraph images of bone structures and text, 8 pages, Silkscreen covers, Spiral bound edition

Angela Thames
Evident Evolution (2009-13)
Collagraph images of bone structures and text, 8 pages, Silkscreen covers, Spiral bound edition


Angela Thames A Grain in the Balance (2009-13) Collagraph images with rubber-stamped text, 8x10cm, 15 pages, Somerset beige paper

Angela Thames
A Grain in the Balance (2009-13)
Collagraph images with rubber-stamped text, 8x10cm, 15 pages, Somerset beige paper


Angela Thames Poor Man (2009-13) Folded card with pop up flower, Words spoken by his gardener, Silkscreen, wood-stamped text, Open edition

Angela Thames
Poor Man (2009-13)
Folded card with pop up flower, Words spoken by his gardener,
Silkscreen, wood-stamped text, Open edition

Angela Thames Poor Man (2009-13) Folded card with pop up flower, Words spoken by his gardener, Silkscreen, wood-stamped text, Open edition

Poor Man (2009-13) is the only exhibit in this survey that demonstrates the pop-up technique in book artistry, but as evolutionary biology and fossil-hunting have shown, who knows what undiscovered forms are out there.

2012, New York, NY, USA

Following in their tradition since 1984, Tim Rollins and K.O.S. (“Kids of Survival”) seized on Darwin’s “Tree of Life” diagram

Darwin's notebook sketch of an evolutionary tree. Charles Robert Darwin, Transmutation of Species, 1837

Darwin’s notebook sketch of an evolutionary tree. Charles Robert Darwin, Transmutation of Species, 1837

and “jammed” to produce a series of paintings and preliminary works in ink and watercolor on pages of the book to create ON THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES (after Darwin). Eighteen students, aged 13 to 16, worked with Rollins on the preliminary studies, one of which appears below, that preceded the 2013 exhibition of paintings at the Lehmann Maupin Gallery.

Artist: Tim Rollins, b. 1955, and K.O.S., founded 1984 Studies for ON THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES (after Darwin) ink and watercolor on book page 9 x 6 inches 22.9 x 15.2 cm

Tim Rollins and K.O.S.
Studies for ON THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES (after Darwin) (2014)
Ink and watercolor on book page, 22.9 x 15.2 cm
Photo credit: Lehmann Maupin Gallery

The large-scale paintings consist of almost all of the 360 pages of On the Origin fixed to canvas and ink-stamped over and over with the “Tree of Life” image, which had been cut into 60 handstamps. Rollins described the concept of the works in an interview for Brooklyn Rail:

The whole book is 360 pages but we don’t ever want to be literal so it’s not all of the pages. They’re there to inspire. It’s like an opera. The libretto inspires the music. You can watch an opera in a language you don’t know, without reading. It’s the same with our work. It’s about a visual correspondence with the text. The work is not about something. That’s why you can’t get hung up on interpretation. That’s a big issue, especially with so much politically engaged art. We want to create a situation, learning machines, so everyone is learning in the process of making and then hopefully the audience will be inspired too. Maybe they will pick up Darwin or continue with the idea. These are catalysts for action.

In a video interview with ArtNet, Rollins also refers to the K.O.S. jamming process -reading aloud from the book in a studio setting, discussing it with students and seeking inspiration from the text – not as a school lesson or classroom exercise but as a kind of séance, an assertion that touches the essence of “reverse ekphrasis” in book art. Rather than the literary work or book capturing the spirit of a work of art, the work of art captures the spirit of the book.

2013/14, Oxford, OH, USA

At the University of Puget Sound (2013) and Center for Book Art in New York (2014), Diane Stemper exhibited her Darwin-inspired book art that explores “the intersection between the natural world, daily living, science and the collective and individual experience of landscape”.

Artist: Diane Stemper Universal Sample (2014) Edition of 4, Intaglio and letterpress on Arches

Diane Stemper
Universal Sample (2014)
Edition of 4, Intaglio and letterpress on Arches


Diane Stemper Universal Sample (2014) Edition of 4, Intaglio and letterpress on Arches

Diane Stemper
Universal Sample (2014)
Edition of 4, Intaglio and letterpress on Arches


Artist: Diane Stemper Universal Sample (2014) Edition of 4, Intaglio and letterpress on Arches

Diane Stemper
Universal Sample (2014)
Edition of 4, Intaglio and letterpress on Arches

Hand bound, printed and produced in her Plat 21 Studio, in Oxford, her Galapagos Map (2013), Darwin’s Atlantic Sea (2014) and Universal Sample (2014), these works have an eerie physical presence.  At the Center for Book Art, I have seen and, with the kind permission of Alex Campos, the curator there, touched the works. The intaglio printing and richly textured creamy paper still communicate themselves even across the digital divide.

2014, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, and London, UK

Simon Phillipson completed a variorum edition of On the Origin of Species, in which every verso page is the evolved or amended text and the recto page is the final text from the the Sixth edition.

Charles Robert Darwin, On the Origin of Species, variorum edition designed by Simon Philippson, 2014. Printed in the Netherlands on special 60gsm bible paper and finished with a special metallic bronze ink

Charles Robert Darwin, On the Origin of Species, variorum edition designed by Simon Phillipson, 2014.
Printed in the Netherlands on special 60gsm bible paper and finished with a special metallic bronze ink

The verso pages are completely printed in a special metallic bronze ink. The recto is printed in a combination of black and bronze ink. The bronze highlighted words in the recto correspond to the evolving or amending text in the verso. Very reminiscent of, but distinct from, Ben Fry’s The Preservation of Favoured Traces (see above).

2014, Minneapolis, MN 

Vesna Kittelson, Mrs. Darwin's Garden, Book Two, 2014 Accordion book, 9 x 7 in

Vesna Kittelson,
Mrs. Darwin’s Garden, Book Two (2014)
Accordion book, 9 x 7 in

Vesna Kittelson is an American-Croatian artist based in Minneapolis. Her résumé cites public collections ranging from Tate Britain and Minnesota Museum of American Art to Cafesjian Center for the Arts in Armenia and the Modern Museum of Art in Croatia. In 2009, she spent time at Churchill College, Cambridge University, where she learned about the life and marriage of Charles Darwin and Emma Wedgwood. Subsequently she created four artist books titled Mrs. Darwin’s Garden depicting primitive-seeming plants imagined as flora that Darwin might have seen from the deck of the Beagle. The names of the plants are made-up Latin names or variations on those of contemporary plants.

Vesna Kittelson, Mrs. Darwin's Garden, Book Two, 2014 Accordion book, 9 x 7 in

Vesna Kittelson, Mrs. Darwin’s Garden, Book Two, 2014
Accordion book, 9 x 7 in

These abstract images are imagined plants for Mrs. Darwin’s garden. They are illustrations of named floral specimens that never existed in reality. In Mrs. Darwin’s Garden they are presented as if they correspond to data derived from Darwin’s experimentation in his greenhouse. In this book I replaced the 19th C methods of botanical drawing with pouring paints to incorporate the contemporary notion of valuing an accident, followed by drawing with brushes and pencils to gain control and give the images a place and time in the 21st C.

2014, Grasswood, Saskatchewan, Canada

Jonathan Skinner (Warwick University) wrote in his preface to Decomp (see above):

Writing rots, meaning flees. … Yet the book is written to locate (some) meaning here. Would it make any difference to leave Decomp itself in the wilderness? Probably not.

Book artist, papermaker and co-founder with her husband David Miller of Byopia Press, Cathryn Miller reviewed Decomp in 2013. If not prompted by Skinner’s preface, Miller must have felt how appropriately evolutionary it would be to attempt to replicate the Decomp experiment by substituting the result of that experiment for the subject of the replicating experiment. Thus, in January 2014, Miller nailed to a tree “a book based on letting brand new copies of On the Origin of Species rot in various locations”.

Artist: Cathryn Miller Recomp, 2014 Copy of Decomp, Collis and Scott (2013) nailed to a tree Photo credit: David G. Miller

Cathryn Miller
Recomp (2014)
Copy of Decomp, Collis and Scott (2013) nailed to a tree
Photo credit: David G. Miller

For over twenty months, Miller monitored and husband David photographed the book’s weathering. That, however, was not the transformation that would result in an altered book and possibly a work of book art. Nature had some ironic appropriateness in store for Miller, Skinner, Collis, Scott and all of us. The blown pages were visited by Bald-faced Hornets, who digested them á la John Latham and his students but regurgitated them as cellulose with which to build a large nest.

Artist: Cathryn Miller Recomp, 2015 Photo credit: David G. Miller

Cathryn Miller
Recomp (2015)
Photo credit: David G. Miller


Artist: Cathryn Miller and Bald-faced Hornets Recomp, 2015 Nest composed of pages from Decomp, Collis and Scott (2013) Photo credit: David G. Miller

Cathryn Miller and Bald-faced Hornets
Recomp (2015)
Nest composed of pages from Decomp, Collis and Scott (2013)
Photo credit: David G. Miller

In the context of book art, the nest offers a curiously serendipitous digression. In 1719, the French naturalist René Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur published an essay to the Royal Academy of Sciences on the natural history of wasps. In the passage below, he hypothesizes how their natural papermaking industry could be adopted by man.

René Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur, "Histoire des guêpes", Mémoire de l'Académie royale des sciences avec 7 planches (252) - En 1719, imprimé en 1721. http://www.academie-sciences.fr/pdf/dossiers/Reaumur/Reaumur_publi.htm. Accessed 12 September 2016.

René Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur, “Histoire des guêpes”, Mémoire de l’Académie royale des sciences avec 7 planches (252) – En 1719, imprimé en 1721. http://www.academie-sciences.fr/pdf/dossiers/Reaumur/Reaumur_publi.htm. Accessed 12 September 2016.

In 2015, Miller presented the results as Recomp in her blog at Byopia Press. In September that year, however, critics (raccoons, the artist thinks) visited the work and deconstructed it.

Recomp vandalized, 2015 Photo credit: David G. Miller

Recomp vandalized, 2015
Photo credit: David G. Miller

Might this prove that, to paraphrase the last paragraph of On the Origin, “by laws acting around us…. from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals [and their art], directly follows”? If so, that makes raccoons and critics equal laws of nature.

2015, Umeå, Sweden

Johannes Heldén’s work Field is book, visual art and installation all in one. Heldén’s is perhaps the darkest variant on Darwin’s theme here.

It consists of interactive landscape animations on a floor touchscreen of 20 sqm,

Field (2015) Produced, and premiered, at HUMlab, Umeå University Johannes Heldén

Johannes Heldén
Field (2015)
Produced, and premiered, at HUMlab, Umeå University

a series of sculptural mutations of the Eurasian Jackdaw*,

Field (2015) Produced, and premiered, at HUMlab, Umeå University Johannes Heldén

Johannes Heldén
Field (2015)
Produced, and premiered, at HUMlab, Umeå University

an ever-changing soundscape and an interactive screen wall with a text responding to the changing DNA of the bird

Field (2015) Produced, and premiered, at HUMlab, Umeå University Johannes Heldén

Johannes Heldén
Field (2015)
Produced, and premiered, at HUMlab, Umeå University

– as the ”code” of todays species is slowly lost, so is the code and context of language. The gaps in the text correspond to the shift in the DNA sequence, prose turns into dark poetry, connections and meaning changing for each iteration.

Field (2015) Produced, and premiered, at HUMlab, Umeå University Johannes Heldén

Johannes Heldén
Field (2015)
Produced, and premiered, at HUMlab, Umeå University


Field (2015) Produced, and premiered, at HUMlab, Umeå University Johannes Heldén

Johannes Heldén
Field (2015)
Produced, and premiered, at HUMlab, Umeå University

All these pieces are connected: as you explore the landscape and trigger the glowing touch points with your body, time is rapidly speeding up (clouds move over the scene, trees wither away, a flood is coming), one by one the four bird sculptures in the installation will be ”activated” with light and sound, spiraling the species further down into mutations. At the end of the piece, no lights remain in the landscape, the sound is immense, all mutations have occurred, the last poetry dissolves into entropy. Then all fades to black.

Since Darwin’s theory encompassed extinction, perhaps Heldén’s vision is not so much a variant on Darwin as it is a pessimistic appreciation and warning about the impact of our interaction with the entangled bank.

 

2016, Guildford, Surrey, UK

Cathryn Miller’s “bio-book-art” and that of Collis and Scott stand at the collaboration end of the bio art spectrum, where the artist yields considerable control to nature in the creative process. At the coordination end of the spectrum – closer to domestication of species – stands Dr. Simon F. Park’s bio-book-art – The Origin of Species –  perhaps “the first book to be grown and produced using just bacteria”. Presented at the Edinburgh International Science Festival, the small book has pages made of bacterial cellulose, produced by the bacterium Gluconoacetobacter xylinus (GXCELL). Its cover is even printed with naturally pigmented bacteria.

Artist: Dr. Simon F Park The Origin of Species "The small book shown here was grown from and made entirely from bacteria. Not only is the fabric of its pages (GXCELL) produced by bacteria, but the book is also printed and illustrated with naturally pigmented bacteria. " Posted 27 March 2016 Photo credit: Dr. Simon F. Park

Dr. Simon F Park
The Origin of Species
“The small book shown here was grown from and made entirely from bacteria. Not only is the fabric of its pages (GXCELL) produced by bacteria, but the book is also printed and illustrated with naturally pigmented bacteria. ” Posted 27 March 2016
Photo credit: Dr. Simon F. Park

Although Park’s science-driven process for paper manufacturing and printing echoes the speculations of French naturalist René Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur (see above), it seems to have much in common with the painstaking craft of handmade paper and hand letterpress printing.  The first sheet of Park’s micro-organically grown paper took a little under two weeks to be generated and stencilled with his bacterial ink.

2016, Colchester, Essex, UK

It seems chronologically backwards to move from bio-book-art’s live media to Chris Ruston’s ammonites of  The Great Gathering.  As should be evident by now, however, the evolution of the symbiotic relationship between book artists and Darwin has been anything but a straight line. It  has curved, circled and recursed.

Tim Rollins + K.O.S may have had their séance 30-50 feet away from Darwin’s lodgings in Edinburgh, but Chris Ruston brought her Darwin-inspired book art to an even more fitting venue: a church converted into Colchester’s Natural History Museum.

Natural History Museum High Street Colchester, Essex England Photo credit: Chris Ruston

Natural History Museum
Colchester, Essex, England
Photo credit: Chris Ruston

As the artist comments at her site:

The Great Gathering refers to our continued exploration of where we have come from, and where we are going. Combined the seven volumes tell an amazing story spanning 650 million years. Sculptural in form, each book reflects a moment of this journey. From black holes and dark beginnings, through ocean and sediment layers, Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, and recycled National Geographic magazines the work charts the inevitability of change.

View of exhibition of The Great Gathering Natural History Museum Photo credit: Chris Ruston

View of exhibition of The Great Gathering
Natural History Museum, Colchester
Photo credit: Chris Ruston

They are a response to visiting Museum collections, in particular the Natural History Museum, Colchester and the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences Cambridge. Fossils hold the key which have enabled us to unlock  the story of our Origins – from the largest creatures to the smallest organisms. The 19th century saw an explosion of knowledge  and understanding, culminating in Darwin’s publication of  On the Origin of  Species. By piecing together the riddle of the fossil record, Darwin and his contemporaries began asking revolutionary and challenging questions, the results of which are still felt today.

View of exhibition of The Great Gathering Natural History Museum Photo credit: Chris Ruston

View of exhibition of The Great Gathering
Natural History Museum
Photo credit: Chris Ruston

 

Science and art are the presiding geniuses over The Great Gathering. 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:

Artist: Chris Ruston The Great Gathering, 2016 Photo credit: Chris Matthews

Chris Ruston
The Great Gathering, 2016
Photo credit: Chris Matthews

how a solander box ought to be constructed to operate with the work and, in enclosing it, be “the work”;

Chris Ruston The Great Gathering (2016) Photo credit: Chris Matthews

Chris Ruston
The Great Gathering (2016)
Photo credit: Chris Matthews

what materials (photos from the Hubble telescope) ought to be used to reflect a moment in time;

Chris Ruston The Great Gathering (2016) Photo credit: Chris Matthews

Chris Ruston
The Great Gathering (2016)
Photo credit: Chris Matthews

how thread, tape and stitch ought to be to hold together a spine that will flex and spiral into the shape of a fossil;

Chris Ruston The Great Gathering (2016) Photo credit: Chris Matthews

Chris Ruston
The Great Gathering (2016)
Photo credit: Chris Matthews

how the color of the material ought to be juxtaposed with the material’s altered shape to carry meaning;

Chris Ruston The Great Gathering (2016) Photo credit: Chris Matthews

Chris Ruston
The Great Gathering (2016)
Photo credit: Chris Matthews

how the shift from content to blankness ought to be juxtaposed with the material’s altered shape to carry meaning;

Chris Ruston The Great Gathering (2016) Photo credit: Chris Matthews

Chris Ruston
The Great Gathering (2016)
Photo credit: Chris Matthews

how the selection and alteration of text ought to be made to show the fixity and flux of knowledge and ourselves;

Chris Ruston The Great Gathering (2016) Photo credit: Chris Matthews

Chris Ruston
The Great Gathering (2016)
Photo credit: Chris Matthews

and how our reflection in the mirror in Volume VII under the maker’s tools and the made thing ought to implicate us — the viewer here and now – in an ongoing process of making and remaking.

On display at "Turn the Page", Norwich, England (2016) Photo credit: Chris Ruston

On display at “Turn the Page”, Norwich, England (2016)
Photo credit: Chris Ruston

If you have come this far with these bookmarks on the evolution of book artists’ symbiosis with Darwin, note that today and every 12th of February is Darwin Day, marking international celebrations of the birth of Charles Darwin and his contributions to science. From today’s engagements and all those to come with the concepts of On the Origin of Species and (I hope) with these bookmarks, perhaps new discoveries and new creations of book art will emerge.

For further reading about

Stephen Collis: Facebook

Ben Fry: Ben Fry

George Gessert: Revolution Bioengineering

Johannes Heldén: News

Kelly M. Houle: ASU Magazine

Vesna Kittelson: Form + Content Gallery

Emma Lloyd: Facebook

Greg McInerny: Warwick University

Cathryn Miller: Byopia Press

Simon F. Park: Exploring the Invisible

Simon Philippson: LinkedIn

Stefanie Posavec: Wired

Tim Rollins: Artspace.com, Brooklyn Rail (article by Thyrza Nichols Goodeve)

Chris Ruston: Essex Life

Jordan Scott: Twitter

Diane Stemper: Saatchi Art

Angela Thames: Angela Thames

Sam Winston: Articles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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