Books On Books Collection – Emily Speed

Unfolding Architecture (2007)

For a collection following architecturally themed book art, Emily Speed’s Unfolding Architecture (2007) is essential. The video above shows how the box’s opening and the title revealed hint at the substance of this work. What cannot be sensed from the video is how the feather weight of the box and balsa-bound book of Mohawk Superfine resonate with the unbearable lightness of being that the main character Gordon experiences as he witnesses his city structure unfold across the twenty-two panels of his story. Here is Elaine Speight and Charles Quick on the work and Gordon:

The diversity of experience enabled by the fold is made explicit in Speed’s Unfolding Architecture (2007) …, an accordion-folded book that recounts the tale of Gordon, a city dweller who witnesses the collapse of public buildings and, ultimately, his own home as the urban fabric begins to unfold around him. Housed in a balsa wood box that, somewhat alarmingly, unfolds upon opening, the fragility of the folded sheet provokes something of the protagonist’s anxiety about the undoing of his city. Yet, … the act of unfolding also produces “an open plain full of possibility” (Speed 2019). As Gordon asserts, unfolding is not the same as falling apart, and the artist’s book suggests that hope and potential may be achieved through the dismantling of existing structures.

The silk-screening adds texture and a just perceptible raised depth to the varying textures of the wood and the Canson Opalux slip that protects the colophon in the bottom of the box. Depth and varying texture repeat themselves in the accordion’s folds and paper attached to wooden covers that seem light as paper.

Gordon’s story ends with paper — an old, rolled up newspaper that reminds him of a tower (an image that appears on the colophon’s cover slip). It is a reminder that comes to him in his recognition that, in the end, “all he was able to do now was to contribute to the re-making” of his flattened world. The newspaper reminds me of the newsprint typo “manmoth” for “mammoth” that inspired Elizabeth Bishop to invent her poem “The Man-Moth”. The Man-Moth and Gordon share a surreality and a hope that resides in the imagination — that solitary tear, the man-moth’s only possession, that slipping from his eyelid, he will palm and swallow if you’re not watching …

… However, if you watch, he’ll hand it over,
cool as from underground springs and pure enough to drink.

The fusion of title, metaphor, narrative, image, technique of silk-screening, letterpress, texture of paper and wood, the workings of the accordion and box enclosure — all — with one another makes Unfolding Architecture as satisfying as the Man-Moth’s tear.

Unfolding Architecture (2007)
Emily Speed
Double-sided accordion book, attached to balsa wood covers, housed in a hinged, covered box of balsa wood. Book – H190 x W70 x D18 mm (closed), H190 x ~W2280 (open); Box – H203 x W88 x D63 mm; 24 panels, including cover panels. Edition of 90, of which this is #7. Acquired from the artist, 24 October 2020.

Further Reading

Architecture“, Bookmarking Book Art, 12 November 2018.

Emily Speed“, The Aesthetic Trust, 30 January 2012. Accessed 24 October 2020.

Speight, Elaine, and Charles Quick, “‘Fragile Possibilities’: The Role of the Artist’s Book in Public Art“, MDPI Arts 2020, 9(1), 32. Accessed 24 October 2020.