XYZ (2002) Maria Pisano Housed in a paste paper wrapper, a miniature concertina book, case bound, each page individually sewn to the next in a light green cotton thread. The title is watermarked on the front cover. H72 x W65 mm closed, 26 lettered pages alternating in colors. Edition of 26, of which this is #17. Acquired from the artist, 22 July 2021. Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artist.
This work finds its way into the Books On Books Collection on several counts. Many of the ABC books in the collection use the accordion, concertina or leporello structure, but none combine fine beaten abaca in two colors and the watermark technique to print. The colored abaca resonates with the collection’s interest in “Strange Papers” as Fred Siegenthaler labelled them and in “painting” with the watermark as Siegenthaler, Gangolf Ulbricht, John Gerard and others have done (see below under Further Reading.
Besides fusing papermaking with printing, Pisano unifies XYZ by making the alternation of colored paper and printing by watermark extend outwards from the “text block” to the case and paste board housing. The photos below follow this from the outside in.
Usually a watermark is barely noticeable, a thin-lined monogram or insignia created by a wire fixed into the mesh or screen in the “deckle” (frame in which the mesh is stretched and into which paper pulp is poured). As the water drains from the pulp through the mesh, the papermaker shakes the deckle to mix the fibers evenly. The fibers thin against the mesh and watermark leaving impressions in the paper.
Each letter shape lies face down and runs head to tail along the “laid lines” (made by the closely spaced wires in the mesh) and perpendicular to the “chain lines” (made by the wider spaced wires in the mesh). One of the chain lines can be seen just under the upper stroke of the letter E below. When a sheet is pulled from the mesh, laid between layers of felt and subjected to pressure to squeeze out the remaining water, the rough side (the side previously face down on the mesh) becomes the right reading side. If your screen permits enlargement, the mirror reading side on the right below displays its smoothness.
Given the shaking of the deckle that goes on, those letter shapes had to have been secured to the mesh. Their points of attachment can just be detected; see the curves of the C and P.
Housed in acrylic tube, eight pages including letterpress printed colophon page, seven pages of USGS topographic maps inscribed with sumi ink by hand, bound with a small piece of Fabriano Tiziano green in Japanese side-stitch. H184 x W679.5 mm unfurled. Edition of approximately 65, of which this one is dated and initialed on 7 November 2012. Acquired from the artist, 25 March 2015. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
When as you continue first appeared, Jen Larson wrote of it in Multiple, Limited, Unique: Selections from the Permanent Collection of the Center for Book Arts (2011):
… this work serves as an elegant meditation and metaphor on the subject of life journeys — and orienting oneself in the midst of landscape or circumstance that can only be apprehended by survey and the will to move forward.
The year 2012 marked the centennial of composer and artist John Cage’s birth. An aficionado of “chance”, Robin Price revisited this work that had begun in December 2010 when she discovered on the Crown Point Press’ Magical-Secrets website the quotation by Cage. Cage had made this remark to Kathan Brown in 1989 after the Crown Point Press’ building was condemned following an earthquake. By chance, it now seemed fitting as a centenary birthday wish to this artistic master of “the purposeful use of chance and randomness”. Also by purposeful chance, Price turned to a technique that seemed entirely fitting for the work, its history and her personal perspective. Price writes:
… I took up the project anew and practiced writing on several different occasions, feeling dissatisfied with various trials. Eventually I found my way to writing with my left (non-dominant) hand as the most authentic expression I could bring to the content, as visualization of struggle, fear, and acceptance of imperfection.
Perfect bound. H305 x W229 mm. Acquired from the artist, 25 March 2015. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
The very covers of the book were created by chance operations. Generated solely on press using three of the four process color printing plates from the book’s interior via “make-ready”, areas of image were built up on the paper by repeatedly passing the sheets through the press, and consistently rotating the sheets prior to their feeding through ensured variation among the covers within the edition.
In addition to the theme core to Price’s art, Counting on Chance embodies another aspect key to her work: choice and collaboration. Published in conjunction with the exhibition held at Wesleyan University’s Davison Art Center, the volume includes a brilliant essay by Betty Bright, interview by Suzy Taraba and a catalogue raisonné prepared by Rutherford Witthus. Like choosing the right colors, the right combination of fonts, the right layout, the right weight and opacity of paper, and the right structure, Price’s choice of collaborators (or their choice of her) in her work and publishing is an artistic practice itself.
Housed in a custom-made, engraved stainless steel box (H370 x W326 x D44 mm), concertina binding co-designed with Daniel E. Kelm and Joyce Cutler-Shaw, produced at The Wide Awake Garage; twelve signatures of handmade cotton text paper, the central ten signatures each made up of one sheet H356 x W514 mm and one sheet H356 x W500 mm glued to the 14 mm margin of the first sheet, for a total of 96 pages, each measuring H356 x W253 mm. Binding of leather covered boards (a hologram embedded in front cover) with an open spine, taped and sewn into a reinforcing concertina structure: H361 X W259 mm. The hologram, produced by DuPont Authentication Systems, features an early eighteenth-century brass lancet. Edition of 50, of which this is a binder’s copy. Acquired from the binder, Daniel E. Kelm, 15 October 2018.
Generating two double-page spreads, one for the Fasciculus Medicinae on the left and Cutler-Shaw on the right, the foldout pages extend to 1016 mm.
Responding to the 1993 Smithsonian challenge to book artists to create a work in response to a scientific or technical work in the Dibner Library, Joyce Cutler-Shaw approached Price for assistance in creating a unique book based on Shaw’s response to the Fasciculus Medicinae (1495), the first printed book with anatomical illustrations. A decade later, Price was convinced to issue this 50-copy edition. In Counting On Chance, Betty Bright recounts the story behind this brilliant collaboration. Detail and additional images about the work can be found here.
Bright, Betty. “Handwork and Hybrids: Contemporary Book Art,” in Extra/ordinary: Craft and Contemporary Art, edited by Maria Elena Buczek (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010). Essay highlighting the work of Robin Price and Ken Campbell.
In the middle of a shelf in Diane Stemper’s Ohio home, Umberto Eco’s Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages sits bookended, on the left, by two books about Francis Bacon and, on the right, by a small monograph on Pierre Bonnard and another book Art and Culture of Japan. The books are not organized alphabetically or chronologically. When she pulls the book out, it feels perfect, not too thin or thick, its dimensions and weight ideal for carrying in a shoulder bag. It has a feeling of secrets and importance.
Since discovering Stemper’s work at the Center for Book Arts (New York, 2014), I have wanted to talk to her about the themes and material that drive that work. Art and science, paper and glass, the universal and the particular, ink and watercolor, the physical and the spiritual. We finally arranged it in medias res, and she agreed to this oblique approach to her mind and art.
BoB: As you open Art and Beauty to its mid-point, what do you hear, smell or see about it or around it?
DS: Well, not sure if you mean inside of the room I am in or the memory it conjures, so I will go with memory. The words “cathedral”, “Chartres”, “vestibule”, “allegory” take me from the immediate space of my front room to the interior of a European cathedral or even perhaps as a child to the pews of St. Paul Cathedral in Minnesota during midnight mass. There is the fragrance of incense, the dark light of an imposing building, chanting and mystery. There are also the many hands of craftsmen chipping away at stone, painting glass and the laborers who put it all together and probably were not treated all that well.
Then there is that word “parabolic” and Eco’s explanation of Aquinas’ description of the arts as being literal, that the poetic image and its meaning were in the mind of the “reader” and that this association was a “matter of habit” – this reminds me that I and my viewers have different habits of mind, from the museum visitors I once toured who loved Impressionism and were hostile to Rothko, to the viewers responding to my specimen series – “why are they dead, did you kill them, that’s icky”. Surface literalism can be a matter of what one is familiar with and fearful of what one does not understand, but it can also be a “way into a piece” if the viewer is willing.
BoB: At the end of his book, Eco sums up his explanation of how the medievals looked at art with this startling statement, “They saw the world with the eyes of God”. What of today’s viewers of art and, in particular, those who look at your art?
DS: When originally picking the book from the middle of the middle shelf and then opening it to the middle, that sentence you mentioned — “The association of an image with a certain meaning is a matter of habit” — leapt out. Eco was referring to the ability of people of the Medieval period to read an image as if it were a literary text, for example, knowing instantly which animals or colors represent which biblical figure or story. However, I am reading Eco’s words from my 21st century vantage point, where there isn’t necessarily a concrete set of universal meanings assigned to objects or colors that every person understands and knows.
He also writes that the medieval mind loved a puzzle, that it was part of public discourse to figure out symbols and the inherent meaning within images. That there was adventure in the act of discovery. And another phrase that struck me: “Grasping reality through sense knowledge.”
Today’s “matter of habit” is problematic when viewing art. For some of my pieces, in particular Universal Sample and my drawings and prints of specimens, the viewing can be rather cursory, a knowing, habitual glance that says, “oh I see what that is”. The glance sums up the object in very simplistic terms. In this case, for the viewer, the specimen represents death or some distasteful high school experience of dissecting a small creature, and nothing more. It is possible to look at visual art not just with visual sense but in partnership with other physical sensations conjured by the image. Looking at the work as if there is more than meets the eye, that there is an underlaying sensibility to the image that references another experience or feeling or bit of knowledge, a smell, a sound…or that of the animal or that of the instance in which the animal finds itself, or the moment that a curious person finds such an animal. Imagining that moment — “What was it like?”
So, I hope that people will approach my artwork with imagination and not as a matter of habit — to look at my work as if it is a bit of a puzzle, not a straightforward statement or concept but more of a string of thoughts, feelings and visual and sensate information to be arranged and rearranged to come to some sort of conclusion or idea about the meaning, however uncertain that may be.
BoB: Do you recall the circumstances of the book’s purchase? What were you doing when you decided to buy it?
DS: I absolutely remember. I was living in London with my spouse and family as part of a study abroad program my spouse was leading. Each day, after all were at school or otherwise occupied, I would head out in pursuit of art, medical museums, natural history oddities or any number of things and on one day I went to the British Library to see an exhibition, Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination. This was an exhibition of the several collections representing centuries of books commissioned by kings and queens and to my delight there were books on medicine, science and nature. After spending a very long time in the exhibition, I went to the gift shop where I found the Eco book. The extraordinary detail of the manuscripts I had just seen and the enormity of the exhibition itself put me in the mood to purchase the book.
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 or when revisiting the Eco book in particular?
DS: In general, when I am reading a book versus the screen of a device, I enjoy the structure of the book and understanding the manner in which it is assembled. The type of binding, the quality of paper, the action of the pages, do they lay flat or do they fight. I find the term “perfect binding” ironic as I am reading a book where the pages are falling out. I typically notice the condition of a book, faded covers, mildew or wear on the edges. Books with these qualities I feel a bit sorry for as I wonder where their next home will be, probably not my local library or the used book store, since here in Ohio, we haven’t many of those. Maybe they will live a short while at the Goodwill Thrift Store and from there, the recycle bin. Books are a bit like an endangered species and I am at times concerned that the youth (I have one at home) are only relating to books as they are required to do so at school and not as a place of refuge, ideas and travel. It is hard for books to compete with the ever-present screen and digital speed of information and interaction.
The Eco book in particular is a pathway back to London, to other centuries, to a time when art was the screen of the day and to the Royal manuscript exhibition. The books in the exhibition survived over centuries; the hours and hours of skill, artistry and dedication it took to not only create the books but to also preserve them gives me pause. The Eco book itself is not a great work of craftsmanship as an object, it is, after all, bound as a “perfect binding”. Still, it has not fallen apart yet, so the binders must have used a better-quality glue. Instead, the Eco book is a vessel of ideas and murmurs of what it meant to have art and beauty in one’s life hundreds of years ago. What are my intentions when opening a book? To be lifted away from the present, to enter another time period or another person’s circumstance or to be visually transported.
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?
DS: For my series on Darwin, all seemed to fall into a flawless moment. I happened upon dozens of petri dishes and had already been thinking about Darwin’s 200th birthday. It is an instance of form and content playing together without much conflict or negotiation. From that came many books that really seemed to define themselves both in structure and content.
My books built into petri dishes are a different viewing experience for people because the dish itself is so familiar and suddenly the viewer finds the dish in an unusual circumstance, that of being a book. People pause, take notice and naturally ask questions, they seem unleashed from any customary reaction or habit and are open to an idea. The dish is an entry to figuring out a puzzle and not a barrier, such as an image of a dead bird or a dissected lizard might be.
The first books (Cell: Compendium) were in direct response to various nearby communities that were pushing for “creationism” to be taught in the public schools. The petri dish is a universal item repositioned and viewers find it humorous, unique or “creative” and while some stop there, most people are prompted to go further. The recognition of the petri dish spurs and opens the door to more meaningful connections and interpretations.
Mostly however, when making my art work, initially the book structure is secondary, a simple vehicle for the content. Imagery, content, text and the oblique narrative story are primary and the development of the images and content are the key portions of my studio work. I use other books in my work, discarded textbooks and spines, for instance, that I take apart and rework. I also use books as reference, looking for a word or phrase, a bit of information to jumpstart a narrative about a topic I am interested in. I borrow science imagery to create and integrate with my own images. I am an observational artist and that includes observing via books as well as nature.
Once the content and images are in motion, the book structure comes into play and that is when the many possibilities of the structure interact with the content and it is really the most significant challenge of creating an artist book. I do not like to use book forms for the simple novelty of the structure or for the entertainment factor (for instance a pop-up or tunnel book) unless of course it really fits the topic. I want viewers to focus on the images and feeling or message of the work, so the book structure becomes, is, or should be a thoughtful object that houses an idea or an experience, it is in service to the artist, to the viewer, it invites the viewer in and then steps aside.
BoB: Let’s turn to Universal Sample in some more detail. I’d like to ask you to comment on the intersection between the words in Universal Sample (“universal” and “sample”, “chance” and “order”, “moment” and “decay”) as well as the intersection of the words with the prints, their color, the paper you used, and the star structure.
DS: First, let me say the entire book, the six images and the text, is meant to present obliquely a life cycle of early life forms. The images are inspired by my own source material comprised of many drawings of specimens that I did at the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons in London.
The title, Universal Sample, is singular and expansive. A sample is one bit of something larger that is collected and taken from a whole and isolated, universal represents a larger inclusive whole. In this case “Sample” is not numbered or identified. It is in relationship to all else, is composed of and is evidence for all else.
Dispersal – Begins the book and alludes to creation.
Vestigial – Ends it and alludes to remains.
Chance – In part I feel the world is a chaotic place where the intentional can be overcome by chance and luck, circumstance and happenstance.
Order – This is about human systems (religious, scientific) within a chaotic world and about the molecular combining and recombining relative to evolution over millions of years which bring about reasonable order within an ever-changing environment.
When I place the words “chance” and “order” together, I am referencing religion as a human system attempting to bring order to chaos, to explain the inexplicable. The images progress from an unidentified plasma or bubbly life form to a life form that appears to be lizard like, one of the early animal forms on earth. One print shows three lizards, a trinity of sorts, impaled perhaps, especially as specimens might be. Floating, they represent the substance, atom, molecules, electrons, neutrons that I know exist versus the Trinity as espoused by Christianity that I am not so certain about. In this way, I am harking back to the root of an entire body of work that I have made that draws upon Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.
Moment and Decay are read together with the image of a frog, a frog that is decomposing, reordering and redistributing its cells. I want the text to key viewers into the idea of a space, gap, a line or moment when decay begins. The last print is of an imaginary cellular structure of a life form as it is releasing and redistributing entirely into another space whether that is air, dirt or water or the space beyond our stratosphere.
The book structure, font and print size and paper choices are all subject to various constraints, such as paper and press bed size, size of copper, or availability of type face at the printmakers cooperative where I do my printing. For this book, I worked the structure of the book, image and text placement and layout simultaneously with content development and made at least a few small mock-ups to help me see the possibilities, resolve problems and keep me on track. I like book structures that are straightforward and that are an entry to the images and content. Sometimes, as with the Cell books, the structure is integral to the content of the work. For Universal Sample, what was going to be a simple accordion changed as I saw that the images and text could offer different ways in which to view and read the book. The star structure which consists of a series of three-page short accordions sewn into a concertina spine is elegant, seems like a standard book, a good frame for the images and when opened it can go beyond being a standard book and be manipulated and reconsidered.
BoB: Where next with your art?
DS: I like anything that can be described as a collection, the more personal and odd, the better, and I find opportunities to visit natural history or medical museums when I can. Currently, I am finishing a book object that incorporates several of my drawings of backyard specimen finds. This work includes test tubes and refers to the challenge of birds to avoid hazards and remain undetected. I am also thinking about a series of artist books that somehow reveal the dozens, hundreds, thousands of birds that are housed in the drawers of collecting institutions.
BoB: With thanks to Diane Stemper for her time and reflection. To enjoy more of her work, see her site and also:
Diane Stemper received her B.F.A. in printmaking from the San Francisco Art Institute and a M.A. in Interdisciplinary Arts from San Francisco State University. Her work is included in the Artists’ Book Collections of: DAAP Library, University of Cincinnati, Ohio; Main Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, Cincinnati, Ohio; Special Collections, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio; and the Lucille Little Fine Arts Library, University of Kentucky.
Ruston’s art celebrates the natural world and human spirit, inviting viewers “to follow, to unravel secrets, and to pay close attention to the world around them”.
Part of a series called Ocean Blue, the book She Returns uses a double concertina fold and ink on Fabriano watercolor paper to invite us to follow the image of a leatherback turtle making its way through the deep, which fluctuates between the depth of blue-black and the shallows of blue-white. The text reads
SheReturns BLACK and GLEAMING
in the Moonlight
her Primordial needs Roaming WaveWashedDreams.
Originating from the Tang dynasty (A.D. 618-908) in China as the Orihon, the concertina fold is also called the accordion fold and sometimes the leporello*. For “She Returns”, Ruston employs a variant of the binding approach in Figure 9. It is
essentially two pages folded together into a concertina fold, but in origami terms, the “mountain” fold of one page is inverted to a “valley” fold, which creates “small boxes” between the pages when the concertina is opened as seen below. The single signature of transparent paper with text is sewn into the centre page. It is bound by a simple stitch top and bottom of each fold.
Painted board covers were then attached.”The stitches at the top and bottom of the page work well as it allows some small movement of the two concertina folds. As I saturate it with water and ink it needs to be a bit more robust but this means it can be bulky when put together.”
The Bárðarbunga volcano in Holuhraun, Iceland, is active. From August 2014 to February 2015, it erupted for 181 days.
Ruston responded to that natural event with the work Holuhraun, 2014-2015.
The box contains “181 individually painted pages, signed and dated for each day the volcano erupted producing ‘new land’.”
Ruston’s Holuhraun reflects that duality of nature’s destructive creation and creative destruction. The sides of the box falling away mimic the volcano’s production of new land. But the work is more subtle than that; it implicates the viewers in that duality. In taking apart the closed object, we “create” or, at least, reveal another object of art.
Ice is the countervailing passion in Ruston’s art.
What a sight to wake up to on a cold winter’s morning – a blanket of thick frost over everything. Armed with camera, and a thick warm coat, I couldn’t resist taking a detour on my way to the studio. The air was still, the grasses and branches coated with ice crystals, all bathed in a soft gentle light. I spent a pleasant hour surrounded by the gentle rustle of ice crystals softly falling to the ground. (12/12/2012)
In response to her natural surroundings, as well as powerful films such as James Balog’s Chasing Ice (PBS, Nova, 2102) and installations like Olafur Eliasson’s Your Waste of Time (MoMA, New York, 2013), Ruston created Are We Listening?, a work of small pieces of handmade paper into which random text is incorporated and overlaid with transparent paper. Human time and earth time, destruction and creation, recurrently emerge as central themes in Ruston’s art whether touched by fire or ice.
In capturing these themes, The Great Gathering (2015) may be Ruston’s masterpiece — so far — in making visible how the world touches us, and how we touch the world. In this work, she has drawn her inspiration from ammonite fossils on display in the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, Cambridge, and the Colchester Natural History Museum. The Great Gathering first appeared as an installation at the Colchester Natural History Museum, which is housed fittingly — especially for this work — in a deconsecrated church.
Using the ammonites spiral shape as a starting point, these books represent the unfolding story of evolution. The humble ammonite is an abundant index fossil, easily recognised, and a regular feature in museum collections. Often associated with journeys, symbolically these particular fossils are believed to have absorbed the knowledge of the Universe from across the centuries.
Science and art are the presiding geniuses over many works of book art.
In The sciences of the artificial (1969), Herbert Simon emphasized: “The natural sciences are concerned with the way things are” and engineering, with the way things ought to be to attain goals. Like the scientist, the artist, too, is concerned with the way things are. They are the raw material with which the artist works or to which he or she responds. But like the engineer or the designer, the artist is concerned with the way things ought to be to make visible “the way things are”:
how a solander box ought to be constructed to operate with the work and, in enclosing it, be “the work”;
what materials (photos from the Hubble telescope) ought to be used to reflect a moment in time;
how thread, tape and stitch ought to be to hold together a spine that will flex and spiral into the shape of a fossil;
how the color of the material ought to be juxtaposed with the material’s altered shape to carry meaning;
how the shift from content to blankness ought to be juxtaposed with the material’s altered shape to carry meaning;
how the selection and alteration of text ought to be made to show the fixity and flux of knowledge and ourselves;
and how our reflection in the mirror in Volume VII under the maker’s tools and the made thing ought to implicate us — a theme echoed above by Holuhraun, 2014-2015 — in an ongoing process of making and remaking.
For her next invitation to the viewer to follow, unravel secrets and attend closely, Ruston is returning to the ocean.
Inspired by Philip Hoare’s Leviathan and his fascination with Melville’s Moby Dick, Ruston recently began research into whales and whaling logs for her next work. Like evolution, here is a subject of grandeur, expanse and time, even fire and ice. The sketchbook pages below tantalize. How will the artist, this time, make visible how the world touches us?
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.’
Drawing to its close, does 2014 have any more treats or presents to bestow beyond the return of the Mystery Book Artist of Edinburgh and the debut of “The Bookbinder” from New Zealand’s Trick of the Light Theatre?
The MBAE has donated a new sculpture — a fantastical paper replica of the 16th century merchant’s house known as Riddles Court set behind the Royal Mile — in support of its renovation as home to the Patrick Geddes Centre for Learning and Conservation. The name of the building and that of the center could not be more appropriate. This is the 12th gift to Edinburgh’s literary establishment from the artist whose identity remains a mystery. As well, Geddes featured in the MBAE’s very first gift in 2011 to the Scottish Poetry Library, whose slogan “By leaves we live” originated with Geddes:
read the source poem here). A regular but still anonymous frequenter of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, the MBAE posted this video
of the Riddles Court sculpture in progress, echoing serendipitously “The Bookbinder”, a performance piece on the other side and bottom half of the globe by Trick of the Light Theatre this year.
Written and performed by Ralph McCubbin Howell, directed by Hannah Smith, with music by Tane Upjohn Beatson, “The Bookbinder” incorporates book sculpture as pop-up book theater and was first performed at Arty Bees Bookshop during the New Zealand Fringe Festival 2014.
What a pleasure and gift that would be to find the MBAE and “The Bookbinder” in a common festival. If holiday wish lists are allowed, let’s add to it Moonbot Studios, home of The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.
“This limited, numbered edition of Chang-rae Lee’s On Such a Full Sea will be available on January 7th, 2014. Riverhead art director Helen Yentus and members of the MakerBot team designed the slipcase, and 200 of them will be made with the MakerBot® Replicator® 2 Desktop 3D Printer with MakerBot PLA filament, a bioplastic made of corn, fabricated by MakerBot in Brooklyn, New York. Each copy is signed and numbered by the author.” From www.riverheadbooks.com Is this the first 3D-printed slipcase? Yea or nay, this effort is clever. As the book slips from its case, the words of the title on the slipcase are completed. The design will surely make purchasers give “pride of space” to this book on their bookshelves and renewed sense to the word “outstanding”.
Additional cover design and art direction by Helen Yentus can be viewed here.
I mean the sesquicentenary of the premature announcement of the death of the book and such of its hangers-on as authors, readers and libraries. I suppose I should be satisfied to have seen its centenary. Robert Coover’s essay in the New York Times (June 1992) marked it a bit early, echoing Louis Octave Uzanne‘s tongue-in-cheek knelling in Scribner’s Magazine (August 1894), right down to the same title – “The End of Books”:
I do not believe (and the progress of electricity and modern mechanism [the phonograph] forbids me to believe) that Gutenberg’s invention can do otherwise than sooner or later fall into desuetude as a means of current interpretation of our mental products.
For Coover, not so tongue in cheek, it was hypertext’s divergent, interactive and polyvocal routes as opposed to the book’s unidirectional page-turning that heralded the death of the book (and the author). D. T. Max rang out against CD-ROMs and the Internet bang on time in 1994 with “The End of the Book?” in The Atlantic when it was still called The Atlantic Monthly:
… the question may not be whether, given enough time, CD-ROMS and the Internet can replace books, but whether they should. Ours is a culture that has made a fetish of impermanence. Paperbacks disintegrate, Polaroids fade, video images wear out. Perhaps the first novel ever written specifically to be read on a computer and to take advantage of the concept of hypertext … was Rob Swigart’s Portal, published in 1986 and designed for the Apple Macintosh, among other computers of its day. … Over time people threw out their old computers (fewer and fewer new programs could be run on them), and so Portal became for the most part unreadable. A similar fate will befall literary works of the future if they are committed not to paper but to transitional technology like diskettes, CD-ROMS, and Unix tapes–candidates, with eight-track tapes, Betamax, and the Apple Macintosh, for rapid obscurity. “It’s not clear, with fifty incompatible standards around, what will survive,” says Ted Nelson, the computer pioneer, who has grown disenchanted with the forces commercializing the Internet. “The so-called information age is really the age of information lost.” … In a graphic dramatization of this mad dash to obsolescence, in 1992 the author William Gibson, who coined the term “cyberspace,” created an autobiographical story on computer disc called “Agrippa.” “Agrippa” is encoded to erase itself entirely as the purchaser plays the story. Only thirty-five copies were printed, and those who bought it left it intact. One copy was somehow pirated and sent out onto the Internet, where anyone could copy it. Many users did, but who and where is not consistently indexed, nor are the copies permanent–the Internet is anarchic. “The original disc is already almost obsolete on Macintoshes,” says Kevin Begos, the publisher of “Agrippa.” “Within four or five years it will get very hard to find a machine that will run it.” Collectors will soon find Gibson’s story gone before they can destroy it themselves.
Best not to wait for that sequicentenary then. Accommodatingly in 2012,David A. Bell and Leah Price rolled out the canon more with Google, ebooks and the Kindle tolling not merely for the print book but rather for the New York Public Library and all libraries. We even had screenings throughout 2013 and scheduled for January 2014 of the documentary Out of Print, which asks, “Is the book as we know it really dead? Is the question even important in an always-on, digital world?”
The nearer one stands, of course, the louder it is.
Sounded in the nineties but not obviously well heard, Paul Duguid, he of The Social Life of Information co-fame with John Seely Brown, advised “taking a breath”:
… it’s important to resist announcements of the death of the book or the more general insistence that the present has swept away the past or that new technologies have superseded the old. To refuse to accept such claims is not, however, to deny that we are living through important cultural or technological changes. Rather, it’s to insist that to assess the significance of these changes and to build the resources to negotiate them, we need specific analysis not sweeping dismissals.
… to offer serious alternatives to the book, we need first to understand and even to replicate aspects of its social and material complexity. Indeed, for a while yet, it will probably be much more productive to go by the book than to go on insistently but ineffectually repeating “good bye”.
So it is heartening (or depressing if you are a Jeremiah) to see 2013 rung out with an essay by Roger Schonfeld (ITHAKA S+R) that celebrates and encourages the specific analysis Duguid urged. In “Stop the Presses: Is the monograph headed for an e-only future?”, Schonfeld suggests several directions for further research and design:
What are the perceived constraints of existing digital interfaces with respect to long-form reading of scholarly monographs? What functional requirements does print currently serve better than digital with respect to monographs, even recognizing that many of the same individuals are acquiring and using tablets and reader devices for other purposes? How can content platforms and publishers better address the needs of academic readers and other users?
In an environment that has in many ways grown more fragmented over time, how can libraries and content platforms ensure the most efficient discovery and access experience possible for users of scholarly monographs? Is there a place for serendipity?
How can stewards of primary source materials in tangible and digital form, such as archives, museums, and digital libraries, most effectively support the digitization of their own materials for discovery and access purposes and provide for rich linkages with the analysis of their holdings found in the scholarly monograph?
If greater opportunities are provided over time for readers to engage with the primary sources, how might authors respond to reshape the nature of the monograph?
Will the digital version of the scholarly monograph diverge from the print version as additional features can be added?
At the heart of what changes but remains in the shift from print to digital are Search and Usability or “ambient findability” as Peter Morville terms them. Morville’s seminal work on information architecture, search and user experience focuses on the Web but is equally applicable to the book and ebook. A superior e-monograph will enlighten its readers by the author’s choice of information architecture and its enabling them to learn and evaluate the search paths that lead to the presentation, the arguments and the primary sources. Likewise the superior print monograph achieves its goals by the judicious combination of preliminaries, Part, Chapter, endmatter and thousands of years’ development of paratextual apparatus.
Of the print apparatus for search and usability, the table of contents and other parts of the printed book’s preliminaries may not remain a useful point of entry to a scholarly ebook. In 2002, when a small team at McGraw-Hill working with Unbound Medicine decided that putting the index at the front of HarrisonsOnHand in place of the table of contents made more sense for the user of an HP iPAQ, they thought they had made a major breakthrough for mobile ebooks. Almost. What they were realizing is the centrality of those twin navigational stars, Search and Usability.
Only a little over a decade later, the insight continues to dawn, and with the intervening improvements in interfaces and devices, it may be much brighter this time.
The process of digitizing a printed book involves much more than the conversion of ink on paper to bits in a file. Functional aspects of the book must be mapped to digital equivalents. Thus we have tables of contents and indices turning into hyperlinks and spine files, page numbers that beget location anchors and progress indicators.
So wrote Eric Hellman earlier this year in “Anachronisms and Dysfunctions of eBook Front and Back Matter” and concluded that the title page in an ebook ought to be a “Start” page like the start screens in the old interactive CD ROMs or today’s DVDs of television series. Publishers such as Faber with T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land or Moonbot Studios with The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore have done just that.
Although the EPUB doyen and doyenne, Richard Pipe and Liz Castro, advised usability-driven rethinking of frontmatter, the practice is not widespread among purveyors of the less-than-enhanced ebook. Most editorial and design advisors such as Joel Friedlander only go so far. Their advice generally assumes the direct transfer of print frontmatter to the ebook. While allowing for the omission of spatial anachronisms like the bastard or half title, they only caution against overburdening the ebook’s frontmatter. As for the traditional index at the other end of the ebook, many publishers omit them or simply replicate the print version without links. Ebook indexes that link terms to their multiple locations in the text regardless of the flow of the text in the ereader or device are rare for obvious technical and financial reasons, and only this year was an EPUB specification for the index approved.
The two great affordances of the printed book that most challenge today’s ebooks and ereaders, however, are legibility and the page. While screen legibility may be improving at a “blinding rate”, we have today little more specific, scientific analysis of screen vs print legibility than Ellen Lupton found in 2003, although Jakob Nielsen remains indefatigable on the subject. Mechanics aside, the debate over the efficacy of reading from the page vs that from the screen should always be kept in mind. Ferris Jabr‘s April 2013 article in Scientific American and the six months of responses to it helped the topic considerably. Jabr concluded, “When it comes to intensively reading long pieces of plain text, paper and ink may still have the advantage. But text is not the only way to read.” Which harks back to the conclusion of a previous post in Books on Books and Jerome Bruner’s apt observation of Lev Vygotsky’s fondness for Sir Francis Bacon’s epigram, “Nec manus, nisi intellectus, sibi permissus, multum valent” (Neither hand nor intellect left each to itself is worth much)” (247). Perhaps for now neither print nor digital left each to itself is sufficient.
How the page matters. Enough so for Bonnie Mak to make it the subject and title of her book and to join Johanna Drucker, Peter Stoicheff, Jerome McGann and a long list of scholars conducting the analysis Duguid urged. As the August 2013 Ploughsharesinterview with her illustrates, Mak’s focus and interest on the material aspects of the page and book extends also to the library and performance art. Which brings us back to Drucker the book artist, who argues that instead of considering the page, table of contents, etc., as static, iconographic features of format, we should think of them as cognitive cues in an instruction set in the “program” of the codex. With reflowable text and responsive design, though, the cues can become slippery, so much so that the EPUB standard makers introduced Fixed Layout Properties with EPUB3.
This line of thinking about print space vs e-space comes sharply into focus if we consider annotatability, another of the printed book’s apparently superior affordances. While various devices and ereaders offer the ability to highlight and annotate, not all do, and the annotations are rarely accessible to others or across devices and platforms. The Web and ebook standards communities are hard at work on a specification for open annotation, which will enable the reader to share annotations of a work with other readers and enable annotations upon annotations. While we wait for the standards, though, the market spawns numerous solutions such as Readmill and SocialBookthat functionally reflect “the conceptual and intellectual motivations” behind the affordance.
These experiments and successes exemplify the specifics Duguid urged. The big print-to-digital experiment of the last decade, however, that would by any measure be deemed to have exceeded expectations is the Google Book Project. Whether it was conducted in any sense “by the book” has been extensively argued in the courts and wherever else publishers, authors, technophobes and technophiles tend to gather. The year saw the dismissal of the Authors’ Guild case against Google, which left everyone just to carry on behind the scenes as they had been. So we are left with both the occasion for further bell-tolling for the book and further Duguidian exploration and experimentation as well as the avenues of research suggested by Schonfeld.
There is, however, one more change to ring at the close of 2013. The metaLABproject pulls a bit on that rope, but Kenneth Goldsmith grasps it firmly and echoes Michael Agresta‘s earlier insights into the many web-to-print phenomena that demonstrate that these two technologies may be forever intertwined. Goldsmith’s “The Artful Accidents of Google Books” highlights several individuals’ obsession with scanning errors from the Google Book Project. One of them is Paul Soulellis, the proprietor of the Library of the Printed Web, which “consists entirely of stuff pulled off the Web and bound into paper books”.
Soulellis calls the Library of the Printed Web “an accumulation of accumulations,” much of it printed on demand. In fact, he says that “I could sell the Library of the Printed Web and then order it again and have it delivered to me in a matter of days.” A few years ago, such books would never have been possible. The book is far from dead: it’s returning in forms that few could ever have imagined.
Or imagined digesting, like the series of book art by the late Dieter Roth, Literaturwurst (1969), to which Agresta gloomily alludes as “a final possible future for the paper book in the age of digital proliferation”.
Well-reviewed (see below), Spineless Classics — Carl Pappenheim’s prints that use all the words of a book to outline an emblematic image of the work — raise questions unasked by the interviewers: If we stand before a Spineless Classic and read it, does the experience of reading the book change? How? What is the difference between art and decor? Between art and craft? Between artwork and mechanical reproduction?