Skip for Joy (2021) Rutherford Witthus Dragon-scale scroll bound to bamboo rod. H306 x W477 mm, 11 panels. Edition of 5, of which this is #1. Acquired from the artist, 18 August 2021. Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artist.
Rutherford Witthus’ work is strong, quiet, broad and distinctive. It blends Eastern and Western traditions of the book arts. It joins the blackletter fonts of the Cistercian monks with the typography of Hermann Zapf. It joins John Cage’s chance-determined selection in the creation of art with a group of physicists’ fascination with the crumpling of paper. It experiments with abstract art and Japanese fore-edge illustration and binding. It offers a meditation on Gilles Deleuze’s The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque through an intricately folded reprinting. The artist’s eclectic appreciation of the work of Sappho, Walt Whitman, St. Francis, Gilles Deleuze, Søren Kierkegaard, Ernst Haeckel, Robert Herrick, Miguel de Unamuno and others finds an impressive unity across his body of work. Skip for Joy is the first of his works to be added to the Books On Books Collection.
Compounding its compelling structure, Skip for Joy displays accumulating lines of text one by one until there are ten lines of text on the tenth panel. For each line, Witthus draws its words and expressions from an entry in Roget’s Thesaurus. As each panel grows in width to play its part in the dragon-scale binding, each line grows, too, repeating words and adding more synonyms from its entry in Roget’s. Compounding the scaling of structure and text, Witthus varies his lines in color and position. Starting with the phrase “skip for joy” in orange on the first panel, he then adds the phrase “grit one’s teeth” in violet on the second panel beneath the orange line; then “desire” in red on the third above the orange line; then “do up and do” in turquoise on the fourth; and so on.
What does Roget’s Thesaurus have to do with dragon-scale binding? The scroll’s first phrase and title provide a clue: an imperative to play. Anyone interested in playing with the dragon-scale (or whirlwind) binding usually goes to the site of the International Dunhuang Project: The Silk Road Online. Among its descriptions so far of the forty thousand works found in the Buddhist cave library near China’s Dunhuang on the western edge of the Gobi desert in 1900, there is this passage:
Old Chinese accounts of whirlwind binding are very rare. However, there was a trail of clues left by a Tang dynasty (AD 618-907) rhyme dictionary called Kanmiu buque qieyun (Corrected rhymes), by Wang Renxu. … From the earliest accounts from the Song dynasty up to the Qing dynasty (AD 1644-1911), references to whirlwind bound books have always been connected with this text. … / Several examples of what is believed to be whirlwind binding have now been discovered in the Dunhuang collections of the Bibliothèque nationale de France and the British Library. Most of these have not been rebound, so it is possible to get a clear impression how these manuscripts were bound and why they were bound in this manner. — IDP
Where Western reference works are organized alphabetically, the Qièyùn rhyming dictionary is organized phonologically. But that phonological organization is complex: starting first by grouping characters according to the five tones, then grouping them into rhyming groups according to a character’s initial consonant, and then into groups according to the rhyme of a character’s final consonant. And determining those rhymes requires instructions — the fanqie method that explains via other characters how a character entry should be pronounced. In short, organization by phonological similarities — of tone, initial rhyming consonant and final rhyming consonant.
So to follow the lead of the dragon-scale bound Qièyùn, Witthus picks an English-language reference work whose entries offer plenty of content based on similarities — such as synonyms. Skip for Joy is playful art. Its “rhymes” are the repetitions and synonyms in a line of text. Its lines of text jump into the panels where they will and in whatever color that suits. In the tenth panel, the seventh line even breaks into a dragon-like undulation.
As the dragon-scale scroll returns to its archival box, its colors and undulating line unite with the dragon in the box’s silk onlay.
“Nif Hodgson“. Books On Books Collection. 27 October 2021.
Ken Campbell’s works hold a special place in the Books On Books Collection. Some connect with other artists’ works in the collection. Some connect with techniques, structures or themes pursued in other works. One, however, lays claim to being the original seed to the collection.
Sometime in 1987, after the Radcliffe’s neuropsychologist Dr. John C. Marshall introduced me to his associate Dr. Ruth Campbell, she invited my wife and me to dinner. A growly, jovial bear in hearing aids welcomed us at the door, and by the time we left, I had purchased a proof of his print called “In the Door Stands a Jar”. The artist’s book Ken Campbell describes below was in the works, but at the time, I had had no exposure to this form of art that a life with books and ebooks would finally teach me to appreciate.
Over the years, the print’s blend of textual and visual puns played out from the wall. A door that stands ajar is partly open, partly closed. Half-open, half-closed, the door exposes its hinge and the hour-glass shape the hinge makes. A shape that suggests “a jar” or a pair of breasts, the nipples being the screwheads. The center line of the hinge is askew, a visual pun on “ajar”. Until 2012, I had been happy enough to have the print. But then I finally woke up to book art, and it felt a bit alone, hanging on the wall — or rather “in the door … a jar”.
In the Door Stands a Jar (1987)
In the Door Stands a Jar(1987) Ken Campbell Slipcase (245 x 245 mm) enclosing handsewn casebound book (240 x 240 mm, 44 pages unnumbered). Edition of 40, of which this is #18. Acquired from Vamp & Tramp Booksellers, 2 March 2015. Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with artist’s permission.
It took three years to track down a copy. After the initial sense of accomplishment, and looking from print to book and back, I had to ask: Why a book? Instead of being printed back to back and casebound, the images could have been served up in a portfolio as prints to be framed; the text of its poem, in a chapbook tucked inside the portfolio. But they weren’t. As a book, they stand almost three dimensionally, served up as, and in, an object to be held half-open, half-closed, sequences to be puzzled out and followed, and colors and shapes shifting and overlapping like the syntax of the poem. Later, coming across Campbell’s description of the work, I learned that there was much more than that going on:
There’s usually some kind of formal problem in the books – a way of dividing space up for good clear reason and for making things work in a useful sequence. I had a notion of putting a reduced version of the book’s two-page spread, which is a designer’s term for an opened book, on one page and putting the same two-page spread reduced on the opposite page, so you’re looking at a kind of visual pun: two spreads on the whole spread.
Left: Double-page spread with title, author and date. Right: Final page, numbered and signed, and pastedown endpaper.
The last two lines of the poem across two double-page spreads: A MAN AMEN IN THE DOOR STANDS A JAR
The centerline of the grid on each page provides the visual key to the double-page spread embedded in each single page. The centerline itself and the images falling across it almost encourage the reader/viewer to fold the single pages in half to see how the halves of the image match up or shift. Like closing and opening a door. And so the page and double-page spread become elements in the composition itself. Campbell goes on to explain that there is even still more to it:
On each page is another, smaller two-page spread printed on a black background. In each smaller spread is what is left after I have printed black solids as a window over and around the female forms. Black over colour gives ghostly images of the complete form. The poem runs laterally through the colour and bleeds off into the darkness on either side. There are very large dark borders. I had started to play with borders both as ways of containing the work in a field and as a dark space at the edge of things; a free-fire zone in which things seen in other parts of the book and things remembered can affect that which stands in the light.
I wanted to bury words in those borders as a kind of visual echo of the words being used in the poem, a metaphor for where words come from in one way of creating poetry: hearing echoes of sound and meaning from other places. This process is pursued in other, later books.
I cut a female form out of a background of zinc and wood, and then cut it in half so that there were four blocks which were then manipulated and printed in a variety of colours. The jar that stands in the door is both a woman’s thick-waisted torso, and a jar which is cut up, dismembered and moved around. It was a tilt back to my designer past, making a page move almost in a cinematographic way through the book, in the spaces between the two verses. It was a very formal piece, a very sculptural thing to do. So the book is about joy and darkness, and the sensual face of this world, and the fact that death moderates all. — Ken Campbell
For some, Campbell’s door will recall Marcel Duchamps’ various door/porte works, in particular Porte, 11 rue Larrey (1927), which Duchamps had a carpenter build. The door is hinged at the angle between two walls, each of which has a door frame to receive the door, making it a door that is always closing and opening at the same time. The direct reference to sexual engagement in Campbell’s door (and many of his other works) will also recall Duchamps’ eroticism in his Given (1946-66) doorway work. Conceptually, Campbell’s comments on the hinge, grid and edge of surfaces will draw comparison with Duchamps’ infrathin principle: “both a surface and an interval, whose deictical character points in two different directions at the same time” (Judovitz, Unpacking Duchamps).
In an insightful review of Campbell’s body of work (Parenthesis 22, Spring 2012, Mark Dimunation, Chief of Rare Books at the Library of Congress, notes these verbal, visual and conceptual doubles:
contemplation of the double emerges in several of [his] works. Opening phrases reappear in reverse at the close of a text. Positives are given counterpoint by a negative. Images flip, rotate and respond to each other as they move across the page. Phrases repeat, disassemble, and then reunite.
With its twenty-two double-page spreads, the book In the Door Stands a Jar not only doubles and re-doubles down on the visual layering of doubles — the “two spreads on the whole spread” —it also doubles and re-doubles down with its centering poem on the verbal/visual punning that hinges joy and darkness, opening and closing, and love and death together in this work. What an introduction to this form of art.
AbaB (1984) Ken Campbell Formed from 17 joined sheets as one leporello, pasted onto heavy endboards of varnished wood, in a cloth slipcase. Silkscreened by Jim Birnie at Norwich School of Art on Heritage Rag acid-free paper. Edition of 50, of which this is #9. Acquired from the artist, 18 December 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with artist’s permission.
Campbell’s fourth work of book art, AbaB is the earliest of his works in the collection. It is certainly the most lighthearted of the works in the collection and, possibly, among all Campbell’s works. The text relays a conversation between ‘A’ (Campbell) and ‘B’ (Bruce Brown, a colleague at the Norwich School of Art), a conversation probably driven by the Cutty Sark to which it refers:
A: Think of a sea.
B: You mean the letter?
A: No, an ocean made of paper, upon which sits an open book: made of glass. On the water in the book bobs a bottle made of paper. The ship, afloat upon the label, we name the Cutty Sark.
B: Is that what you are going to do?
A: It just got done.
While the work is the only example of an accordion structure and silk-screen printing in Campbell’s work, and its use of varnished plywood for binding appears only in Father’s Hook (1978), the choice of the two typefaces reflects two processing characteristics to be found in almost every one of Campbell’s works.
I had two cases of woodletter, of different printing heights: one Anglo-American, an extra fatfaced serif; the other Didot, a Continental sans serif, very condensed and beautiful. They were so different in their respective fatness and thinness that they represented the polar ends of type design. As an act of cussedness I thought to do a book that brings the two together and see what happens.Ken Campbell
So, cussedness (or contrariety) and chance intertwined. The chance of two cases of woodletter, of different printing heights, contrary in weight and style, meets Ken Campbell, cussed and contrary enough to bring them to bear on a pun that launches an inside-outside pun: the message in a bottle becomes a message on a paper bottle afloat on an open book made of glass that sits on a sea/C of paper.
Another element of technique in AbaB stands out as recurrent in almost every one of Campbell’s works. It is an effect Campbell calls “stammering progress”. In AbaB he achieves it by running the conversation at different starting points in overlapping parallel lines that break awkwardly across the accordion’s panels. In other works, the awkward breaks come from words split across grid sections (as above with In the Door) or lines of verse split across recto to verso pages (again, as above, and below in -s wings, -s wings). Again, for Campbell, the page is not simply a surface, it is an element in a sculptural composition.
Hadrian’s Dream (1990)
Hadrian’s Dream (1990) Asa Benveniste (text) and Ken Campbell (design and art) Folded stiff paper cover over handsewn chapbook. Cover: H298 x W202 mm. Text block: H292 x W197 mm. Twenty pages unnumbered including two three-panelled fold-outs. Edition of 120 published by Circle Press Publications, of which this is #16. Acquired from Circle Press Publications, 22 June 2015.
In interviews and in most of his works, Campbell comes across as a solitary worker, possessed by tenacious vision, images, metaphors and engagement with the tools of his craft (one printing press he named “Lucille”). Hadrian’s Dream and the two exhibition flyers in the collection, however, shed light on moments of collaboration besides Jim Birnie’s screenprinting in AbaB.
Asa Benveniste was an expatriate American poet (1925-90), introduced to Campbell by Ron King in 1977. Later, King wanted to produce a series of chapbooks to celebrate the move of his studio to London and asked Campbell to take on “Hadrian’s Dream”. Benveniste’s poem is a striking one, actually about the creative process, and given Campbell’s recollection of a key line from the poem in a 2017 interview with Nancy Campbell (no relation, see below), it must have struck a lasting chord in his imagination. In the final result, though, Hadrian’s Dream is more Campbell than Benveniste.
A simple single-fold folio embracing all the other folios opens the chapbook. The half-title of the chapbook falls on the first recto panel. After that, things become less simple — either by virtue of image or fold. A second single-fold folio follows the first, and the full title page falls on its first recto panel, but inside this second folio on the copyright page (the fourth panel in the chapbook) is a glimpse of dark brown bricks that continue behind the other folios onto that second folio’s last recto panel (see below). Here the bricks turn a lighter brown then back to dark brown as they build an image of a wall, brick path or stairs, on which is superimposed a black print — an old-fashioned shadeless electric bulb emitting a jagged black corona of light and musical notes.
In correspondence (26 December 2020), Campbell notes, “the ‘bricks’ are the underside of the type used for the poem turned upside down and used to print from”. Delving into and repurposing his material at hand is a characteristic feature of Campbell’s art.
But who reads a book this way? Perhaps anyone who is puzzled after that copyright page by the succession of panels in which the seventh panel is actually part of a six-panel foldout opening leftwards. Inside the foldout on panel nine appears Benveniste’s poem, which with lines about “sunlight in the window”, a “desk lamp” and “everywhere there is only music” begins to shed light on the images. On closing this foldout and turning panels eleven and twelve, another surprise comes: a new foldout opening rightwards. It seems to be a four-panel foldout but is actually six. The missing two have already shown up before the first foldout! The complete image on the inside of this second foldout folio can be seen only when the folios it embraces are pinched together (see below).
This is the clue to go back to the copyright page and pinch together the folios between it and the penultimate panel (see below).
In the catalogue for his 1996 Yale exhibition “The Word Returned”, even Campbell comments: “the way the thing folds and unfolds is a bit confusing”. Nevertheless, Hadrian’s Dream provides lessons on reading Campbell’s art. Image, text and structure connect in multiple, meaningful dimensions. Where Benveniste’s last line reads “the start of the endless poem”, Campbell’s images facing the poem are two desk lamps connected by a single cord — light feeding light. For Campbell, “sunlight in the window” evokes the four quadrants through which the sun moves daily and, thus, the four panes of the window through which Benveniste sees Hadrian’s dream. With Campbell, in looking/reading and reading/looking, there are always more than “a few ways through the window”.
A few ways through the window: An exhibition of books, related prints and sculpture by Ken Campbell (1990)
The title of this exhibition flyer is also the title of the first book in Campbell’s catalogue The Maker’s Hand (on which more below). The flyer and entry in the catalogue intensify the desire to see that book from 1975 — whose text is printed letterpress in Univers type on the rough side of poster paper and photos of tall inward-opening windows and outward-opening wooden shutters printed on the smooth side. The flyer’s main text comes from the neuropsychologist John Marshall, who introduced me to Ken and Ruth Campbell all those years ago.
Execution: The Book: An exhibition of limited edition artists’ books, related prints and small sculpture (1990)
The title of this exhibition flyer is also the title of a book described in The Maker’s Hand. The year 1990 must have been one of Campbell’s most productive; it certainly brought recognition from the book and art worlds (Circle Press, London; Granary Books, New York; MoMA, Oxford). As will be expanded below, the exhibition flyers serve a particular function alongside Campbell’s bookworks in the collection.
-‘s wings, -‘s wings (1999)
-‘s wings, -‘s wings (1999) Ken Campbell Black laserprinted images overprinted with polychrome letterpress. Bound by Charles Gledhill using an adaptation of the seventeenth-century limp vellum form and wrapped in a folded black cloth. H197 x W140 mm, 64 pages unnumbered. Edition of 30, of which this is #18. Acquired from the artist, 20 December 2018. Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with permission of the artist.
-‘s wings, -‘s wings is a dark, rich and more than tactile work. Following what happens in it demands more of the reader/viewer’s faculties. Unwrapping it from the cloth that envelops it, you feel engaged in some sort of rite. The feel of the binding lies somewhere between softcover and hardcover. An oily ink smell emerges. So precisely aligned with the grid image, the long stitches of beige or white thread exposed down the center of unnumbered pages 4-5 and 60-61 (both shown below) barely register to the eye.
When, however, pages 10-11 are reached (shown below on the left), the threads emerge more plainly against a dark background. The whiter vertical lines elsewhere on the page highlight the threads’ drawing function — or grouting function. By now, the oily smell is stronger, and fingers feel an almost sticky thickness to the pages. As light moves across the turning page’s surface, layers and pock marks appear and disappear much like the rising and falling of the threads. As In the Door but more so, it has an impasto effect from layering and layering brought about by Campbell’s aforementioned cussedness and chance-taking in running the sheets through the printer over and over.
Against this background, images of wings dance and pull away from the center. Over those images and background, the letterpressed text introduces a chant to Agni (the Hindu fire god) and Kali (goddess of love and the great mother) and a poem describing a forest fire spread by birds with wings aflame and falling into the undergrowth. As in other works, Campbell breaks words, punctuation and lines across multiple pages and double-page spreads. In this instance, seventeen pages carry the text. The loose transcription below does not replicate the word and line breaks within pages, only those from page to page; the double-page spreads are indicated. The chant and poem reverse themselves (not quite verbatim) after the first double-page spread, which reminds me of the palindrome In Girum Imus Nocte Et Consumimur Igni (“We go round and round at night and are consumed by fire”).
-S WINGS AGNI I KALI I
I KALI I AGNI -S WINGS
-S WINGS AGNI KALI I
BIRDS FLY OUT (THE) FO
REST FIRE (THEIR) WING
S AFLAME FALL DEAD (T
O) IGNITE THE AWAITING
AGNI I THANK [double-page spread]
IN MY BONE
FIRE BONE [double-page spread]
ME IN (YOU)
THANK I KALI
ITING IGNITE (&) DEAD F
ALL (A)FLAME FIRE FORE
ST OUT FLY (THE) BIRDS
I KALI I AGNI -S WINGS
I KALI I AGNI -S WINGS
-S WINGS AGNI I KALI I
The chant and poem also remind me of the image of birds and animals fleeing a forest fire in Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Armadillo” (a very different poem), but other readers will bring different memories to bear, and yet again this work of art will make a fine thing of chance.
The Maker’s Hand (2001)
The Maker’s Hand: Twenty Books by Ken Campbell (2001) Ken Campbell Perfect bound paperback. H305 x W240 mm, 104 pages. Acquired from the artist, 20 December 2018. Photo: Books On Books Collection, displayed with permission of the artist.
Like the exhibition flyers above, The Maker’s Hand is a work of ephemera — a catalogue of a selection of Campbell’s output. They are nonetheless important to the collection, not only because it wants certain key works by Campbell but also because together the ephemera document an important characteristic of Campbell’s oeuvre. The image on the cover should look familiar. It appears reproduced in whole and part in solid colors in the exhibition flyers above. It is an emblem of connectedness, the physical, conceptual and spiritual continuity of one work with another. It is also a reminder of the personal-ness of the art. The last book covered in The Maker’s Hand is Pantheon (2000), from which the catalogue’s final image is taken:
The self-portrait of the artist drives home the pairing of a life-long consistency of image and vision with life-long artistic growth and development. Life in art, art in life. For which this curator is grateful.
Dimunation, Mark. “Breaking Rules: The Insistent Vision of Ken Campbell”, Parenthesis 22, Fine Press Book Association. Accessed 13 December 2020. Clear commentary on Broken Rules and Double- Crosses (1984), AbaB (1984), A Knife Romance (1988), Father’s Garden (1989), Execution (1990), Firedogs (1991), Skute Awabo (1992), Ten Years of Uzbekistan (1994), The Word Returned (1996), Pantheon (2000) and Wall (2008).
Anouk Kruithof’s massive wall of colored books echoes two leitmotivs in book art — the installation and the presumed disappearance of the book in the onslaught of digital media. Reminiscent of pixels on the computer screen, the work is entitled Enclosed Content Chatting Away In The Colour Invisibility and consists of over 3,500 books rescued from the recycling dump and whose arrangement varies with each installation. Kruithof has stated that she seeks to “invent new things out of fragments of the past.’
Alicia Martín’s installation, called Biografias, has appeared in Madrid, The Hague, Cordoba, Linz and Valencia. The torrent of defenestrated books is made of over 5,000 titles fixed to a wire frame.
Matej Kren is another book installation artist, whose thoughtful, towering installations have been featured in Prague and numerous other cities in this hemisphere.
Although Brian Goggin does not use actual books as his material, his works in bronze, polycarbonate, steel and LED prompt reflections on books, language, the transmission of ideas, permanence and impermanence.
Looking back to the late 19th century, you will find that Myanmar can lay claim to the world’s largest book.
For other large-scale book art installations and why they might be enjoyable, take a look here.
The passage here, rendered by blind embossing on lead and metal paint, comes from Primo Levi’s essay on lead in his book The Periodic Table.
It reminds me of Anselm Kiefer’s lead books with wings (The Language of the Birds, 2013), which you can read about here: http://wp.me/p2AYQg-Lu. It’s a curious, leaden but uplifting, fitting but outrageous conjunction: Van Zanten’s personal grappling with depression, the concentration-camp survivor who ultimately succumbed to depression and suicide, and the Nazi-saluting artist who asserts that history is a weight that must be borne and embraced and lead is the only substance that is weighty, “alchemical” and mutable enough to bear it.
Van Zanten’s appropriation of Levi for her project “Depression” is somewhat less outré than Sylvia Plath’s appropriation of Jewishness in “Daddy”, which is barely less outré than Kiefer’s Nazi salutes. But all three are essential, outrageous and shocking appropriations, just as the appropriation of books as “just another material” with which to create art is essential, outrageous and shocking.
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.’
I first came across Noriko Ambe’s book art in 2013 through her site and MoMA’s Inside/Out. Two years later and preparing to attend the closing of Yale University Art Gallery’s special exhibition of Allan Chasanoff’s collection of book art, I spotted her Basic Sketch Book. The latter provided me with a way of making sense of what seemed like a slight contradiction of assertions in her artist’s statement and the MoMA interview.
Referring to the series Work of Linear – Actions, Ambe writes, “It looks like annual rings of a tree or topographical map or wave, but it isn’t. It is absolutely the traces of actions of a person, which is me.” So here is book art as abstract self-portraiture.
But in her interview with Hanna Exel and referring to the seriesキル –Artist Books Project, Ambe comments, “I am not trying to express myself or insert myself into the other artist’s work by cutting their catalogue …”. In that series, Ambe selected 24 artists’ books and catalogues, and, studying each carefully , excavated or rather drew by excision. Aren’t these “absolutely the traces of actions of a person” — Noriko Ambe?
Here is the list of works in the series:
His heart, his life: Andy Warhol Collected Beauties: Damien Hirst Art Victims: Damien Hirst Prologue: Sugimoto + Foer Sculpture: Richard Serra Spiritual America: Richard Prince Crash!: Takashi Murakami Kiru- Cut : Egon Schiele In the Studio: Arberto Giacometti Current – War Cut: Gerhard Richter Current – A Private Atlas: Gerhard Richter In the bathtub?!: Jeff Koons Diamond Dust Shoes: Andy Warhol Warning!: Richard Pettibone Sailing to…: Cy Twombly Anatomy of Love: John Currin Listning to Tom Freidman: Tom Freidman Thoughts on Tom Freidman: Tom Freidman Beautiful Inside of My Head Forever: Damien Hirst Dots on Dots and Leyers: Roy Lichtenstein To Perfect Lovers: Felix Gonzalez-Torres A Study of Robert Therrein: Robert Therrien Double sides: Gilbert & George Artists, Believe in Yourself.: Piotr Uklanski
In her series statement, Ambe elaborates:
The process of creation was divided into roughly three stages. First, I earnestly established a deep respect for the artists and verified what they expressed through their art. After assimilating that information I decided on the theme (title) that needed to be expressed. Through a filter, the filter being me, the work was made while cutting as though I was having a dialogue with each single page.
When cutting something from the back I didn’t know what kind of image would appear next. Each time I decided to cut away or to leave behind and the process continued to a point where the book was on the verge of destruction, and then following my theme I re-constructed. Finally, while I clearly remained in the work as a filter, the essence of the artist was emphasized. It became a collaboration for the first time when these two things were balanced.
She calls the results dialogues and collaborations. I see unique works of art. Literally taking tradition as her material, Ambe delivers book art with its own unmistakeable, individual style. Each interpretation through her eyes, hands and scalpel is a unique, new work and a self-portrait in an abstract sense.
Math Monahan’s installationSpecimen is book art that cannot be ignored.
[ 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Mystery Book Artist of Edinburgh has delivered by post a third sculpture in a bird-inspired series to the Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust (EUCL). For aficionados of the MBAE, the EUCL site provides the most comprehensive source to date of links and media on the artist’s work. As well, the MBAE’s Twitter address can be found there.
With the third piece, the artist has taken her work to the brink of didacticism, sentimentalism and “good works.” As much as one may applaud the literacy movement, its message weighs heavily, albeit it cleverly, on the feathers delicately sculpted from book pages and the paperclip body stored in a stickered cardboard travel chest along with a miniature copy of Daphne du Maurier’s The Birds and Other Stories, a small beaked and goggled flight helmet, a flight map and instructions on how to assemble the sculpture. It is perhaps the instruction sheet that leaves the brink behind as one reads the hortatory UNESCO-ese shown here.
The instruction sheet promises more to come after this last in the “Preparing to Fly” series. What that “more” may be can be followed (chased?) @#freetofly on Twitter. At which point though, art seems to have flown the coop and left us up a “twee.”
Perhaps what the MBAE launches next will bring her body of work so far nearer to its roots (or roost?) in Joseph Cornell’s exquisite boxes.
This video accompanies the exhibition entitled Rebound: Dissections and Excavations in Book Art. Curated by Karen Ann Myers, Assistant Director of the Halsey Institute, Rebound brings together the work of Doug Beube, Long-Bin Chen, Brian Dettmer, Guy Laramée, and Francesca Pastine. Of the five, Chen and Laramée’s pieces have the greatest superficial resemblance to one another, and while it seems that their difference in import could not be greater, perhaps they come to same point. The apparently stone heads of the Buddha come from the East “to care for” the millions of individuals in the West whose names and addresses appear in the telephone books from which the heads are sculpted. Laramée’s mountains are “erosions of disused knowledge,” returning “to that which does not need to say anything, that which simply IS.”