Bookmarking Book Art — in medias res … Math Monahan

Math Monahan’s installation Specimen is book art that cannot be ignored.

SONY DSC
Specimen , 2012
Inkjet Print
Photo credit: Math Monahan
Specimen, 2012Inkjet PrintPhoto credit: Math Monahan
Specimen, 2012
Inkjet Print
Photo credit: Math Monahan
Specimen 5
Specimen, 2013
Photo credit: Math Monahan
© Math Monahan
Specimen 2
Specimen, 2013
Photo credit: Math Monahan
© Math Monahan
Specimen 3
Specimen, 2013
Photo credit: Math Monahan
© Math Monahan
Specimen 4
Specimen, 2013
Photo credit: Math Monahan
© Math Monahan

[ The book is an organism.  It lived, spread all over the world and, some would consider, is endangered today.  These creatures have a life of their own.  They manifest themselves in many forms but where did they come from?  If they are animals of paper and text, from what kind of beast did they evolve?  This series studies those primordial creatures that became the developed beings colonizing our homes and libraries.  By looking at growth patterns, mutations, and morphological similarities we can better understand this animal’s rise in population for so many years, as well as its current decline toward extinction. ]

The images above constitute a mesmerizing series on Monahan’s site.  It is as if we are looking at photographs of deep-sea creatures or impressions of fossils or slides of microscopic organisms. The latter impression is reinforced by the petri dishes in which the circular images are framed, but of late, the organisms, shown in the rectangular photos, have escaped the petri dish to occupy an undefined abyss. Like snorkeling or diving for the first time in strange waters, the experience of viewing Specimen is beautiful, exhilarating and a bit scary. The words quoted above and fixed alongside the images are humorous, wistful but still, in the end, a bit scary.  The book: evolution or extinction?

Monahan hails from the Master of Fine Arts program at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor, whose library by chance was one of the original five library partners in the Google Library Print Project that began in 2004.  In March 2012, Jennifer Howard reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education that Google’s book-scanning project had reached its 20 millionth volume but was slowing down.  Even so, at its average rate, Google should have about 25 million books scanned now.   As if foreshadowing Monahan’s metaphor literally and using the Google collection like a literary genome project, Harvard’s Steven Pinker, Jean-Baptiste Michel and the Google Books Team “constructed a corpus of digitized texts containing about 4% of all books ever printed [enabling them] … to investigate cultural trends quantitatively”. From this reservoir of digital strands, they plucked out the references to each year between 1875 and 1975 in the books, plotted them and found

The plots had a characteristic shape. For example, “1951” was rarely discussed until the years immediately preceding 1951. Its frequency soared in 1951, remained high for 3 years, and then underwent a rapid decay, dropping by half over the next 15 years. Finally, the plots enter a regime marked by slower forgetting: Collective memory has both a short-term and a long-term component.

But there have been changes. The amplitude of the plots is rising every year: Precise dates are increasingly common. There is also a greater focus on the present. For instance, “1880” declined to half its peak value in 1912, a lag of 32 years. In contrast, “1973” declined to half its peak by 1983, a lag of only 10 years. We are forgetting our past faster with each passing year.

Ironic that.  Analysis of the “DNA” extracted from over 5 million specimens of the organism designed to preserve our past tells us that we are forgetting it more quickly year by year.

Curious about his interactions with the book species, I wrote to Math Monahan to ask if we could conduct the “in medias res” experiment: to go to his bookshelf, select a volume from the middle of any shelf, open the volume to its center pages, tell me what is there and answer a set of questions.

  • What are the objects immediately on either side of the selected book? As you take the book from its place, what are your physical sensations?  How does the book feel to you? As you open to its middle page, what do you hear, smell or see about it or around it?
  • Do you recall the circumstances of acquiring the book?  What were you doing when you acquired it?  Why this book?
  • 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?
  • Turning the question on its head, when the act of creating a work rather than the act of reading is in flight, how do books feed your working process?

MM: I decided to choose from my “to read” shelf. The book I found in the center felt “right” as soon as I saw it there. Although it was on my “to read” shelf, I decided to read it before replying. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to or not, I think it was the right choice. Anyway, here is my choice. As you can see, the book I’m using has a slightly different layout.

Tree of Codes, Jonathan Safran Foer Visual Editions, 2010
Tree of Codes, Jonathan Safran Foer
Visual Editions, 2010
 
Image from Visual Editions.
Image from Visual Editions.
Author of Everything is Illuminated, Foer took one of his favorite books, The Street of Crocodiles by Polish-Jewish writer Bruno Schulz, and used it as a canvas, cutting into and out of the pages, to arrive at Tree of Codes.

BoB: And what about the books and things around it, and what you felt as took Tree of Codes from the shelf?

MM: To the left stands the book, Folklore and Book Culture by Kevin Hayes. To the right, two wooden boxes stacked, act as a book end/space filler, followed by more books.  The larger box on the bottom contains various samples of handmade papers. The smaller box on top contains blank note cards.  As I removed the book I felt the unfamiliar squeezing of pages that I was surprised by when I first bought the book. It was caused by the cutouts on each page. They create the different densities that differ from the standard solid-block feel of a book.  When I opened the book to its estimated middle page, I remember being very gentle.  The layout of the book made the pages delicate lattices that I am very careful to keep intact. The carefulness must have overridden my other senses, because I don’t remember anything else.  I thought the book felt “right” when I found it because, as a book artist, I work with the form of the book and the book as an object.  That is my main interest.  This book is published by Visual Editions, a publishing company that believes “books should be as visually interesting as the stories they tell” (www.visual-editions.com).  This idea meshes well with ideas in my own work.

BoB: Now that you’ve read Tree of Codes, you will have noticed how The Street of Crocodiles has pretty much disappeared. Almost but not completely. Are there echoes of that phenomena in your own work?

MM: Yes. Often the content of the books I’m using in my work is irrelevant. I am exploring the book as a physical form.  Through folding, braiding, warping or any other alteration, I am revealing the transformative nature of the book. Each one holds different possibilities. My struggle is in convincing the viewer of this.  We have a tendency to immediately read text, almost instinctual.  Can text be texture? Is there more information contained in a book than words and images?

While a part of my process is (what I have been calling) relieving the book of text, I don’t feel this is an act of violence against any author(s).  It is clear in Tree of Codes that the removal of text is an act of love or admiration for the primary story. My admiration is for the object itself. The text will live on in many forms. I am not using rare or one-of-a-kind books here.

BoB: Do you recall the circumstances of buying Tree of Codes?  What were you doing when you decided to buy it?  What prompted the purchase?

MM: I found it in a Barnes and Noble. I remember being surprised to see it there because it is a sort of unconventional book.  I quickly put together that the author, Jonathan Safran Foer, recently had one of his books made into a movie and that could prompt the store to have all his works in stock.  Still, I was very pleased to find it.  I was introduced to the book about a year earlier by a friend.  It was coming home with me that day, no question.

BoB: 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?  The question may have different answers depending on the type of book or your intention on opening the book, so feel free to qualify your answer as you like.

MM: I think my relationship to “the book” changed how I approach books in any context. For better or for worse, I have noticed this change.  The phrase, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” comes to mind here.  I find myself judging a book not only by its cover but also by its weight, size and shape, the textures of its cover and pages. Even by the fonts used in the body of the text are included in this analysis. Of course I read the summary and printed comments on the back, but these often fall after the book passes the physical tests.

BoB: Turning the question on its head, when the act of creating a work rather than the act of reading is in flight, how do books feed your working process?

MM: This is where all the information gathered through the process described above come into use.  Understanding how paper textures interact with colors and fonts, how negative space in a text block affects how quickly you move through the book, how the lines of text change as you curl and warp the pages; all are now the backdrop to the creation of my own work.  Sometimes this raw data is in the forefront of my thoughts while I’m working, while other times it is synthesized into a cloud of intuitive responses. The latter is often what I’m referring to when I say something “feels right”.

BoB: Decades ago, Peter Frank commented that exhibiting artists books behind glass was to confine them ” in some anaerobic chamber”. Unless your “organisms” in Specimen present themselves in the equivalent of a petting zoo, their exhibition requires us to stand at a distance and prompts us to view the book as an object to be regarded rather than “read” in the usual sense.

Your installation Between is another case in point but intriguingly different. There, you have taken two sets of books, opened each book, braided its pages so that it stands open and arranged each set of braided books in a circle spine to spine.

Between, 2012
Between, 2012
Photo credit: Math Monahan
© Math Monahan
Between, 2012
Between, 2012
Photo credit: Math Monahan
© Math Monahan

The circle arrangement holds the set together, without adhesives or mechanical apparatus, and the pages slowly unbraid themselves, each book returning to its original form. Although the installations, one in the Penny Stamps Graduate Studio and the other in the Hatcher Graduate library of the University of Michigan, are not under glass or otherwise fenced away from the “reader”, the “reading” or art experience can only occur as the unfolding occurs.  And, of course, being in two separate locations, the installations do not allow us to experience them simultaneously. Yet, you intend “the installations [to] form a whole existing between the two spaces”. 

So while Specimen is “at a distance” from us in one way, Between is so in another. With Specimen, we are relatively passive viewers. With Between, although we are not reading the unbraiding volumes, we are more active, almost participating. Our “witness” to the unbraiding is a necessary element of the artwork, but is that unbraiding toward forgetfulness and extinction or memory and renewal?

MM: Participation is the point of books.  They are meant to be interacted with.  That interaction has become a recent focus, especially thinking of library books and other books as they pass through several hands.  I can admit, reading a good book leaves its mark on me. But what marks do we leave of books? What are the traces of these intimate interactions? Through time, whole communities are embedded in these artifacts. Find a book from a library or thrift store and try to imagine everyone that has ever handled that specific edition. Can you feel them around you? I aim to reveal that community. 

BoB: One last question. Between forgetfulness and extinction, on the one hand, and memory and renewal, on the other, where would you bookmark us and the book?

MM: Whether book sales are up or down, it’s irrelevant.  Even if the extinction of books never happens, the fact that text CAN be read digitally opens the book to possibilities beyond text, similar to (in my opinion) what happened to painting with the invention of photography.  Artists are still working in representation, even hyperrealism, but the rapid expanse of painting and thought behind what a painting is – that is the direction that I’d like to see our interaction with books move in.

Related

  • Klima, Stefan. Artists Books: A Critical Survey of the Literature. New York: Granary Books, 1998, p.67, citing Jacqueline Brody, “Peter Frank: A Case for Marginal Collectors”, Print Collector’s Newsletter, IX, no. 2, March-April 1978, p. 44.
  • Michel, Jean-Baptiste et al. “Quantitative Analysis of Culture Using Millions of Digitized Books”, Science, 14 January 2011, Vol. 331, no. 6014, pp. 176-182,  accessed 19 September 2013: DOI: 10.1126/science.1199644.

Bookmark — The evolution of bookselling

overdrive-retail-ebook-kiosk--134x250
Nate Hofhelder, The Digital Reader

No good history of the book in the late 20th and early 21st century will overlook this part of the book’s value chain.  In covering the earlier eras, the outstanding historians — Chartier, Davenport, Eisenstein, Johns,  Lefèbvre and Martin,  McMurtrie,  Pettegree, Pollard, and Suarez — touch on distribution and retail to varying degrees.  When it comes to our era though, the effect on the book itself of the distribution/retail roles played by Barnes & Noble, Borders, Amazon, Apple, Google, OverDrive and a host of other smaller key players such as Project Gutenberg will loom larger.  (So will that of self-publishing if we consider BookStats‘ report that self-published ebooks represented 30% of ebook sales in 2012.  What the effect will be, though, is harder to say.)

Around since 1986, OverDrive has its roots in the production end of the industry, providing publishers with conversion and formatting services from diskettes to CDs to ebooks.  Its owner, Steve Potash, set the foundations of its contribution to distribution and retail in 1999-2000 with his participation in the Open eBook Forum, now the International Digital Publishing Forum, and his creation of Overdrive’s Content Reserve.   As of this writing, Content Reserve contains over a million ebooks; it is the “overdriver” behind the firm’s library distribution service and the OverDrive Retail Kiosk.

If the OverDrive Retail Kiosk becomes a key to unlocking the way back for book retail in the “real world,” it will by its own definition contribute to the evolution from the printed book to the ebook.   Anyplace — in the mall, the main street or high street, the coffee shop, canteen or library — can become an outlet for the purchase of ebooks, which will feed back into the supply and value chains.

No doubt, historians will note that OverDrive required no physical ereader of its own, no Kindle, no iPad, etc., to reach this point in the evolutionary path but rather, it was its dual focus on finding an effective way to rationalize the delivery of multiple formats while pursuing a standard (EPUB) and on meeting the distribution needs of libraries then retail that put OverDrive in its current position. That position is symbiotic with both “closed garden” ereaders and apps as well as books-in-browser solutions.

Just as the Gutenberg press would not have taken off without the regular supply of a more relatively standardized form of paper, the digital book has had to await — is still awaiting — a more standardized format and mechanism of delivery.  In reinventing themselves and these parts of the book industry’s DNA, OverDrive and others contribute to the evolution of the book.

 

Overdrive Digital Bookmobile
Overdrive Digital Bookmobile (Photo credit: Librarian In Black)

 

Bookmarking Book Art – Franziska, a typeface

The Fine Press Book Association’s inaugural Student Type Design Competition sprang from the hope that by building bridges between printers and young type designers we might end up creating new material resources for the fine press community.

A PDF document called the Making of Franziska – a hybrid text-face between slab and serif is available for downloading.  This document is quite well put together and provides a kind of tutorial on type design.

franziska-font_runge_03_text_04_freundliche-versalien

Bookmark – The Implacability of Books

8048332174_e6067521c8_o
The Merchant Georg Gisze (1532) by Hans Holbein the Younger.

Author of The Things Things Say, Jonathan Lamb has trawled the Internet Archive to link us to 18th and early 19th century examples of the “it-narrative,” stories told from the perspective of a thing such as a watch, a coin or a mouse and generally comic and all-too human in the telling.  And yet, Lamb observes,

…  for a number of reasons this is seldom how [the it-narrative] deserves to be read. Whether it is owing to its origin and terminus in the narratives of slaves, or to its coincidence with the financial revolution and the growing unaccountability of mass human behaviour, or to the growing appetite for print ephemera, or to the end of feudal tenures and the resulting anomalies of personal portable property, or to the irreversible metamorphoses precipitated by the holocaust, ordinary things situated in banal circumstances develop a salience that has nothing to do with symbolism or hidden meaning. They are just there, eying their human adversaries, implacable and meditating affronts.

Lamb might have added another reason: the growth of the Internet, book art or bookwork and prediction of the printed book’s demise.  Until that demise, will our books, just there on their shelves above the lampshade late at night, sit “implacable and meditating affronts”?

Jonathan Lamb, The Implacability of Things at The Public Domain Review | Material World on 9th November 2012 at 11:01 am.

Bookmarking Book Art — Math Monahan

Math Monahan’s installation Specimen could hardly be more appropriate for the attention of Books on Books.

Specimen
Specimen

[ The book is an organism.  It lived, spread all over the world and, some would consider, is endangered today.  These creatures have a life of their own.  They manifest themselves in many forms but where did they come from?  If they are animals of paper and text, from what kind of beast did they evolve?  This series studies those primordial creatures that became the developed beings colonizing our homes and libraries.  By looking at growth patterns, mutations, and morphological similarities we can better understand this animal’s rise in population for so many years, as well as its current decline toward extinction. ]

The image above is one of a mesmerizing series on Monahan’s site.  It is like looking at photographs of deep-sea creatures or slides of microscopic organisms or impressions of fossils.  Like snorkeling or diving for the first time in strange waters, it is beautiful, exhilarating and a bit scary.  Reflecting on the images, however, the words fixed alongside them (quoted above) are humorous, wistful and, in the end, a bit scary.  The book, evolution, extinction?

Monahan is enrolled in the Master of Fine Arts program at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor, whose library was one of the original five library partners in the Google Library Print Project that began in 2004.  Last March 2012, Jennifer Howard reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education that Google’s book-scanning project had reached its 20 millionth volume but was slowing down.  Even so, at its average rate, Google should have about 25 million books scanned now.   As if foreshadowing Monahan’s metaphor literally, Harvard’s Steven Pinker, Jean-Baptiste Michel and the Google Books Team, “constructed a corpus of digitized texts containing about 4% of all books ever printed [enabling the scholars] … to investigate cultural trends quantitatively” (Science, 14 January 2011: Vol. 331 no. 6014 pp. 176-182, DOI: 10.1126/science.1199644).   By tracking the references in the books to years, they created plots for each year between 1875 and 1975:

The plots had a characteristic shape. For example, “1951” was rarely discussed until the years immediately preceding 1951. Its frequency soared in 1951, remained high for 3 years, and then underwent a rapid decay, dropping by half over the next 15 years. Finally, the plots enter a regime marked by slower forgetting: Collective memory has both a short-term and a long-term component.

But there have been changes. The amplitude of the plots is rising every year: Precise dates are increasingly common. There is also a greater focus on the present. For instance, “1880” declined to half its peak value in 1912, a lag of 32 years. In contrast, “1973” declined to half its peak by 1983, a lag of only 10 years. We are forgetting our past faster with each passing year.

Ironic that.  Analysis of the “DNA” extracted from over 5 million specimens of the organism designed to preserve our past tells us that we are forgetting it more quickly year by year.  Cue, Socrates and Phaedrus:

Soc. I cannot help feeling, Phaedrus, that writing is unfortunately like painting; for the creations of the painter have the attitude of life, and yet if you ask them a question they preserve a solemn silence. And the same may be said of speeches. You would imagine that they had intelligence, but if you want to know anything and put a question to one of them, the speaker always gives one unvarying answer. And when they have been once written down they are tumbled about anywhere among those who may or may not understand them, and know not to whom they should reply, to whom not: and, if they are maltreated or abused, they have no parent to protect them; and they cannot protect or defend themselves.

And yet, we have Socrates’ words and thoughts because Plato chose to write them down, Benjamin Jowett to translate them, countless others to cite them, now one to cut and paste them and others to read them.  Like Monahan’s other series, Braided Books, this exploration seems to be unbraiding itself, but is that braiding and unbraiding toward forgetfulness and extinction or memory and renewal?

The ALA’s Proposals on Ebooks in Libraries

The American Libraries Magazine, the magazine of the American Library Association, delivers news and information about the library community.   In it, Beverly Goldberg writes, “the ALA today released “Ebook Business Models for Public Libraries” (PDF file) a report that describes general features and attributes of the current ebook environment and outlines constraints and restrictions of current business models.”

It would be worthwhile to compare the ALA report’s proposals with the subject of the previous posting.

Bookmark – The “LookStore” and, Now, “Wall to Wall-papered Books”

These are Tony Sanfilippo’s slides used for his Ignite presentation at the 2012 meeting of the Association of American University Presses.    The slides have been transferred to YouTube with a voiceover.

As the book evolves, so too the ways in which it reaches us, or we reach it.  We have lived through one stage of that evolution with online bookstores.  We are living through another with ebooks.

It’s not over yet.

Two years on, a Romanian company offers customized wallpaper showing shelves of book spines with your choice of free ebook titles and their QR codes printed on the spine. To “pull a book from the shelf”, scan the code with your favorite ebook reader and settle in for a good read. See the video: http://www.bibliotecapemobil.ro/

http://www.psfk.com/2014/06/digital-library-wallpaper-qr-code-scan-books.html#!0GAL3

An E-Reader Annotation Mini-Manifesto

Teleread and an employee of Readmill have begun a bookmarkable conversation about an important feature of books that must translate into the digital world:  shareable annotations.

To share annotations in a print book, you have to lend the book or photocopy the relevant pages.  Currently, our e-incunabula thrash about in the barbwire of a three-way no-man’s land: between publishers and librarians, between anti-DRMists and pro-DRMists and between the ebook as a licensed good and the ebook as a sold good to which the “first sale” doctrine applies. We haven’t brought sustainable peace to any one of those fronts yet, although there are fleeting signs of olive branches on the battlefield.

Penguin experiments with the New York Public Libraries, Bilbary has pulled together a collection of over 400,000 works (including Random House ebooks) to make available to US and UK public libraries, the Douglas County Library in Colorado continues its purchase-only effort.

Small and large publishers have been and are going DRM-free or nearly so.  In 2009,  Liza Daly of Threepress Consulting started a list of DRM-free publishers and stores.  Today, she can add among others Springer, Tor/Forge and Pottermore (with effects addressed in interesting detail by Mike Shatzkin).

As Matthew Bostock argues,

“Translating the act of annotating physical books to the digital experience is all good and well, but isn’t there more we could do? Isn’t there more we could dream about? We’re talking about e-readers here—small devices that are connected to something that has the potential to truly evolve the entire concept of digital reading. I’m referring, of course, to the web. … If we share what we highlight with other people, and bring a discussion right into the margin of a book, what do we have, and what have we done? We have added value to the digital reading experience. And looking at annotation in this way, there’s a clear reason why we should give it a little more thought.”

See Matthew’s mini-manifesto on annotations on Teleread:

No doubt known to Matthew, but there are forces at work to nudge us toward his vision.  The standards world has not been sitting on its hands: the W3C and NISO both have initiatives underway to address the minimum required technical specifications for a standard on shareable annotations.

The book evolves.

For more about Readmill, see the post of 26 July 2012 below.  

Let us not to the marriage of print and digital admit impediments

See on Scoop.itBooks On Books

The Bodleian is offering a prize draw to attract participation in its crowdfunding for the digitization of its First Folio.

“Dr Paul Nash, an award-winning printer, will reprint Leonard Digges’s poem in praise of Shakespeare from the front matter of the First Folio. It will be printed on a folio bifolium of English, hand-made paper and printed in the Bodleian Hand-Printing Workshop at the Story Museum.  The text will be composed by hand, using types first cast in the 17th century, with ornaments.  Each sheet will be printed with a title and colophon, sewn into a paper cover.”

They call this “kickstart” the “Sprint for Shakespeare” in conjunction with the cultural and sports Olympics events going on this year.

Where there’s a Will, there should be a way.

See on shakespeare.bodleian.ox.ac.uk

A bookmark for the librarians: Pew’s 10 lessons in e-reading and 1 more from BOB

A bookmark for the librarians: Pew's 10 lessons in e-reading and one more from BOB | Books On Books | Scoop.it

 Pew Internet’s latest report on e-reading offers librarians ten valuable lessons on how they can increase the usage and demonstrate the value of their collections.

The 11th corollary — there are “herds” of ebook readers out there whose watering holes are here:

Readmill

Kobo Vox

Copia

Subtext

ReadCloud (an Australian site aimed at schools).

These are only five among several to watch.   Most of these reader apps are available for the iPad, and even Amazon has introduced the facility to share annotations and comments via Twitter and Facebook in Kindle Fire 6.3.

There is also a new kid on the block:  Zola, one to watch if only for its ambition to compete with Google Play and Amazon.

Now, if Overdrive were to enhance its recent acquisition Book.ish with this social reading facility, then …!

Caveat:  Michael Kozlowski  has this to say about the phenomenon:  “In the end, social media in electronic books is severely lacking. … Having more embedded social functions in an e-reading indie app or mainstream company taking [it] to the next level will only help the industry grow and spurn [sic] more companies to offering competing or better options.”

And that’s where the 11th corollary comes in.  Librarians might be able to make a difference — introducing (or following) their patrons into the social e-reader experience, making the global more local, sparking local reading groups and reading lists, providing a local human interaction in helping readers find books and answers about them.

If the companies mentioned have not already reached out to the library community and publishers to push this possible next step in the evolution of the book, perhaps the librarians should reach out to the social ebook readers and the publishers?