Basia Irland’s art project ICE BOOKS: receding/reseeding gives a formidably tangible and new meaning to “publishing as dissemination.” As Irland describes the project on her site:
River water is frozen, carved into the form of a book, embedded with an ‘ecological language’ or ‘riparian’ consisting of local native seeds, and placed back into the stream. The seeds are released as the ice melts in the current…
I carved a 250-pound book from clear ice and embedded it with a seed text of Mountain Maple (Acer spicatum), Columbine flowers (Aquilegia coerulea), and Colorado Blue Spruce (Picea pungens). Four people carried the heavy book out into the current of Boulder Creek. As it rested between two large rocks, viewers cold see the water flowing under the ice. Ice Books. Accessed 17 February 2013 and 11 September 2014.
This is book art as performance art and conceptual art but with a twist: the performance yields results beyond the on-site viewers’ memories or any photography and video of the event replayed in galleries or museum installations. Whether the seeds that float downstream in local rivers do take root is uncertain. As there is at least a chance that it will happen, it is more than the concept that counts.
“Performed” across 18 locations around the world, Irland’s project has been going since 2007. Fittingly the first performance began with Lucy R. Lippard’s Weather Report exhibition in 2007, but the concept has a rich heritage. With some further reading and the help of Peter Verheyen’s listserv BKARTS, I have tracked down some of that other “ramifying” or “ecologically political” book art.
Starting with Lippard herself, there is Six Years, the 1973 seminal, long-subtitled work that drew attention to Hans Haacke’s Wind in Water (1967) and other conceptual and environmental art. And then came Doug Beube’s pieces from the 80s and later such as Organic and The Chair of Censorship. In the late 90s, we had Ann Marie Kennedy’s Plant Dreams. In 2010, Maggie Puckett’s “Thaw“.
And now, this conceptual book art has revolved back into books:
Pequeño Editor, an Argentinian children’s book publisher, has published Tree Book Tree with ecologically friendly ink and acid-free paper embedded with jacaranda seeds. As the video explains, “Books come from trees. Today, a tree comes from a book.”
The act of reading then planting the book echoes the twist in Irland’s performance and conceptual pieces. The book as read (the performance) resides in the memories of the readers, the concept (books are made of trees) resides in the mind, and downstream in time, a jacaranda blossoms overhead.