Danish artist Hanne Stochholm‘s “assemblages”, which garnered first prize in the 7th International Artist’s Book Triennial Vilnius 2015, have cousins far afield — geographically and chronologically.
Geographically, this merging of book and metal finds common cause in the US (see Andrew Hayes’ works) and Israel (see the work of Neil Nenner and Avihai Mizrahi, represented — as is Hayes — by the Seager/Gray Gallery).
Chronologically, the hold that books and metal have had on one another reaches far past the moveable type of Gutenberg’s Bible and Master Baegun‘s earlier Jikji.
Those metal “feet” embedded in the front and back covers kept the bottom edges of upright books chained in lectern libraries from wearing out.
Of course, those 11th century metal fittings probably passed unnoticed by studious readers. Not so with these studious artists in the 21st century whose imaginations have seized on the contrast of materials to recast the book object as an art object.
When Andrew Hayes told me it was e.e. cummings’ 100 poems he had found in the middle of the stacks of books awaiting a bookshelf he planned to build, I winced. Cummings has always been hard for me to figure. I was hoping for a more accessible book as a pretext to kick off our interview.
If you have not encountered one of these interviews on Books On Books, I should explain. The idea is that the book artist selects a book from the middle of the home or studio bookshelf, opens it to the middle, and tells me the author, title and page number. After tracking down the book, I send off some questions and so the interview begins.
It turned out that cummings was hard to access for Andrew as well. He wrote:
As I took the book from its place in the middle I had to take care, as you can see this is not the most efficient way to retrieve a book. I was able to carefully remove the book with out the top half toppling down, this time…
Just like extracting the meaning from the poem that just happened to be bookmarked in the middle of the cummings volume. The poem begins:
(of sort of)
A soursweet bedtime
into the not
merely immeasurable into
the mightily alive the
dear beautiful eternal night
Until Andrew carefully pulled out this volume bookmarked by his partner Kreh Mellick, he had not read it. “To be honest, I do not read as much as I would like, ….” Still, I wonder if, as his eyes moved through the broken-up layers of syntax and the juxtaposition of the “soursweet bedtime” story with “the mightily alive the/ dear beautiful eternal night”, he recognized something of his own?
The title of this piece is Hade. “Hade” is a geological term, like Placer and Lode (titles of these other striking sculptures).
Hade refers to “the angle of inclination from the vertical of a vein (geology), fault, or lode”. In Hade the yellowed pages slip between the parenthesis of steel plates like the sense lode through the fractured syntax of e.e. cummings’ poem. This is book art for the sensualist, much as most of cummings’ better poems are words for the sensualist. It exudes appreciation and care for the material of which it is made. That comes through clearly in Andrew’s response to my question “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?”:
… as I read a book I love watching it wear and change as I pass through the pages. I’m sure this happens with everyone’s books, but I love this transformation. I find it happens best in shoes and books. I have a hard time keeping my hands clean so my books take a beating, I almost don’t need a book marker because I can just turn to the first clean page. It is funny I don’t like to dog ear pages I feel like that is almost disrespectful in a way, but I just like seeing what happens to the book as it serves its function. … for me finding a book that has been seasoned is like finding two stories. I like figuring out who read the book before and reading the notes and things I find in the books I end up using for sculpture.
An e.e. cummings poem can amuse like a Rube Goldberg or Heath Robinson contraption, but always with a sting at the end. Andrew clearly has a love of contraptions, words and paradox as well.
“Balastae” is an ancient variant on “ballistae”– the oversized Roman crossbow, comparable to a catapult or trebuchet. Its kinetic energy is captured here in the potential energy of the pages of words poised to fly over the steel. The contrast and tension between the kinetic and potential, between noun/verb and tool/rest, between paper and metal, characterize many of Andrew’s titles and works, for example, Kedge and Plow.
My favorite works are Shift, Waver, Swarm and Kedge. The latter, in particular, captures the paradoxes in Andrew’s works; the word is noun and verb (transitive and intransitive) all in one: a nautical term for a light anchor, also the term for the act of warping a vessel and the term for moving a vessel by pulling on the anchor. Shift and Waver capture the kinetic energy of his works and beg to be circled and viewed from every angle like any of the dynamic figures of Giambologna.
And Swarm – ah, yes – like swarming bees, words have gathered across the splayed edges of the pages, whirling up framed by brass-riveted metal. Swarm is one of the biologically allusive pieces along with Divaricate, reflecting how Andrew’s imagination ranges over the words, objects and concepts in so many domains: the architectural (Prohedria, Mullion),
nautical (Helm, Kedge), agricultural (Harrow, Plow) and military (Sentry, Citadel) as well as others ripe for verbal and visual puns. Witty as well as sensual, there is almost something of the Metaphysical poets about his work. One such work of metaphysical visual and verbal punning is Wry. Definitions of the word invariably include “twisted”, “distorted”, “lopsided” and apply it to facial features such as “a wry grin” or “wry mouth”. Now take a look at Wry:
Book art can easily fall off into mere craftwork. On the one hand, the book artist requires the freight that the book’s content and form carry, requires it somewhat analogously to the way Eric Gill required Hopton-Wood Stone for his sculpture. But the degree to which the freight weighs down the treatment, or the handling does not take the material beyond itself, that is the degree by which the work is closer to handicraft than to art. From the way that Andrew writes of his perspective on the freight that his found material carries with it, you can understand why each of his works — solid and dense as they are — translates the raw material beyond itself:
When making work I take my love for the used book and search for pages that I can use in my sculpture. The book pages are a loaded found material. Other materials I use like steel that I find at the scrap yard come with built in history as well but it may not be as universal as the book pages. The books I am drawn to are usually worn or rich with color or deckled edges, but that is just the beginning. It is always a surprise when I cut the pages from their binding. This is when I try to find a way that I can compose the pages into a new shape in combination with steel.
To find a union of metal and the printed page as rich and tactile as that created by Andrew, we would have to hark back to the days of hot metal typesetting or farther still to the chained library. But, while the titles of Andrew’s works may evoke the historical or archaeological, the works themselves do not assume the printed book’s demise; they emphasize and celebrate the material of the book.
It is strange how these objects – books and scraps of metal that have their own individual logic and structural coherence, both material and semantic – become an object of art. In each – book or scrap steel – raw material has been amassed and wrought (words, paper, ink and cloth; or iron, carbon, manganese and nickel) to make a finished thing whose physicality inheres and obtrudes. The ways in which those raw materials are amassed and wrought into objects such as dictionaries or kitchen sinks create meaning and accumulate meanings by use and context. Then along comes Andrew Hayes. Drawing on his experience as a welder, his work as a student with fabricated steel and his time as a Fellow at the Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina, Andrew takes these found objects with their own logic and transforms them into this realm we call art.
Michael Yonan, “Toward a Fusion of Art History and Material Culture Studies”, West 86th: A Journal of Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture, 20 September 2011, accessed 11 January 2014:http://www.west86th.bgc.bard.edu/articles/yonan.html#. Yonan notes the discomfort of art historians in addressing art as I have addressed Andrew Hayes’ work: ‘… fore- grounding the idea exalts art history into a philosophical endeavor, whereas emphasizing matter renders the discipline subject to what could be called “the fear of the tchotchke.” … the trinketization of art.’
As a Core Fellow at Penland School of Crafts, Andrew Hayes explored a variety of materials and technique, drawing on his experience in Portland, Oregon as a welder and his work with fabricated steel as a student at Northern Arizona University. At Penland, the book insinuated itself in this exploration, and his work today joins the rigidity of metal with the delicacy of the book page.
This codex is almost Dali-esque in its appearance. Its title seems to allude to the thumb index, and the fluid shape that distorts the indexed pages is a paradoxical cast on that title. As a work of art in the age of digital reproduction, it offers a slippery tale.