Bookmarking Book Art – Abigail Thomas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Bookmarking Book Art – M.L. Van Nice

Plinitude, 1994
Plinitude, 1994                                   [seeds, bones, insect wings, feathers, wood, leather, paper, acrylic]
                  ” ‘In and around and under Pliny’s writing and scholarship lies the natural world,’ writes M.L. Van Nice. This artist favors an intuitive approach to learning rather than Pliny’s structured encyclopedia format. Fascinated with her own inability to read the original text, Van Nice creates an imaginative but unreadable script, drawing elements from the natural world into the artist’s book.”

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

The Hole of Understanding (detail), 2004, from The Library at Wadi ben Dagh
The Hole of Understanding (detail), 2004, from The Library at Wadi ben Dagh
                  “Imagine coming upon a library where you could actually peer into your favorite books; where a copy of Lewis Carol’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland had its own rabbit hole for you to gaze into with openings in the shape of hearts, spades, clubs and diamonds. Would it be a real library or a library without structure and logic? M.L. Van Nice’s whimsical installation, The Library at Wadi ben Dagh, is just such a library…. Created by an anonymous character named Woman Doe, the books in The Library at Wadi ben Dagh are classified by recollection, associations, deductive reasoning, and curiosity.

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

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

Feast is in the Belly of the Beholder
Feast is in the Belly of the Beholder, 2010

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

Font, 2010
Font, 2010

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

Swiss Army Book
Swiss Army Book, 1990

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