Books On Books Collection – Carina Hesper

Like a Pearl in My Hand (2016)

Like a Pearl in My Hand (2016)
Carina Hesper
Boxed folios. Box: H388 x W278 x D35. Folios: H330 x W220, 32 loose folios. Edition of 250, of which this is #221. Acquired from the artist, 19 December 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.

Carina Hesper’s Like a Pearl in my Hand came to the collection after its appearance in the exhibition “The Art of Reading”, 18 November 2017 to 4 March 2018, at the Meermanno Museum in The Hague, Netherlands. It was an exhibition whose curator insisted that none of the works could be under glass. They had to be touchable. Like a Pearl in my Hand is a boxed set of 32 photographic portraits, each coated in black thermochromatic ink. Only by touching the prints can you see the underlying portraits.

Photos: Books On Books Collection. Taken at the Meermanno Museum in 2017.

Each portait is of a child, congenitally blind, whom Carina Hesper met through the Bethnal China orphanage between 2012 and 2016. A folded sheet (8 unnumbered pages) includes two essays and the colophon for the work. In one essay, Bettine Vriesekoop provides background on Hesper’s visit to the orphanage Bethel China as well as social and historical observations about the position of the congenitally blind in China. In the other essay, Hannes Wallrafen, once a photographer, now blind, delivers a perceptive review of what he calls the “book with black pages on my lap”. Explaining his situation, he addresses his task by explaining “how the blind see” by touch, memory and imagination. For his review, he also has the advantage of an app, TapTapSee, which enables him to take photographs before and after touching each folio and listen to an automated description of each. A quick trial will reveal the app’s limitation vis-à-vis Like a Pearl in My Hand and underscore the poignancy of Wallrafen’s concluding comment:

For anyone who does not dare pick up the book or only gently touches the pages, this book remains what it seems at first sight: a collection of black pages.

The best artists’ books engage the reader/viewer in a multisensory experience. Even so, usually sight comes first and touch, second among the senses in the experience. Like a Pearl in My Hand challenges this by making the subject of the unsighted accessible to the sighted only through the warmth of touch.

Other works in the Books On Books Collection to compare with Like a Pearl in My Hand include

The Black Book of Colors (2008) Menena Cottin

Vladimir Nabokov: AlphaBet in Color (2005) Jean Holabird

Blindness (2020) Masoumeh Mohtadi

Voyelles (2012) Arthur Rimbaud/Le Cadratin

Reading Closed Books (2019) Sam Winston

The Blind Men and the Elephant (2019 Xiao Long Hua

Further Reading

The Art of Reading in a ‘Post-Text Future’“. 21 February 2018. Bookmarking Book Art.