Bookmarking Book Art — Large-Scale Book Art Installations (updated 20180307)

Enclosed Content Chatting Away In The Colour Invisibility, Anouk Kruithof, 2009

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.’

Biografias, Alicia Martín,
2005, site specific installation, Casa de America, Madrid

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.  

Alicia Martin “absorbed” by her work

Matej Kren is another book installation artist, whose thoughtful, towering installations have been featured in Prague and numerous other cities in this hemisphere.

Book Cell, Matej Kren, 2006, Centro de Arte Moderna – Foundation Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon, Portugal

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.

Speechless, Brian Goggin, 2008-2009
Bronze, site-specific installation
Lafayette Library, Lafayette, California

Looking back to the late 19th century, you will find that Myanmar can lay claim to the world’s largest book.

Atthakatha Slabs, Sandamuni (1867/1913)
Photographs by Anandajoti Bhikkhu
Dhammapada Page 1/4, Kuthodaw (1868)
Photographs by Anandajoti Bhikkhu

For other large-scale book art installations and why they might be enjoyable, take a look here.


Bookmarking Book Art – Merike van Zanten

Lost Fight, 2014 9.5" x 13.75" x 1.25" Encyclopedia volume, lead, metal paint Blind embossing
Lost Fight, 2014
Encyclopedia volume, lead, metal paint

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: 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.

Enjoy more of Van Zanten’s work here.

Bookmarking Book Art – in medias res … Andrew Hayes

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.

Stalagmites of books in the home of Andrew Hayes, book artist
Stalagmites of books in the home of Andrew Hayes, book artist

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

and ends:



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?

Hade, Andrew Hayes Steel, book pages, and copper 16'' x 6'' x 3'' 2013 Reproduced with permission of the artist Photo credit: Steve Mann, Black Box Photography
Hade, 2013
Steel, book pages, and copper
16” x 6” x 3”
Reproduced with permission of the artist.
Photo credit: Steve Mann, Black Box Photography

The title of this piece is Hade. “Hade” is a geological term, like Placer and Lode (titles of these other striking sculptures).

Placer, 2013 Steel, book pages, and brass 10'' x 7'' x 9'' Reproduced with permission of the artist Photo credit: Steve Mann, Black Box Photography
Placer, 2013
Steel, book pages, and brass
10” x 7” x 9”
Reproduced with permission of the artist
Photo credit: Steve Mann, Black Box Photography
Lode, 2013 Steel and book pages 16'' x 7'' x 2.5'' Reproduced with permission of the artist Photo credit: Steve Mann, Black Box Photography
Lode, 2013
Steel and book pages
16” x 7” x 2.5”
Reproduced with permission of the artist.
Photo credit: Steve Mann, Black Box Photography

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.

Ballistae Steel and book pages 16'' x 8'' x 3'' 2013
Balastae, 2013
Steel and book pages
16” x 8” x 3”
Reproduced with permission of the artist
Photo credit: Steve Mann, Black Box Photography

“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.

Kedge Steel, book pages, and brass 9.5'' x 18'' x 9'' 2013 Reproduced with permission of the artist. Photo credit: Steve Mann, Black Box Photography
Kedge, 2013
Steel, book pages, and brass
9.5” x 18” x 9”
Reproduced with permission of the artist.
Photo credit: Steve Mann, Black Box Photography

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.

Shift, 2013 Steel, book pages, and brass 11'' x 5'' x 2'' Reproduced with permission of the artist Photo credit: Steve Mann, Black Box Photography
Shift, 2013
Steel, book pages, and brass 11” x 5” x 2”
Reproduced with permission of the artist.
Photo credit: Steve Mann, Black Box Photography
Waver, 2013 Steel, book pages, and brass, 16'' x 9'' x 9'' Reproduced with permission of the artist. Photo credit: Steve Mann, Black Box Photography
Waver, 2013
Steel, book pages, and brass, 16” x 9” x 9”
Reproduced with permission of the artist.
Photo credit: Steve Mann, Black Box Photography

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),

Swarm, 2013 Steel, book pages, and brass 13'' x 14'' x 3'' Reproduced with permission of the artist. Photo credit: Steve Mann, Black Box Photography
Swarm, 2013
Steel, book pages, and brass
13” x 14” x 3”
Reproduced with permission of the artist.
Photo credit: Steve Mann, Black Box Photography

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:

Wry, 2013 Steel, book pages, and brass 7'' x 8'' x 3'' Reproduced with permission of the artist. Photo credit: Steve Mann, Black Box Photography
Wry, 2013
Steel, book pages, and brass
7” x 8” x 3”
Reproduced with permission of the artist.
Photo credit: Steve Mann, Black Box Photography

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.

To see more of Andrew Hayes’s work, visit

Related publications

Sara Baker, “Andrew Hayes – Artist”, American Style Magazine, November 2010, accessed 28 August 2013:

Bookmarking Book Art – Andrew Hayes | @scoopit

Stacy Dacheux, “Sleek Sculpture Combines Metal with Pressed Book Pages”, Beautiful Decay, 7 August 2013, accessed 10 August 2013:

Erin Fletcher, “Artist: Andrew Hayes”, Flash of the Hand, 20 August 2013, accessed 28 August 2013:

David Mendez, “Former Tucsonan Has a Warped Way of Using Old Books”, The Range, 9 August 2013, accessed 28 August 2013: has-a-warped-way-of-using-old-books

Penland, “Focus on: Andrew Hayes”, The Penland Sketchbook, 15 August 2012, accessed 10 August 2013:

Melissa Walter, “Interview #7 – Andrew Hayes”, Crafthaus, 8 October 2012, accessed 28 August 2013:

Matthew Wengard, “Art As Inspiration: Andrew Hayes”, A Fine Press, 16 August 2013, accessed 28 August 2013:

L. Kent Wolgamott, “Lux exhibition ‘Strata’ turns books and metal into graceful sculpture”, Ground Zero, 17 August 2013, accessed 28 August 2013:

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: 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.’

Meghan Young, “Artist Andrew Hayes Manipulates Metal and Novels”, Trendhunter, 9 August 2013, accessed 10 August 2013:

Bookmarking Book Art — Noriko Ambe

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.

Noriko Ambe, Work of Linear – Actions, Found sketchbook (2000)
27.9 x 21.6 cm (11 x 8 1/2 in.)
The Allan Chasanoff, B.A. 1961, Book Art Collection, curated with Doug Beube- See more here.

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.

Noriko Ambe, Work of Linear – Actions  (2000)
Noriko Ambe, Work of Linear – Actions, 2000

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?

Noriko Ambe, CUT: Egon Schiele, 2009 Artist’s book The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Fund for the Twenty-First Century. © 2013 Noriko Ambe
Noriko Ambe, CUT: Egon Schiele, 2009 Artist’s book The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Fund for the Twenty-First Century. © 2013 Noriko Ambe Noriko Ambe, CUT: Egon Schiele, 2009
Artist’s book
The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Fund for the Twenty-First Century.
© 2013 Noriko Ambe
Reproduced with the artist’s permission

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.

There is not the slightest contradiction.

Bookmarking Book Art — in medias res … Math Monahan

Math Monahan’s installation Specimen is book art that cannot be ignored.

Specimen , 2012
Inkjet Print
Photo credit: Math Monahan

Specimen, 2012Inkjet PrintPhoto credit: Math Monahan
Specimen, 2012
Inkjet Print
Photo credit: Math Monahan

Specimen 5
Specimen, 2013
Photo credit: Math Monahan
© Math Monahan

Specimen 2
Specimen, 2013
Photo credit: Math Monahan
© Math Monahan

Specimen 3
Specimen, 2013
Photo credit: Math Monahan
© Math Monahan

Specimen 4
Specimen, 2013
Photo credit: Math Monahan
© Math Monahan

[ 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.

Tree of Codes, Jonathan Safran Foer Visual Editions, 2010
Tree of Codes, Jonathan Safran Foer
Visual Editions, 2010


Image from Visual Editions.
Image from Visual Editions.
Author of Everything is Illuminated, Foer took one of his favorite books, The Street of Crocodiles by Polish-Jewish writer Bruno Schulz, and used it as a canvas, cutting into and out of the pages, to arrive at Tree of Codes.

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” (  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.

Between, 2012
Between, 2012
Photo credit: Math Monahan
© Math Monahan

Between, 2012
Between, 2012
Photo credit: Math Monahan
© Math Monahan

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.


Bookmarking Book Art – Andrew Hayes

To find a union of metal and the printed page as rich and tactile as that created by Andrew Hayes, we have to hark back to the days of hot metal typesetting or farther still to the chained library.


Books chained in Zutphen
Books chained in Zutphen

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.

Steel, book pages, and brass
10” x 7” x 9”
Andrew Hayes, 2013

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.

Further items:

in medias res … Andrew Hayes”, Books On Books, 6 May 2015.

David, Rachel. Meta-Formations: Experiments and Rituals (New Orlean, LA: Red Metal, 2019).

Townsend, Eileen. “‘Tributaries: Andrew Hayes’ at the Metal Museum”, Memphis Flyer, 23 January 2014. Accessed 2 September 2019.

Young, Meghan. “Book page sculptures, Trendhunter, 9 August 2013. Accessed 2 September 2019.

SeagerGray Gallery

Bookmarking Book Art — Flight of the Mystery Book Artist of Edinburgh

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.

From the Literary City
(c) Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust 2013

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.

Bookmarking Book Art — Long-Bin Chen

Buddha, Long-Bin Chen

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.”

These are not ekphrastic works.  Their “raw material” is not the narrative inspiration of a carved scene.  They are nearer to conceptual art.  They are fascinating.  via Rebound: Dissections and in Book Art — Spoleto Festival USA — College of Charleston – YouTube.

Bookmarking Book Art – Karine (France’s answer to the Mystery Book Artist of Edinburgh)

“Encore une fois bienvenue dans les coulisses de mon prochain défi: faire entrer un peu de poésie à l’intérieur d’une cloche de verre avec pour point de départ un vieux livre dépoussiéré de J. Feildel: Le Jardin – 1942.”

For those who enjoy the work of the Mystery Book Artist of Edinburgh (MBAE), the details of the small house within a bell-jar will equally appeal.  The artist is Karine, who goes by the name AnemyaPhotoCreations at and FaceBook.  The fine, dexterous work in the sculpted roses and cat in the garden, the clothes hanging from the miniature clothesline and the paper spray of water from the paper watering can held by the paper gardener raises the piece above simply being a garden scene suggested by the content of the book being altered.   Karine’s work is every bit as delicate as that of the MBAE.

Do visit AnemyaPhotoCreations to see Karine’s other work “Piano,” “Les petites filles modeles” and “Reading is escaping.” You will half suspect that she has made some round trips to Edinburgh.

Bookmarking Book Art – Barbara Tetenbaum


Here is another instance of “reverse” ekphrasis.   When a writer creates poetry or prose in response to a work of art, that is an ekphrastic work.  Think of John Keats and “Ode to a Grecian Urn,” William Carlos Williams and his poems inspired by Breughel, Randall Jarrell’s “The Bronze David of Donatello” or Mark Doty’s extended essay in response to Jan Davidsz de Heem’s “Still Life with Oysters and Lemon.”

Still Life with Oysters and Lemon,                      Jan Davidsz de Heem, 1606-1683

Tetenbaum, both writer and artist, spends a month in a gallery listening to a recording of Willa Cather’s 1918 novel, My Ántonia, and the result is an “artist’s book” or “bookwork” called Mining My Ántonia; Excerpts, Drawings, and a Map.   

imagesPut aside — difficult as it may be — the pleasure of craft and art so plainly suffusing the print, paper and binding of this work, what is its relation to the material of which it is made?  Is it like a “movie of the book”?  Or some sort of literary/artistic criticism?   Are we enjoying Tetenbaum’s “making the novel her own” (as in the pun on mining), or is the work inspiring us to go back to Cather’s novel with renewed interest?  To what degree can we appreciate Tetenbaum’s book art without having read My Ántonia?  How do we think about the “material” of which Mining My Ántonia is made?

Some work in this category of the artist’s response to book material, in which a well-known scene from the book is created, is merely craftwork.  Other work — which can stand on its own, albeit better appreciated in the context of full knowledge of the inspiring book — is art.  We want to make it our own — to mine it — which curiously might send us back to the quarry from which the artist drew her material.

Willa Cather's Prairie, Nebraska
Willa Cather’s Prairie, Nebraska (Photo credit: Ross Griff)