Bookmarking Book Art – Abigail Thomas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Bookmarking Book Art — Emma Taylor, updated 20140205

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The fate of the book is becoming more and more critical as digital replacements ingrain themselves deeper into our society.  To me the possibility of the end of the book is a tragic one; I appreciate books as an object as much as I enjoy the stories and knowledge which they hold.  I predominantly work with antiquarian books as they often show evidence of their own personal story, perhaps through an inscription on the cover or a drawing on a page which adds a new layer of narrative.  The theme for each sculpture may be inspired by a number of things including the title, size, shape or cover of the book.  I work with wire, wadding and strips of book pages to create the impression of the sculpture emerging from within a book.

Emma Taylor, From Within a Book

Ironic that Emma Taylor’s site has its main life on Facebook, to which one must subscribe to read the great number of comments on her bookworks.  Her Tumblr site (see link above), however, displays many, if not all, of her sculptures, and in her posting of 29 March 2013, you can find an article from the Cambridge News covering her work as displayed in the local shop Plurabelle Books.

Of course, the bookwork above (made from Poor Folk in Spain by Jan and Cora Gordon, published by Bodley Head in 1922) represents what appears to be a store clerk taking down a book but could just as easily be a housekeeper dusting the bookshelves (after all the chapter in which it appears is named “Verdolay — Housekeeping”).  Why “of course”?  Small sculpted books created “from within a book.”  Tending and caring for the physical artifact by altering the physical artifact. (A touch more irony could have been had with the addition of a tiny computer, iPad or Kindle.)

One direction Ms Taylor’s craft may take to evolve further into art would be to recognize and reflect that the fate of the book and ebook are as likely intertwined and separate in many respects as have been those of the many forms the codex has taken — from incunabula to paperback, bookkeeping to fiction or reference to textbook.

Paratextual devices such as the manicule, footnote, running heads, etc., have their “analogues” in ereaders, ebooks and books-in-browsers such as navigational icons, hyperlinks, breadcrumb trails, etc.  Through the W3C’s open annotation specification, even marginalia may be finding a place in the so-called digital replacement to the printed book.  With the insights of Matthew Kirschenbaum and others into digital forensics, the digital replacement and its “perfect” copies may yet yield the “evidence of their own personal story.”  And if “social reading” takes deep root in the individual reading experience, the reader’s relationship to the author (and vice versa) could be enriched by the reader-to-reader relationship in ways hard to articulate.  Ways that will offer the book artist new opportunities to “make it new.”

Photographs and postcards of Emma Taylor’s work can be purchased at Etsy.

View the artist’s hands at work here. 5 February 2014

Bookmark for Marginalia and Note-taking

Annotation function in Utopiadocs.
Annotation function in Utopiadocs. Copyright © 2012 Lost Island Labs.
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Nathaniel Hawthorne
Herman Melville
New York, NY; Salem, MA, 1846-1850. ©2012 The President and Fellows of Harvard College

Earlier this month, we saw the release of the Open Annotation Community Group’s specification of the Open Annotation Core Data Model, an interoperable framework for creating annotations that can be easily shared between platforms.  The work, directed by Robert Sanderson and Paolo Ciccarese, began in earnest about six months ago, although it was proceeded by longstanding efforts within and between the editors of the Annotation Ontology and the Open Annotation Collaboration.  Under the auspices of the W3C, the efforts merged into the Open Annotation Community Group (OACG).

The OACG model defines an annotation as “a set of connected resources, typically including a body and target, where the body is somehow about the target,” and the full model  “supports additional functionality, enabling semantic annotations, embedding content, selecting segments of resources, choosing the appropriate representation of a resource and providing styling hints for consuming clients.”    Public rollout events are scheduled for 9 April (Stanford University), 6 May (University of Maryland) and 24 June (University of Manchester).

Back in November last year, while the Open Annotation Community Group (OACG) was thrashing through how to handle collections of annotations and other ontological issues, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies at Harvard University held a two-day symposium called “Take Note,”  marking the conclusion of a two-year project on the history and future of note-taking.  The project also resulted in a virtual exhibition of objects and works from the Harvard University Collections with notes ranging from a price list inscribed on a potsherd to a clothes list on papyrus found in an Egyptian garbage dump to Herman Melville’s annotations of his review copy of Hawthorne’s Mosses from an Old Manse (see image above).    The exhibition was curated by Greg AfinogenovAnn Blair and Leah Price, and interestingly, the OACG’s Paolo Ciccarese contributed to building the exhibition’s website.

So besides Paolo Ciccarese’s involvement, what’s the connection between these two events?   Perhaps the link is captured in three comments from the participants:

Bill Sherman, historian at the University of York and author of Used Books: Marking Readers in Renaissance England, commented to a reporter,  “We’re now in a moment where we’re leaving behind fewer traces of our reading than ever before…. We may have moved to the turning point where…we’ll have to find new ways to leave more behind.” And as Matthew Kirschenbaum has spelt out in Mechanisms, historians will have to learn new ways to decipher what is left behind.

David Weinberger, author of The Cluetrain Manifesto and long-time blogger, tweeted (according to the Harvard Gazette reporter), “”Collaborative notetaking via etherpad or GoogleDocs etc. is often a great way to go. Fascinating to participate in, too,’ during an afternoon presentation that explored digital annotation tools.”  Like Bob Stein, the co-founder of the FutureoftheBook.com, Weinberger is a champion of social reading and collaborative creativity.

Another participant told the Gazette’s reporter, “’I was struck by the request that we send our notes into Radcliffe because my reaction was, “You know, my notes are really none of your business. My notes are my private thoughts, my private collaborations.” Until I am dead, I don’t really need other people looking at them.'”  That last comment is particularly fetching:  one wonders whether William James and Herman Melville had such an eye on posterity as they scribbled their notes now on display across the Web.

As the book evolves and we annotate works in our ereaders (offline or online), how do we ensure that they persist, and whether offline or online, how do we handle how private or public those notes will be?

Earlier this month, BOB raised proprietorial questions about annotated ebooks in response to Nicholas Carr’s article “Used e-book, slightly foxed” sparked by the Amazon patent for selling pre-loved ebooks.  On his site, Carr responded with his own questions:

“[W]hat’s the relationship (legal and otherwise) between an e-book and the annotations added to it by its reader? Are the annotations attached to the particular copy of the e-book, and allowed to remain attached to it when it passes to a new reader, or do the annotations exist in a separate sphere — say, in a personal online database that is the property of the individual reader? … what right does the copyright holder (in particular, the author) hold over the way an e-book is presented? If annotations, or other metadata, in effect become part of the text, permanently or even temporarily, then does that represent a modification of the work that requires the consent of the author? You can’t publish an annotated print edition of a book under copyright without the copyright holder’s permission. Do different rules apply to an e-book?” (Carr’s questions elicited an interesting comment at Futureofthebook.com:  “perhaps the interdependence of print and screen books is inevitable….”)

In some respects, by digitizing and reproducing others’ property (appropriately acquired through bequests, gifts and so on), the Harvard University Collections’ virtual exhibition illustrates Carr’s questions and those of the symposia participants — even the comment from Future of the Book — in a beautifully “tangible” way.  Think upon it.

 

Bookmark for “A Brief History of Reading” (and a Revisit of “The Future of Reading?”)

Aristotle, a 4th-century-BCE philosopher, port...
Aristotle, a 4th-century-BCE philosopher, portrayed in 1493 Nuremberg Chronicle as a 15th-century-CE scholar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

LiveInk® cleverly demonstrates how the display of writing has developed by presenting the following quotation from Aristotle’s On Interpretation in the forms in which it would have appeared in the different stages of the A Brief History of Reading.

“Spoken words are the symbols of mental experience, and written words are the symbols of spoken words.” — Aristotle, On Interpretation

For example,

In 2000 BC, the Phoenicians developed the first methods to represent spoken language – an alphabet consisting entirely of consonants:

SPKNWRDSRTHSYMBL
SFMNTLXPRNCNDWRT
TNWRDSRTHSYMBLSF
SPKNWRDS.

LiveInk® must hope for a place on the timeline for its re-formatting process (Visual-Syntactic Text Formatting (VSTF), which breaks up blocks of traditionally laid out text (flush left, ragged right or justified) and presents them in a more readable form, reminiscent of 20th century free verse.  The claim of increased readability is based on eye movement studies by Randall Walker, Charles Vogel, Stan Walker, Phil Schloss, Charles R. Fletcher, Youngmin Park and Mark Warschauer.

Last September, BOB picked up an article by Michael Kozlowski on the Kindle feature of synching an ebook with its counterpart audiobook and explored the question, “What can the physiology, neuropsychology and sociology of reading tell us about ourselves?”  The research behind LiveInk® is worth bookmarking for the reading list (see below) concluding BOB’s  September 2012 entry if only to experience the “melon twisting” that comes from trying to accommodate these disparate yet related perspectives on the act of reading.

Reading List

Vinall-Cox, JoanMoving From Paper to E-Book Reading.  eLearn Magazine. March 2012.  Retrieved September 8, 2012.

Rollins, H.A. Jr., Hendricks, R.  Processing of words presented simultaneously to eye and ear.  J. Exp. Psychol. Hum. Percept. Perform. 1980 Feb; 6(1): 99-109. Retrieved September 8, 2012.

British Association for the Advancement of Science (2007, September 11). Reading Process Is Surprisingly Different Than Previously Thought, Technology Shows. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 8, 2012.

Association for Psychological Science (2010, August 30).  Eye movements reveal readers’ wandering minds.  ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 8, 2012.

Florida State University (2012, February 14). How Do Children Learn to Read Silently?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 8, 2012.

LiveInk® (four papers:  jaltcalljournal, National Educational Computing Conference, Reading Online and IEEE International Professional Computing Conference)

Bookmarking “imposition” – the craft of learning by doing

Wynken de Worde’s printer’s device.

Under the blog name “Wynken de Worde,” Sarah Werner  writes about books, early modern culture, and those of us who may be postmodern readers — when she is not preparing the syllabus for her course at the Folger Shakespeare Library.   Wynken (not related to Blynken or Nod) was the primary assistant to William Caxton the first printer of English-language books — Malory’s Morte d’Arthur,  Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and The Golden Legend.

If Sarah Werner channels Wynken de Worde in her classroom as well as she does through her website, her students are to be envied.  She makes what she writes tangible, palpable, haptic. Three brief examples, the last of which prompts this bookmark:

Imposition is “the arranging of pages in a chase [a steel or iron frame for holding them tightly for the letterpress] in a particular sequence . . .  so that when folded the printed pages will be in consecutive order.”  Glaister, Encyclopedia of the Book (2001).  But the earliest books did not have page numbers, so how were old Bill and Wynk to know which to place where?   Here’s Werner:

Lerner’s newsbook ready for folding.

Above is a numbered example of the same newsbook that I used as an image in my last post. The red numbers are page numbers: folded in the right way, you’d get an 8-page booklet in the order indicated. But if you look closely, you’ll see that the actual news sheet doesn’t have page numbers. Instead, there are signatures: at the bottom of the first page is a tiny, blotted “L”; at the bottom of the 5th page is a tiny “L3″ (the “L2″ has been cut off at some point when the page was trimmed). These are signature marks that count off by leaves. What’s a leaf, you ask? It’s a physical unit of paper: when you turn the page in a book, you are actually turning a leaf of paper. Early modern printers would have thought in terms of sheets and leaves, not pages, when they were figuring out how to print a work. Depending on the imposition (how the text is laid out on the sheet), you could end up with different numbers of leaves: 1, 2, 4, 8, 12, 16, 24.  A quarto imposition results in a sheet of paper being turned into 4 leaves; there are 2 pages to each leaf (a recto side and a verso side), so there are 8 pages in all. The blue letters and numbers show the signatures. One thing that throws off beginners is understanding how recto and verso relate to each other.  They do not mean right and left but front and back.

Providing a downloadable PDF with which to follow along, Werner walks the reader through the exercise and proves her point:  “it’s a handy way to understand and demonstrate to others the general principle of early modern format: multiple pages are printed onto a single sheet in the correct order so that when folded, they appear sequentially.”

The second example of the pedagogically palpable or the palpably pedagogic comes in the same posting:

“When you’re done, you can try folding it into a tiny little pressman’s cap, following the instructions that appear in this lovely piece, “The Newspaper Man is Defunct,” from The Cape Cod today.”

That bit of fun was two years ago.  The brilliance is undiminished today; if anything it’s brighter.   For this year’s course, Werner is handing out her syllabus in unpaginated quarto format.  To figure out the syllabus, the students have to fold the imposition correctly!  Try it yourself and grasp the meaning of the “book arts.”

Ah, the books arts.  Imposition.  The dying arts?  You need look no further than the end of your Proboscis to see that that is not true.   Proboscis is a London-based non-profit studio that commissions and facilitates new works and publications, some of which can be found in the DIFFUSION library.

DIFFUSION ebooks are hybrid digital/material publications. They bring together the “tactile pleasures of tangible objects with the ease of sharing via digital media.”    Shareable paper books, free to download as PDFs, print and make up,  DIFFUSION eBooks “can be shared electronically or as material objects – scanned, photocopied, emailed or posted. The eBooks bridge analogue and digital media by taking the reader away from the computer screen and engaging them with the handmade.”

And just a bit further along the continuum is Francisca Prieto, also in London. Inspired by the serio-comical poet Nicanor Parra’s “antipoems,”  Prieto offers up The ANTIBOOK.

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. COPYRIGHT © FRANCISCA PRIETO 2001-2012

The reader must fold the pages of the book (20.5 x 10.5cm) to form the icosahedron (15 x 17 x 19cm) in order to read Parra’s antipoems in order.

Whether Prieto’s ANTIBOOK or the DIFFUSION ebooks are book, art, both or neither, they and Wynken de Worde make us think with our hands as well as our minds about what can be done with the form and concept of the book.  And that makes the concept of imposition worth a bookmark.

PS: “Books On Books” acknowledges David Pearson’s Books as History (New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll, 2008 and 2011), p. 75, for the inspiration of the wording of the conclusion here.

Bookmarking the Footnote

Liz Castro’s blog “Pigs, Gourds, and Wikis” performs a stellar service to the evolution of the book by focusing the spotlight on how EPUB 3 supports footnotes in ebooks (with a snippet from Dave Cramer‘s EPUB 3 version of Moby Dick) and providing many other insights into the making of books.

Pop-up footnote in Dave Cramer’s version of Moby Dick. Image from Castro’s blog.

Castro’s post should remind us of Anthony Grafton’s book The Footnote: A Curious History, which delves entertainingly into the origin of this historical nonlinearity of the page.  Several of his other books are noteworthy for making us think about the “text.”

If only Harvard University Press would spring for an EPUB 3 version of The Footnote, the trufflers of the history and future of the book could be in pig heaven!