Again and again, Pien Rotterdam’s works — Sea of Things (2014) and Absences (2015) — reward reading and contemplation.
The images of the coral, square, circle and triangle are “pulp printed”, a hybrid silkscreen/papermaking technique, which Rotterdam learned from Tim Mosely. The images themselves are made of fine pulp paper, transferred to, pressed and dried together with the receiving kozo/cotton paper. Message (or image) and medium are one, a sea around the letterpress text, whose words and acts described harmonize with technique, material, color and shape. Here are “pages” 1 to 5 as a sample.
As with Sea of Things, Rotterdam achieves another singular union of technique and meaning in Absences. Where Sea of Things addresses selecting and collecting, Absences addresses loss, memory and the experience of time.
Rotterdam’s explanation of the connection between technique, material and meaning can hardly be bettered:
When I made my first cyanotype photogram ten years ago, I was immediately struck by the way in which light shapes against a deep-blue ground show, simultaneously and paradoxically, what was there when the paper was exposed but what is now no longer there: the photogram makes absences visible. This realisation has led to an exploration of the metaphorical properties of the cyanotype process and to speculation on the relationship between photography, mementos, and memory, between memory and loss, and on the nature of time, in six brief reflective texts.
Rotterdam’s site rewards repeated visits. It traces her development as a book artist since 2003 and demonstrates mastery and strength at each stage. Her work can be acquired through the site. Rotterdam lives and works in Groningen, The Netherlands, home to the Book Arts Network, Grid Grafisch Museum and De Ploeg, an artists collective started in the early 20th century.
It took a long look at the development of Ioana Stoian’s work to show me the relationship of trompe l’oeil to book art — and to appreciate how an artist can invent herself.
Stoian’s apprenticeship as an artist began with the decorative arts in 2004 in Lower Normandy, France, and has taken her to New York (MoMA), Cologne, Vienna, Salzburg, Minneapolis, Ostende (Belgium), Kadoide (Japan), Amsterdam (the Stedlijk) and, as of 2015, back to Minneapolis, where she is a Jerome Foundation fellow at the Minnesota Center for the Book Arts.
Stoian’s time as an assistant artist with the Scottish painter Lucy McKenzie, starting in 2008, honed her skills in deceiving the eye with faux woodgrain and faux marbling. For example, see McKenzie’s 2008 installation at MoMA, 2009 installation at the Ludwig (Cologne), 2011 installation at the Galerie Buchholz and 2013 installation at the Stedelijk. One may wonder whether Daniel Buchholz’s roots in antiquarian books or the Stedelijk’s in artists’ books prepared the ground for Stoian’s artistic direction toward book art and paper art, but book art and trompe l’oeil joined spectacularly in 2014 when Stoian had the chance to work with Tauba Auerbach in 2014 on the completion of Auerbach’s Wood and Bent Onyx. Stoian handpainted the fore, top and bottom edges of the book blocks in watercolor pencil and paints to match the color and grain of the prints of wood and marble digitally offset on pages of Mohawk superfine paper. As a technique, fore edge painting dates to the 16th century, and the “vanishing” variety, where the painting appears only when the pages are pressed and fanned out, dates to the 17th century. Over time, a standard type of press developed to hold the “canvas” of page edges evenly fanned to accept the painting.
Despite this established history of fore-edge painting, Stoian had to fall back on a mastery and technique that come from her apprenticeship work, inventiveness and meticulousness.
These books were very heavy and the pages were very thick …. There was absolutely no way to fan the pages. I went through the book, page by page, and made marks of where the wood/ marble veins were located.
Then I clamped the book so that water wouldn’t seep in and using my ‘map’, I recreated the wood/ marble. As you can imagine, it was challenging to match the inside spreads. I had to constantly unclamp, verify that I was matching the spreads, re-clamp, paint, wait…
I used both watercolour pencils and paints. Needless to say, it’s very hard to erase watercolour without using lots of water and saturating the page. I had to be careful with every single brush stroke I made.
There is something Zen-like about trompe l’oeil in the attentiveness to detail, to material, to execution. But there is more. To mangle a Zen saying: Trompe l’oeil is more than a pointing at the moon; those who gaze only at the pointing will never see beyond — never see the beauty of the moon, never see the beauty of the pointing. With the best of trompe l’oeil, that moment in which the eye is fooled recurs again and again for the attentive viewer. In its recurrence, the work of art alternates between the self-referential (the mind drawn to the pointing) and the mimetic (the mind drawn to the pointed at).
So it is not surprising that Stoian has “always been interested in Japanese art and culture”. As early as 2008, origami appears in her commercial decorative work. She is the author of two books: Origami for All with her partner Eric Gjerde (2013) and The Origami Garden (2016). In reviewing both books for The Fold , Jane Rosemarin commented:
… as I paged through her first book, “Origami for All,” I eventually began to understand that Stoian is an artist who has chosen origami as her medium. Her work is not hard to fold, but it has a consistency of style and a real beauty.
Recognized not only for their origami, Stoian and Gjerde were invited in 2013 to exhibit their paper art at the prestigious Salon des Artisans et Métiers d’Art, held at La Propriété Caillebotte in the village of Yerres outside Paris. While Gjerde’s folds explicitly explore the mathematical (for example, Voronoi tessellations and hyperbolic paraboloids), Stoian’s explore shapes more suggestive of the oriental: cranes and flowers as in Strelizia (2010).
Where Gjerde’s interest in his material has led him to bio-art (paper grown from bacterial cellulose), Stoian’s has hewed to traditional papermaking, which figures consistently in her work: for example, Hidden Within (2010). In 2012, that interest in traditional
western papermaking had turned eastward:
After discovering western papermaking, I became fascinated with thin, strong sheets, which obviously led me to washi – the Japanese paper made from mulberry. I naturally had the desire to go to Japan and see how this paper was made.
It so happens that a friend of mine, Tomoko Fuse (a very talented and well-known female origami artist and perhaps the most published origami author in the world), was at a paper folding event in France. I casually mentioned that I wanted to go to Japan to learn papermaking. Next thing I know, she had very kindly organised for me to spend a month with Yasuo Kobayashi, master paper maker and owner of Kadoide Washi – an offer I could not refuse.
I spent a magical month in the mountains, during the Kozo harvest (December) and had an amazing time learning from a great master.
Yasuo Kobayashi is a fifth-generation papermaker but also a writer and philosopher, whose unique views on papermaking warranted his inclusion in the American Folklore Society’s sponsored report on apprenticeship and papermaking. Yasuo Kobayashi told the report’s author, Aimee Lee: “I wanted the kozo to tell me what kind of paper it wants to become, not to force it to be what I want. This is not typical for papermakers. I want kozo to be my teacher.” When asked to elaborate,
… Kobayashi compared bunka (culture) and bunmei (civilization). “Bunka is what you think from your heart.” In contrast, bunmei’s goal is to develop constantly, exemplified by the western desire for progress: people do not want today and tomorrow to be the same—they want things to be less difficult and more convenient. This mindset cannot translate to making real paper. His grandfather’s and father’s lives were not very different. His father’s and his lives were a little different. But his son’s and his lives are so different that it is hard to relate across that rift. He sees two roots for the future of paper: growers and makers. Real kozo goes with the heart but is inconvenient and does not follow progress. Kigami [paper] comes from the root “to be born,” and this word also relates to breathing. When born, paper is like a child: weak, but growing stronger over time until it dies. He knows that his point of view is rare, but also said people must balance bunka and bunmei, rather than to go absolutely one way or another. Today, the balance is too heavy on the professional side, so he tries to balance this by leaning towards the growing side.
Stoian’s jump at the chance to learn from him is consonant with her “journeyman’s” approach to her artistic development. Note that the visit to Kadoide Washi precedes the work on Wood and Bent Onyx for Tauba Auerbach in 2014. The methodical diligence required in making washi and the resulting appreciation of the properties of paper re-present themselves in Stoian’s mapping of the grain and perceiving what the works and the paper “wanted”. The impressive fore-edge work with Wood and Bent Onyx now seems inevitable, rising from a combination of technique and deep appreciation of color, material, form and structure in the service of illusion. In her own work, Stoian strives toward bunka, which is evident in works like Strelizia and Hidden Within, where the form and color her handmade paper takes combine to convey feeling — or “heart” as Kobayashi might put it. Her aim has become even clearer during the Jerome Foundation stage of her “journeyman’s” journey.
Stoian received the Jerome Foundation Mentorship grant for 2014/15 at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts to create an artist book — an extraordinary artist book. The mentorship program offers emerging artists the resources to create a book, fusing together newly acquired skills with aspects of their own artistic practice. The grant provided one year of 24-hour access to the Center’s facilities, a mentor, and a series of introductory workshops on paper making, letterpress printing, and book binding.
Responding to her new wintry environment, Stoian embarked on l’hiver (2014), a new work consisting of 80+ individually hand-made and dyed pieces of paper. L’hiver is reminiscent of Hidden Within (2010) in its pursuit of a harmony of color, structure, and form. The former is perhaps more open than the latter and lets each part’s snowflake-like uniqueness assert itself.
The congruence and continuity of those two works do nothing to prepare the viewer for Nous Sommes (2015), the artist’s book that follows them. While Nous Sommes continues Stoian’s aim of harmony among color, structure and form, while its intensity of colors harks back to the stencil work for Lucy McKenzie’s Stedelijk exhibition in 2013, the structure and form Stoian chose marks a bold departure.
The cover and binding of Nous Sommes has the feel of a Solander box. The book opens in a particular order of lifting the triangular flaps, one of which displays the “Table of Contents” and another the colophon.
Nous Sommes has nine “chapters” or differently sized, shaped and colored slipcases whose material matches that of the cover and binding. The chapters fit precisely together (tangram-like), but the order of their reading lies with the reader’s choice of color, shape or size. The video provided by Stoian and Gjerde offers one of many readings of the work.
Within each chapter is a precisely fitted paper structure to be “read” by unfolding, positioning, displaying, contemplating and, in conclusion, returning it to its chapter/slipcase.
Commenting on Strelizia, shown earlier, Stoian writes,
I am interested in intuitive color experiments; this work represents the flow from mood to colour, with the final form of the paper manifesting itself from these captured emotions.
In Kandinsky’s footsteps, perhaps, this artist finds and aims to offer the spiritual in art. The title Nous Sommes suggests so. Whether the expression “we are” applies to the art object (self-referentially) or to its audience (individually or collectively), form, structure and colors assert community, inclusion and a fitting together.
We can look forward to Stoian’s next chapter as she has received a follow-on appointment from the Minnesota Center for the Book Arts: the 2017/18 Jerome Foundation Fellowship.
Last Sunday, 28 January 2017, this ambitious exhibition curated by Luca Lo Pinto closed.
The metonymic metaphor of the glazed roof tiles’ evoking the concept of “home” in support of the individual and common ritual experience of reading as being translated into space is a bit topsy turvy if not strained. Overall, though, the effect was pleasing, playful and distinctively European (as was the selection of artists) in the cast concrete hall. The simultaneous warmth and cold of the color proved a pleasing contrast with the items displayed, although its glare and the occasional protective plexiglas made viewing and photographing a challenge.
In Section 01 Artists’ Library and propped on stainless steel shelves were artists’ own publications and choices of books from 1989 to 2017 that have influenced their view of publishing. So then, with the usual sly humor of book art, we have “artists’ books” and artists’ “books” — from Cory Arcangel to Heimo Zobernig.
Arcangel’s The Source Digest (from his series in which he rings the changes on selling us annotated source code in varying metaphorically driven and recursive manifestations) struck the first of several common notes in the exhibition: the digitally driven artist’s book. At the far end of the hall, in Section 05 Expanded Publishing, Antoine Lefebvre‘s La Bibliotheque Fantastique (an online library of free artists’ books) echoed that note and added one of its own: book art’s genre-reflexive, form-reflexive and self-reflexive tradition.
The ninety-item display is a genre-reflexive nod to series such as Dick Higgins’ Great Bear Pamphlet series. One row here on its own embodies multiple forms of reflexivity: Jérémie Bennequin‘s homage to Marcel Broodthaers’ homage to Stéphane Mallarmé’s Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira Le Hasard.
Bennequin’s homage is the result of a decomposition performance in which he and Lefebvre — sometimes each in two different cities — decompose Mallarmé’s poem by rolling a die then locating and erasing the syllable corresponding to the number rolled.
The title’s missing “s” from “Dés”, the subtitle’s missing “h” from “homage” and its isolation of “dé” in the hyphenation of “decomposition” pun self-reflexively — as book art so often does — underscoring here the paradoxical technique of creation/de-creation.
Section 02, devoted to periodicals and zines, occupied the most space in the hall. Although the coverage was wide, it seemed odd not to find Brad Freeman’s Journal of Artists’ Books or Sarah Bodman’s Bookarts Newsletter or The Blue Notebook. But Lo Pinto did not set out to present the encyclopedia of everything within each compartment of the toolbox. The unexpected — like Lefebvre’s display — and the provocative depth of resonance within Section 01 and across sections more than made up for omissions of the expected.
As with the echoing Section 05 that sent me back to look at Arcangel’s contribution in Section 01, the color play of Riedel’s Frieze CMYK returned me to Tauba Auerbach’s entry in Section 01. But I was misremembering and thinking of her work titled 2,3, (2011), RGB Color Atlas (2011) and their color play. On display here was her Z Helix(2014) behind plexiglas. Only the interlocking blue and red spiral bindings hinted at the color inside.
Strolling back to Section 05 and thinking of the physicality as well as color of Auerbach’s works, I stopped at Section 04 Autoretrospective, which focused on Philippe Thomas’ fictitious ad agency readymades belong to everyone® thathe “installed” in the Cable Gallery in New York in 1987. The section’s titleseems ironically unfair to Thomas’ self-effacing, deconstructivist intent. Given what was on display in Vienna, it was inescapably — like the mythological World Turtles — Thomas “all the way down”. Perhaps there is something to the row-upon-row of roof tiles metaphor after all.
The remaining sections — one being a space for performances and readings, another a screen showing the home page of Silvio Lorusso’s Post-Digital Publishing Archive and another entirely elsewhere in the city — began to push the limits of the senses and imagination to make up for that lack of three-dimensionality that limited the impact of Auerbach’s and others’ shelves. (It was commendable, however, that visitors were allowed to touch the works not behind plexiglas.)
Being familiar with Lorusso’s site, I looked back over the roof top shelves and wall projections and momentarily found myself slipping into that “consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions … in every nation, … A graphical representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the non-space of the mind, clusters and constellations of data” (William Gibson’s definition of “cyberspace” from Neuromancer, New York: Berkley Publishing Group, 1989, p. 128). As with all white cube spaces, though, the physical arrangement did not fail to reassert itself and draw me out of the exhibition through Section 11 The Bookshop as Medium, which much like Sections 01 through 05 offered unexpected tangible and intangible compensations.
As noted at the beginning, an ambitious exhibition: one also reminiscent of Germano Celant’s effort in 1973 Book as Artwork 1960/1972. With the hope for more to come from this talented curator and the artists and publishers gathered, here are some favorites on the way out … best enjoyed with the downloaded or printed catalog close to hand (links after the favorites).
In the hands and mind of Anouk Kruithof, book art is made to sound intimate notes (Automagic, 2016) and grand notes (Enclosed Content Chatting Away in the Colour Invisibility, 2009 ongoing). She has packed so much art, enterprise and life into her life that it is hard to find sufficient time and resource to keep up with her activity. In 2017 and at the turn of 2018, a flurry of commentary arrived to mark her show ¡Aguas! at Foam Fotografiemuseum in Amsterdam. A fortunate effect of social media and the Web is that current news seems to pull retrospective links in its wake.
Here are some of the videos and sites featuring Kruithof, her activities and art:
On one hot, humid North Carolina day, I had the pleasure of stepping into Scott Hazard’s workshop behind his home in Raleigh to talk to him about his artwork — in particular, Endless Sea and Rise, which had caught my attention on his site.
Looking at Endless Sea, you might think of Robert Frost’s poem “Neither out far nor in deep”, where the people looking at the sea
… cannot look out far.
They cannot look in deep. But when was that ever a bar To any watch they keep?“
Or looking at Rise, another of what Hazard calls his “text constructs”, and its brilliantly white Canson’s archival paper Edition, you might recall Wallace Stevens’ “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”, where
Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.
By making the viewer’s eye move from layer to layer — looking in, through and side to side — Hazard’s work achieves a sense of movement. But somehow, despite or because of that, a sense of stillness takes over. When I noted the Zen-like sense of stillness I felt from the two works, Hazard showed me a photo of the Fushimi-Inari torii, whose influence on his art is clear, and spoke of how the creation of the text constructs — stamping the same word in archival black ink in precisely the right spot on carefully torn sheets of paper, then placing each sheet one behind another in wooden lattice boxes to create landscapes — is Zen-like in itself.
This idea — that the creative process, artistic result and the beholder’s response coincide — flirts with what the last century’s New Critics scorned as the “intentional fallacy” (assessing a work by the creator’s intent). What the New Critics had not experienced was the self-reflexiveness or recursiveness of minimalist, conceptualist, performative, land, and text (or book) artists’ works. By virtue of their fusion of text/image/structure, Endless Sea and Rise are intentionally recursive.
So, here is another statement of intent: In the context of America’s and the West’s complex, conflicted sense of nature and the wilderness, Hazard says that, where once the aim of gardens seemed to be to wall out wilderness, he finds himself seeking to bring the wilderness into the enclosed. Hazard’s comment reminded me of what the book artist Joan Lyons once said to Cathy Courtney in the late 90s:
Life needs some translation and transformation to become art. I’ve always visualized the point at which personal consciousness encounters the phenomenal world as experiential screen or filter that separates the interior from the exterior, the personal from the public space. It is very much like a garden I once visited with a great lawn and tidy rows of annuals that hovered eight thousand feet on the edge of the Rocky Mountains. The place where garden and wilderness meet is the place where creative work is born and where work exists. (Cathy Courtney, Speaking of Book Art, 1999, p. 52)
In assessing Hazard’s work as “the place where garden and wilderness meet” — or “the place where creative work is born and where work exists” — I am picking up on the artist’s intention as reflected in material aspects of the work and in how the artist/work is manipulating my faculties of perception. To understand better Hazard’s artwork and its effect, I followed up my visit with a series of questions.
BoB: Can you walk me through the process of preparing the structures? What kind of tools? How long does it take?
SH: I use soft maple or ash wood for the bulk of the structures I make. For a piece like Rise or Endless Sea I start with rough cut ash, mill the wood using a small jointer and planer, and then cut the slats for the multiple frames using many passes on a table saw to rip the wood. I then clean these up on the planer, cut miter joints with a chop saw, glue and then sand all sides. The additional wood pieces that hold the individual frames in place are made with ash also – I cut the dados with a dado blade so the frames fit snugly in the dados. The more simple box like frames I make are typically soft maple. These are made with all of the same tools. I have not kept close track of time spent on the production of my work but estimate a piece like Endless Sea might take 30+ hours for the wood elements. The smaller box frames might take 3 to 5 hours each – I typically make these in batches so there is some efficiency built in. Some of the larger boxes or frames for pieces such as Read This Line are fabricated by an excellent furniture maker in Raleigh that I like to work with.
BoB: And the process of preparing the paper, stamping it, fixing to the structure, etc.?”
SH: After sketching the concept for the work and then drawing the piece to scale, I then cut the multiple sheets of paper and backing/spacing materials to size. After all of the sheets are prepared I create a template for the text if necessary, and then proceed to carefully apply the words to the first sheet. Once the desired form and texture is on the sheet, I sketch the outline of the hole to be torn in the sheet and then carefully tear it. I cut a larger hole in the backing material and insert both into the frame to assess. I then remove the sheet from the frame and trace the outline of the first hole onto the back of the second sheet. I then repeat the process for the second and all remaining sheets, assessing the development of the work to make minor adjustments along the way to completion.
On larger pieces it has taken me over 2 hours per sheet/layer in the composition. On smaller pieces, depending on the complexity of the form and amount of text, it can take anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes per sheet. My most recent pieces have had 25 to 45 layers – a small one might take 20 to 40 hours for the production of the paper sculpture. Time spent on concept, concept development, and installing it in the structure are on top of that and add anywhere from 6 to 20 hours per work.
BoB: Which artists and landscape architects have influenced you – early and later?
SH: Artists who have had a significant influence on my thinking and work include Robert Irwin, Robert Smithson, Nancy Holt, and Vito Acconci. I am a big fan of Acconci’s early poetry/concrete poetry and the architectural/built work he had focused on since the 1980’s. Additional artists that have influenced me include Aldwyth, John Cage, Martin Puryear, Oskar Fischinger and Jackie Winsor. I often refer to the Hudson River School painters and traditional Japanese garden design.
Designers and (landscape) writers that have had impacts on the evolution of my work and understanding of the natural and built worlds include James Wines/SITE, Rudolph Schindler, JB Jackson, Anne Whiston Spurn and Peter Schaudt. I was fortunate to have had the chance to work with Mr. Schaudt as a consultant on a few landscape projects over a span of about 10 years – the sense of restraint in his work grounded in an intuitive and tacit understanding of landscape, as well as his enthusiastic and collaborative demeanor were a big influence.
I had a lot of fantastic instructors in my undergraduate studies, but two professors from that time were very important in opening doors and exposing me to a lot of visual art that was new to me at the time; Terry Hargraves (architecture) and Gary Dwyer (landscape architecture). Both helped me drastically expand my notions of what space and landscape could be, and fostered my interest in the exploration of how materials and ideas can inform and articulate space and landscape.
BoB: Some of your “photo constructs” — for example, Introjection: Education — echo the very title of the Acconci studio’s 2012 digital animation “WHEN BUILDINGS MELT INTO AIR & THE AIR RE-FORMS INTO BUILDINGS”, but I am curious: How did text come to play the role it plays in your more three-dimensional work? After all, despite the trompe l’oeil, the photo constructs are two dimensional; words and letters are creatures of the two-dimensional page or screen; landscape and architecture generally do not feature words and letters — certainly not in the way your paradoxical enclosure of paper landscapes within wooden lattice-work boxes features them. From where did your distinctive use of text come?
SH: With a background in landscape design and construction, I tend to look at the physical built world as a manifestation of ideas. Every building, built landscape, piece of furniture, tool, article of clothing, pencil, etc. exists initially as an idea. Whether the idea is drawn as a rough sketch, explained in detail, or carefully drafted, reviewed and vetted before anything is built – it is providing the direction for the physical realization. Even something like a protected forest or national park, as untouched as it might be, essentially exists the way it is because someone had the idea at some point in time to protect that place. In this sense everything we perceive and experience is a mix of physical reality and information. (We can go deep into a rabbit-hole (or the matrix) on this topic, but I’ll try to keep this brief…)
With this in mind, I am very keen on how the information we absorb from many, many sources, in turn informs how we perceive the world, and to a large extent what we perceive in the world. Text, whether a poem, novel, essay or song lyric, can obviously articulate ideas, and can articulate space as well. In Walden, Thoreau wrote about people being able to read and understand the landscape. Most people don’t have the skill set or temperament in this era in the same way Thoreau might have fashioned his own perceptual skills, but we are still reading our environment, most of us with minds overflowing with stimulus and information.
My aim with my text-based work is to create an experience that allows people to read in space – the content of the text informs how the viewer might perceive the sculptural elements in the piece, and the forms of the piece affect how the text reads also. I am exploring how text can become as much of a material as any of the physical matter incorporated into the work.
BoB: What is the earliest exposure to art that you can recall from childhood and adolescence?
SH: I don’t recall a lot of significant experiences with art in my childhood years – other than what I might have seen in history museums or pop culture, visual art was not really on my radar. In high school I was exposed to a number of forms of art through an excellent humanities course. My exposure to visual art increased significantly in may late teens and early twenties through landscape architecture, architecture and fine art courses I enrolled in. My interest in art really took hold in the last two years of my undergraduate education, and steadily increased from there.
Two installations I experienced around this time had a big impact in solidifying my drive in visual art. One was The eyes of Gutete Emerita by Alfredo Jaar. I can’t forget the visceral effect this piece had on so many people who experienced it. A work of art can’t ever relay the complete magnitude and protracted horror of something like the Rwandan genocide, but Mr. Jaar managed to succinctly and poetically capture a brief but intimate glimpse of one person’s story, while also conveying the immensity of the genocide.
The other piece that I have vivid memories of is “1° 2° 3° 4°,” by Robert Irwin. Installed at the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego, Mr. Irwin had three rectangles cut in the windows overlooking the coast. Each hole cut in the windows effectively became an aperture for viewing and tacitly connecting people with the environment, in this case the coastal breeze and sound of the ocean, outside.
BoB: There is a technically unusual chromatic effect in text constructs like Rise, where the intensity of the black ink is modulated in a way that works strikingly with the shadow from one layer of paper to the next. Do you recall what led you to blending the chiaroscuro effects of one material with another?
SH: To heighten the effect of the text flowing and dissipating from the back of the piece to the front, the text at the back and top of the work is much more dense and dark versus the lighter gray and graduates to a much less dense text at the bottom and front. Moving from front to back, layer by layer the density and darkness of the text increases until the paper is nearly solid black at the rear of the piece which is also the darkest part of the work. The interaction of light with the work is paramount and helps reinforce the rhythm found in the multiple layers of paper. I am intent on trying to pull the viewer perceptually into the work to heighten a sense of focus and departure. The interaction of lighter and darker areas of light on the layers of paper encourages the viewer to track their vision into the space in the work layer by layer. Ideally this provides both an invitation to delve in and also a sense of mystery.
BoB: You mentioned that you are experimenting with repurposing printed book pages in your constructs. Can you tell me more about that? Will you combine that material with the archival paper or replace the archival paper entirely? What prompted the experimentation?
SH: Yes, this has been an interesting and slightly different strain of work I have been pursuing. I have been interested in experimenting with and developing work with portions of pages from books, periodicals and catalogues for a few years. About a year ago a curator I enjoy meeting with suggested trying the use pages from books in my work so I put some more energy into this body of work. It has been a fascinating, slight diversion from the ink stamp based text work I have been focused on lately , and the used books I have been collecting over the past couple of years have been great catalysts for new pieces and great sources for words used in my other text based work.
BoB: Are there other materials beckoning for experimentation?
SH: Of course! I am still focused on the many, many possibilities I see in the wood/paper/ink/text based work and how that will evolve, but I would love to work with steel, stone, concrete and other landscape oriented materials at a larger scale.
BoB: You mentioned that, with your text constructs, you seem to be cycling back to fewer layers as in Intermediate and Landscape Meditation or flatter objects like your photo construct Reaching Branch compared to Rise and Endless Sea. What lies behind this return? Technical, conceptual, textural effect, chromatic effect?”
SH: The recent move back to work that is more shallow than the deeper text based work I have been making is focused on conceptual and technical aspects of the work. I love the spaces that can be created in the deeper works like Rise and Endless Sea. I am also very interested in exploring the interplay between the use of text and the forms/voids housed in the physical work. Using text to help articulate a physical and conceptual space, and shaping forms and space in the work to in turn impact the reading of the text is a very large part of what drives my thinking and energy in developing the text-based work. Making the work more shallow is in many ways very challenging – it forces the composition in each work to be more concise and focused.
BoB: The installation shown on your site must have been even more striking live. Do you have plans for future installations? How does creating the timebound experience of installations compare with creating more permanent sculptures? ”
SH: Thank you for your comments! Yes, I do have plans for future installations but nothing immediate. I am often on the lookout for projects or venues to do an installation. It is exciting to literally envelop the viewer in a space where passing through the space impacts how the space and work is perceived. As you reference above, I consider each piece I make to ‘function’ and be experienced much like a garden (whether 4 inches wide or 400 feet (or meters) wide they are spaces for exploration, meditation and/or a moment of respite). The text in my work is composed to be read in conjunction with movement – to be read in space. Larger, installation scaled work allows for the physical immersion of the viewer as they pass through the space along with the perceptual immersion that can come from simply viewing a work from a single point in space. This notion brings us back to Japanese gardens, which were often designed to be experienced by passing through them.
Although not an installation, Hazard’s latest exhibition echoes his concluding comment above and takes me back to that moment of stepping
from his workshop back into the Piedmont heat: I immediately began to yearn for one of his installations in whose cool I could immerse myself. Character Space remains on display in Gallery 2 at Artspace until 27 January 2018.
Sam Winston’s Darkness Visible at the Southbank Centre aims to give its “viewers”/participants a taste of what the artist has experienced during seven-day stretches of living and working in his studio plunged in total darkness. Despite the title being taken from one of the best of blind John Milton’s lines in Paradise Lost (“No light, but rather darkness visible Served only to discover sights of woe.”), Winston’s work has little to do with blindness and even less so with hell.
Come along and see.
The weighted black curtain I pushed aside swept quickly closed behind me. I fumbled to find the parting in the second black curtain and, briefly switching on then off the flashlight provided by the attendant, found my place on a bench in darkness. Two young women stifled nervous giggles as we waited for the first recorded poet to speak. It was surprising how time seems to stretch in the darkness.
It seemed a long time before my eyes’ biophotonic activity from staring and blinking settled down. Then my peripheral vision picked up a leak of light in the lower right hand corner of the booth. At first I felt an urge to turn toward the light, but then an urge to look up and to the left toward more profound darkness took over. I thought of holding up my hand in front of my face, but did not. I wanted to see the dark, not what I knew I couldn’t see. I wondered why my ears also seemed, at first, to want a silence as profound as the dark but then accepted almost any sound as part of the darkness.
George Szirtes began to speak his twelve strophes of plain lines, at least the ones that were not muffled seemed plain (“I have not talked about blindness./ I can’t see how I could”) and reminded me in the darkness of Wallace Stevens’ “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” (“It was evening all afternoon”). Then silence, broken by a train or trains crossing the Thames. Kayo Chingonyi, second to speak, intoned words of praise, again difficult to follow on this one-off hearing, which allowed another poem to intrude, W.S. Merwin’s “For the Anniversary of My Death” and its last line “And bowing not knowing to what”. Then silence, broken by an announcement from the nearby auditorium telling theatre-goers to return to their seats and an airliner passing. Emily Berry, the third poet, innovated with a snatch of the hymn “Jerusalem” and uhms and uhs to mimic her words groping in the dark against a “continuous hum” and finally stopped mid sentence, the overall effect being to evoke Denise Levertov’s “O taste and see“. Another silence, now broken by a child squealing (laughing or shrieking?) somewhere in the building, by more giggling until one then the other young woman parted the curtains to leave, breaking the darkness briefly. My eyes “readjusted” to the dark — that is, accepted it and again looked into it without seeking light. I re-membered in it half the image I’d seen of the recently invented carbon nanotubes surface. If you wondered, as I did, how the artist managed
the unrelenting darkness for a week, he has written about it here and spoken of it here.
Being reminded of other poems in the darkness, I was also reminded of two other artists (Maloney and Beuys) who had locked themselves away in pursuit of creativity. So I wondered whether there was a some tradition of this and, on the train home, searched and found:
Het Observatorium’s Dwelling for Seclusion — New York (1997), “a pavilion erected in the gardens of Snug Harbor Cultural Center on Staten Island, New York City, [that] arose from the desire to place art at the service of an individual experience of quietness, seclusion and prolonged observation”;
Alan O’Cain’s Hunting Schiele (2012), drawings, writings and a web recording of their creation during the artist’s overnight stay, locked in the cell where Egon Schiele was imprisoned in Neulengenbach in 1912.
In a way, Sam Winston is Walt Whitman-like — expansively absorbing this tradition and its future: like those of Maloney, Beuys and O’Cain, Winston’s “aktion” has yielded tangible works of his own in multiple forms; like Het Observatorium, Winston has created a participative space for its audience and invited creators. How will any artists ever close themselves off, invite others in, without taking account of Darkness Visible?
Yet, he is utterly unlike Whitman: in the non-egocentric generosity of Darkness Visible, rooted in a genius for sharing, evident in the planned immersive performance with photographer Andy Sewell, composer Jamie Perera and film-maker Anna Price (with live readings by poets Emily Berry, Kayo Chingonyi and George Szirtes) scheduled for 11 January 2018 at the Whitechapel Gallery. Somehow Winston’s “darkness visible” is not an invitation to influence, just an invitation to creativity.
Where this generosity and genius come from is hard to say, but it seems hardly an accident that much book art and many artists’ books have been the fruit of collaborative effort.
At the end of a year when we have been reminded that creative works of merit often issue from the dungheap, The Guardian reports that Rome’s city council has decided to revoke the 8 AD exile of Publius Ovidius Naso. Ovid whiled away his time in the backwater of the Black Sea composing the Tristia and The Black Sea Letters, respectivelybewailing in couplets his condition and pleading with the recipients of his letters to intervene with the emperor.
We don’t know what “carmen et error” (poem and mistake) caused Augustus to banish Ovid. But should the city council have focused on the works rather than the man? Does great art justify “rehabilitation”? Who knows.
At least the news prompts a new look at Jacqueline Rush Lee‘s transformation of the Tristia and Black Sea Letters.
The exhibition “Designing English” at the Bodleian’s Weston Library (1 December 2017 — 22 April 2018) showcases almost 100 of Oxford’s medieval manuscripts, objects and books illustrating graphic design and the book arts.
Jules Allen was kind enough to provide additional photographs and some background on the making of Pilgrim Shoe.
Guided by the anthology of possible texts, I made Pilgrim Shoe in response to Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. The following points in the brief inspired me:
Where and on what should you write if you seek ‘to do things with words’?
Does form always fit function? Does a function only have one form?
Is looking more sensuous than reading?
I approached the project from the perspective of a Medieval Cordwainer seeking to attract wealthy customers and found that although it was common practice to decorate shoes by engraving or cutting patterns into the leather, other forms of decoration were rare during Medieval times. An inventive Cordwainer might have thought of personalising shoes for specific purposes or events using text, images, or even a charm for luck.
With this in mind I made a Poulaine style shoe with wooden patten specifically for Chaucers’ ‘The Lady of Bath’, who may have been attracted by the decorated shoe both as a unique, sensuous status symbol and a map with which to find her way from London to Canterbury. Such a shoe might have been admired or found useful by fellow pilgrims en-route, and with a recipe for love (from the Anthology of texts) concealed within the rein-forced heal, perhaps she might attract a new husband during her pilgrimage.
I hand painted images and added calligraphic text on the shoe. The place references from London to Canterbury were researched using various historical sources including the Gough Map http://www.goughmap.org/about/
Materials: Leather, artificial sinew, watercolour and acrylic paint, calligraphers ink, wood. paper, metal studs, starch paste and wax
Dimensions: L30cm W10cm H16cm
Paper charm: Selected from a section on Medical Remedies and Charms from the 1400’s for the concealed charm written by hand on paper, housed in the heal of the shoe.
Credits also to Ernst Allen for the wooden patten and Eileen Gomme for the passage of calligraphy on the paper charm.
“Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World,” now appearing at the Guggenheim Museum in New York through January 7, 2018, includes work from Xu Bing and Huang Yong Ping. The exhibition attracted animal rights protestors and removal of works, one of which was Xu Bing’s video of his 1994 installation A Case Study of Transference. In a pen littered with books, Xu Bing presented two pigs, one tattooed with words in his now famous nonsense Chinese calligraphy and one with nonsense English words. The piece became infamous when the pigs, bored with the intercourse offered by the books, engaged in more mutually interesting discourse.
The exhibition also occasioned this article in “Art in America” by managing editor Richard Vine. He has held up art’s hard mirror to us all in this essay.
Selected for the 2017 Manly Library Artists’ Book Award exhibition in New South Wales, Australia, The Future of an Illusion by Helen Malone and Jack Oudyn demonstrates an effective collaboration in a field of art densely populated with — almost defined by — collaborative efforts:
Edouard Manet and Stéphane Mallarmé; Bertrand Dorny and Michel Butor; Dorny and Michel Deguy; Barbara Fahrner and Kurt Schwitters; Ron King and Roy Fisher; Telfer Stokes and Helen Douglas; the Art + Language Group (Terry Atkinson, David Bainbridge, Michael Baldwin, Ian Burn, Harold Hurrell, Joseph Kosuth, Christine Kozlov and Mel Ramsden); Tom Rollins + K.O.S.; Julie Chen and Clifton Meador; and Chen and Barbara Tetenbaum.
That list is by no means comprehensive nor representative – chronologically or categorically — but it flags the strength of the tradition. One pair that is particularly apropos for Malone and Oudyn is Sonia Delaunay and Blaise Cendrars. Over a century ago and half a world away, they collaborated on La Prose du Transsibérien et de la Petite Jehanne de France, also in the leporello, accordion or concertina format. Malone writes that it “has always been very influential generally on my work.”
Cendrars as poet and publisher and Delaunay as painter were interested in achieving what they called simultaneisme, or a “simultaneous book.” They wanted to create a form of art in which painting and text could be united in expression. Delaunay painted the left column of color and abstract shapes guides us through the text, which is set in various typefaces, allowing for movement as the reader mimics the journey across the page as described in the train ride in the poem. Claire Kelly, Melville Books
The Future of an Illusion springs from two imaginations struck by two literary works: Sigmund Freud’s eponymous book on belief in an afterlife and Jim Crace’s novel Being Dead.
It delivers an emotional simultaneity that echoes the different kind of simultaneity Sonia Delaunay and Blaise Cendrars achieved. Malone and Oudyn have the advantage of their subject — death, decay and the afterlife — that provokes simultaneously conflicting emotions and states of mind. Fear, humor, sorrow, hope, despair, etc.
The choices of two texts, the double leporello and techniques — and the way they are applied — play with that emotional simultaneity beautifully. The use of Crace’s text (and the “reverse-ekphrastic” influence of the whole novel, which documents the decomposition of a dead body left in nature) adds to the work’s physicality. The choice of title from Freud’s book centers the artwork’s perspective on death — the void toward which the central tunnel leads.
The Future of an Illusion appeared in exhibition at Grahame Galleries in Paddington, Brisbane, and a copy resides in the collection at the State Library of Queensland.