Bookmarking Book Art – Michael Mandiberg

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.
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.

Print Wikipedia is a both a utilitarian visualization of the largest accumulation of human knowledge and a poetic gesture towards the futility of the scale of big data. Mandiberg has written software that parses the entirety of the English-language Wikipedia database and programmatically lays out thousands of volumes, complete with covers, and then uploads them for print-on-demand. Built on what is likely the largest appropriation ever made, it is also a work of found poetry that draws attention to the sheer size of the encyclopedia’s content and the impossibility of rendering Wikipedia as a material object in fixed form: Once a volume is printed it is already out of date. The work is also a reflection on the actual transparency or completeness of knowledge containers and history. (Denny Gallery)

Mandiberg  echoes a conceptual framework initiated by John F. Simon, Jr. and his “Every Icon” in 1996-97.  Every Icon is a grid of 32 x 32 empty squares underpinned by a Java applet that explores successively every combination of black and white squares that could occur within the confines of that grid. Changing from light to dark and back again, the black or white boxes “hop” progressively to the right. Over time (say a trillion years), the grid will will populate itself with shapes. Simon’s algorithmically driven “artist’s proof” speaks to the ephemerality, futility and power of art, which is the unavoidable, underlying theme of “Every Icon” and, for that matter, any instance of installation or performance art.

As Simon puts it,

While Every Icon is resolved conceptually, it is unresolvable in practice.
In some ways the theoretical possibilities outdistance
the time scales of both evolution and imagination.
It posits a representational system where computational
promise is intricately linked to extraordinary duration and momentary sensation.

In Mandiberg’s case – whether it is the complete  set or a print-on-demand segment – the realized print element of the Print Wikipedia demonstrates the work’s unresolvability in practice. Even if I hold out hope that the “art” (the algorithmic techne/craft) of Print Wikipedia lasts long, any artifact “resolved” by Print Wikipedia will always be out of date until the “final moment” of Wikipedia (whatever that might look like). Warning: the links from previous reviews of Every Icon are often dead, which is doubly ironic: the technical community always speaks of “links resolving to a resource”, so with those dead links, there is a further, unintended “unresolvability”.

Mandiberg’s work also echoes the conceptual framework initiated by Paul Soulellis and Library of the Printed Web. Like the volumes in Mandiberg’s Printed Wikipedia, those in the LotPW are created by print on demand.

“Special Collection” (2009), by Benjamin Shaykin. Photo by the Library of the Printed Web.
Special Collection (2009), by Benjamin Shaykin. Photo by the Library of the Printed Web.

In Soulellis’ words,

Library of the Printed Web is a collection of works by artists who use screen capture, image grab, site scrape and search query to create printed matter from content found on the web. LotPW includes self-published artists’ books, photo books, texts and other print works gathered around the casual concept of “search, compile and publish“.

The content in Benjamin Shaykin’s Special Collection consists of found pages in which a scanner’s hand was accidentally captured by the Google scanning system during the Google Book Project . This is truly “manually” found content. The content of Mandiberg’s work is algorithmically “found content” on a massive scale. While it may be that Print Wikipedia represents the “futility of the scale of big data”, I prefer the irrational hope that its print element, however tied to the digital, and the physical book art of the LotPW secure the consolation of “ars longa, vita brevis”.

Bookmarking Book Art – Jan Fairbairn-Edwards

Family Geology by Jan Fairbairn-Edwards consists of multiple related works to create the visual narrative of her Victorian era family’s emigration from the Norfolk fens to Australia. One of the central characters is her great aunt Sarah, who is the focus of the work Stratification of Sarah shown below.

Stratification of Sarah © Jan Fairbairn-Edwards
Stratification of Sarah, 2015
Jan Fairbairn-Edwards
Stratification of Sarah © Jan Fairbairn-Edwards
Stratification of Sarah, 2015 
Jan Fairbairn-Edwards

Symbolically, the six hanging “chapters” of Sarah’s journey move from the dun colors of the English fens to the hotter colors of Australia. The artist uses sheets of paper handmade from plants native to the Norfolk fens as well as traditional clothing fabric. The “geological” layers of the journey’s story are reflected in the stratified sheets that diminish in size from back to front.  The weathered documents appearing in each hanging are copies of found items from the family’s possessions or allusive artifacts, such as the article about Alice, “Jumbo’s widow“.

Alice was the African elephant being shipped aboard the HMSS Egyptian Monarch to join P.T. Barnum’s Jumbo in the US. Also on board the Monarch was Sarah, 10 years old when she embarked for the first sea leg of the journey to Australia. In another work in Family Geology called “Dear Mama”, the artist has invented a series of letters from Sarah, several of which tell of Sarah’s searching the ship for Alice.

"Dear Mama" Jan Fairbairn-Edwards
“Dear Mama”, 2015
Jan Fairbairn-Edwards

The other related works feature only fens-originated material, with the exception of a few pieces whose spines are branches of eucalyptus trees. Those spines and the hot Australian colors are the main physical manifestation of the Australian destination. As seen below, the stamps from the officialdom of the empire on which the sun never set provide another of the numerous unifying threads in the narrative.

Jan Fairbairn-Edwards
William’s Story, 2015
Jan Fairbairn-Edwards
Handmade papers with kozo and fenland plants, natural pigments, ink jet print (archival quality) on tracing paper, inks, string and eucalyptus wood binding

The artist suggested that I call this an installation. It is, but with the difference that there is this multi-threaded, narrative unity across and among the individual works that I have not noticed before in other installations. That unity makes me stumble a bit over the fact that the constituent works are purchasable individually, which casts the “installation” in something of a contrasting light. The work as a whole is one of remembrance and restoration. Doesn’t the removal of pieces of Family Geology undermine that?

Remember the 2014 installation Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red created by artists Paul Cummins and Tom Piper at the Tower of London: 888,246 ceramic poppies progressively filling the Tower’s famous moat between 17 July and 11 November?  Each red bloom represented a British military fatality in the First World War. The installation as installation resides only in the memories of its viewers and can be experienced only partially in photos, video clips or the website. The poppies sold individually over the web (I am one of the lucky owners of one of them). When I look at this single ceramic poppy, sometimes there is a failure of metonymic power – the ability of the part to stand for the whole.  Other times, it starts the image of a cascade of blood from a stone window into a moat of red. And so, what of a single work plucked from Family Geology?

The full impact of the installation – a family speaking to one another in and across time, from across seas and continents – something on which the viewer eavesdrops – rises like the musk from the back of an inherited chest’s bottom drawer full of old letters, curled newspaper clippings, fading photographs, pressed leaves and flowers. At first, you think it is the volume of  this manufactured memorabilia and their semi-invented, semi-found connectedness that is the source of that impact. But then you pick up William’s Story. The texture of its papers, the rough, dry sound of the leaves turning and the ash that flakes to the table from their edges take you deep into that musk through the one work.

You can sift through the several pieces of Fairbairn-Edwards’ Family Geology, and some will take you to the same place on their own, others lean much more on the presence of the installation. The thought of taking away from the whole one of its stronger parts leaves me hoping for an institutional white knight to purchase the “installation”.  Yet the scent of William’s Story on some visitor’s fingers is probably making him or her reach for a checkbook or credit card right now.

See also Turn the Page 2015, where Family Geology had its debut and was one of the eight finalists.

Family Geology will next be on show at Art & Papiers, Vézénobres (Gard), France, this month (June 2015).

 

Bookmarking Book Art – Animated!

Michelle Ku, The Swimmer, 2014
Michelle Ku, The Swimmer, 2014

John Cheever’s short story “The Swimmer” is an all-time favorite. After seeing the short film of it with Burt Lancaster, I can’t imagine Ned Merrill’s appearance any other way. Even in Michelle Ku’s animated book art version, I see Burt Lancaster’s big grin and its sorrow.

Before seeing Ku’s work, which has planted the urge to seek even more examples of animated book art, I had enjoyed Regan Avery’s The Groton Avery Clan at the CT(un)Bound exhibition in New Haven, Connecticut. The work consists of a handmade book, metallic thread, motor and an Arduino microcontroller. The Avery clan has inhabited the state since the 1600s. Regan Avery’s handmade book is a copy of the family history published over 100 years ago. From it, the name of each descendant of Christopher Avery, the original immigrant, has been excised and the ten thousand names handwritten on miniscule scraps of  yellowed paper that emerge from the book along interconnected threads put into motion by the motor and microcontroller.

Regan Avery, The Groton Avery Clan, 2015
Regan Avery, The Groton Avery Clan, 2015

When the motor engages, the name slips become “a teeming mass of humanity”.

In 2011, Saara Tuulia posted City and Snow Book on YouTube, which is a simple stop motion animation comparable to Ku’s more complex The Swimmer.

Saara Tuulia, City and Snow Book, 2011
Saara Tuulia, City and Snow Book, 2011

In 2013, Danielle Lathrop posted Book Art, whose stop motion animation highlighted the figurative and origami-based vein of the art form and its practitioners’ obsession with Alice in Wonderland.

Danielle Lathrop, Book Art, 2013 The White Rabbit and Alice sequence
Danielle Lathrop, Book Art, 2013
The White Rabbit and Alice sequence
Danielle Lathrop, Book Art, 2013 The White Rabbit and Alice sequence
Danielle Lathrop, Book Art, 2013
The White Rabbit and Alice sequence
Danielle Lathrop, Book Art, 2013 The White Rabbit and Alice sequence
Danielle Lathrop, Book Art, 2013
The White Rabbit and Alice sequence
Danielle Lathrop, Book Art, 2013 The White Rabbit and Alice sequence
Danielle Lathrop, Book Art, 2013
The White Rabbit and Alice sequence

More recently, and posted here, another example of animated book art – Giulio Maffei’s series Le Vite dei Libri (The Lives of Books) – demonstrates the increasing engagement and sophistication in this variant form of book art.

Giulio Maffei, Edward Ruscha's The Sunset Strip, 1966, 2015
Giulio Maffei, Edward Ruscha’s The Sunset Strip, 1966, 2015

The search is on; “roll camera”.

 

Bookmarking Book Art – More Manutius in Manchester and More to Come

Merchants of Print from Venice to Manchester,                                                          

Aldus Manutius, John Rylands Library, University of Manchester
Aldus Manutius, John Rylands Library, University of Manchester

29 January to 21 June 2015, John Rylands Library, University of Manchester, UK

‌This exhibition celebrates the legacy of Aldus Manutius (1449 – 1515), an Italian humanist scholar who founded the Aldine Press at Venice. His publishing legacy includes scholarly editions of classical authors, the introduction of italic type, and the development of books in small formats that were read much like modern paperbacks. The firm was continued after his death by his son and grandson until 1598.  John Rylands Library, University of Manchester website, accessed 17 May 2015

Back in February as I enjoyed Oxford’s recognition of the 500th anniversary of the death of Teobaldo Manucci, the Manchester exhibition was already running. Where the Oxford event focused on the more architectural motifs distinguishing early Venetian from Roman printing, the Manchester event dwelt more on the educational thrust, technical and business aspects of the Aldine legacy and provenance of the Manchester collection.

The Manchester focus on provenance wends its way back through the library’s donors dedicated to the cause of education (if not to impressing its practitioners with the importance of  the woolen industry’s contribution to it) to the Renaissance circle on which Manutius depended:

Giovanni Pico della Miradola, 1463-1494 Uffizi Gallery, Florence
Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, 1463-1494
Uffizi Gallery, Florence

In 1482 Manutius lived with Pico della Mirandola and served as tutor to his nephews, the sons of the Princess of Carpi. Like the later, beneficent Manchester merchants, Pico’s family contributed financially to the cause:  they funded the opening of the Aldine printing office in Venice in 1494. Of course, Pico made more than a patron’s financial contribution to the cause.  Along with Cardinal Bessarion, Marsilio Ficino, Leon Battista Alberti and Erasmus – all known intimately to Manutius –  Pico drove the revival of learning embodied in the output of the Aldines and numerous other printers (John Addington Symonds, Renaissance in Italy, Volume 2 (of 7): The Revival of Learning, John Murray, 1914).

Justus van Gent and Pedro Berruguete , Le Cardinal Bessarion (Les Hommes Illustres)
Cardinal Bessarion, Justus van Gent and Pedro Berruguete , (Les Hommes Illustres)
Marsilio Ficino, Duomo, Florence
Marsilio Ficino, Duomo, Florence
Leon Battista Alberti, Piazza degli Uffizi, Florence
Leon Battista Alberti, Piazza degli Uffizi, Florence
Desiderius Erasmus, 1523?, Hans Holbein the Younger
Desiderius Erasmus, 1523?, Hans Holbein the YoungerThe Manchester exhibition closes this month.

The next major Aldine event is the summer school hosted by The Catholic University in Siena (31 August – 3 September) and jointly organized by the Centro di ricerca europeo libro editoria biblioteca (CRELEB). Other events with dates still to be confirmed are planned in Brighton, Treviso, Milan and Arezzo.

More on Aldus Manutius at the University of Glasgow Library here.