Bookmarking Book Art — Ed Ruscha

Every Building on the Sunset Strip (1966) Ed Ruscha Opened and described by Cathy Chambers.
Giulio Maffei, Edward Ruscha's The Sunset Strip, 1966, 2015
From his series Le Vite dei Libri (The Lives of Books), Giulio Maffei provides a clever catalog entry on the Sunset Strip.
Display of Ed Ruscha’s Various Small Fires and Milk (1964) at “Pliure: La Part du Feu”, 2 February – 12 April 2015, Paris. Photo credit: Robert Bolick.
Reflected in the lower left hand corner is the display of Bruce Nauman’s Burning Small Fires; in the upper right corner, the film clip of Truffaut’s 1966 Fahrenheit 451; and in the upper left, Maria Helena Vieira da Silva’s La bibliotheque en feu (1974).

 At 79 he is still breaking fresh artistic ground. He pads through his studio, followed by his shaggy rescue dog Lola, to a table where he opens a large flat cardboard package. Inside is a horseshoe-shaped length of clay with a series of laser cut metal letters sticking out of it, like birthday candles on a cake. The letters read: “WEN OUT FOR CIGRETS N NEVER CAME BACK”. It’s funny, baffling and characteristic of an artist who says he aims for “a kind of ‘huh?’ ” effect with a lot of his work. It is also something new. Once cast in bronze it will become, Ruscha says proudly, his first sculpture.

Ben Hoyle, “Ed Ruscha, the pop painter with ‘the coolest gaze in American art’“, The Times, 25 February 2017.

Ben Hoyle’s easygoing interview with Ed Ruscha introduces his work as the heart of the British Museum’s exhibition “The American Dream: pop to the present” (9 March 9 to 18 June 2017).  That is a bold assertion as the show included Claes Oldenburg, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Cy Twombly, Louise Bourgeois, Robert Rauschenberg and others recognizable to anyone who was briefly awake in a college art history class — even as long ago as the 70s. But, back then, not so much “Ed Ruscha”. Hoyle’s article – with its paragraphs’ casual packing in of news, telling descriptive detail and sharp observations (whether his or others’) of Ruscha’s art – makes a persuasive case.   

Abigail Cain’s comments in Aperture on the Harry Ransom Center’s 2018 exhibition Ed Ruscha: Archaeology and Romance, which uses 150 displayed items to focus on 16 of Ruscha’s books, contextualizes Various Small Fires neatly. Quoting the Center’s photography curator Jessica S. Macdonald, Cain writes:

… lack of artistry is one of the hallmarks of Ruscha’s artist books. “The photographs of gas stations are bad photographs on purpose,” McDonald noted. “He’s trying to do the opposite of what a photographer trying to make an artistic photograph would be doing.” In a 1965 Artforum interview concerning his second book, Various Small Fires and Milk (1964), Ruscha explained that it didn’t even matter to him who took the photographs. “In fact, one of them was taken by someone else,” he said. “I went to a stock photograph place and looked for pictures of fires, there were none.” 

Abigail Cain, “Unpacking Ed Ruscha“, Aperture, 27 September 2018.

Ruscha on the future of the artist book:

I am wide awake when I see artist books. Here are people using actual ink on paper in the eventual age of total digital. For this reason I am retaining my hope and expectation of more books.

From interview with Stephanie LaCava, “Artist Books/Artist’s Novels (Vol. 5): Ed Ruscha”, The Believer, 20 February 2017.

Bookmarking Book Art – Animated!

Michelle Ku, The Swimmer, 2014
Michelle Ku, The Swimmer, 2014

John Cheever’s short story “The Swimmer” is an all-time favorite. After seeing the short film of it with Burt Lancaster, I can’t imagine Ned Merrill’s appearance any other way. Even in Michelle Ku’s animated book art version, I see Burt Lancaster’s big grin and its sorrow.

Before seeing Ku’s work, which has planted the urge to seek even more examples of animated book art, I had enjoyed Regan Avery’s The Groton Avery Clan at the CT(un)Bound exhibition in New Haven, Connecticut. The work consists of a handmade book, metallic thread, motor and an Arduino microcontroller. The Avery clan has inhabited the state since the 1600s. Regan Avery’s handmade book is a copy of the family history published over 100 years ago. From it, the name of each descendant of Christopher Avery, the original immigrant, has been excised and the ten thousand names handwritten on miniscule scraps of  yellowed paper that emerge from the book along interconnected threads put into motion by the motor and microcontroller.

Regan Avery, The Groton Avery Clan, 2015
Regan Avery, The Groton Avery Clan, 2015

When the motor engages, the name slips become “a teeming mass of humanity”.

In 2011, Saara Tuulia posted City and Snow Book on YouTube, which is a simple stop motion animation comparable to Ku’s more complex The Swimmer.

Saara Tuulia, City and Snow Book, 2011
Saara Tuulia, City and Snow Book, 2011

In 2013, Danielle Lathrop posted Book Art, whose stop motion animation highlighted the figurative and origami-based vein of the art form and its practitioners’ obsession with Alice in Wonderland.

Danielle Lathrop, Book Art, 2013 The White Rabbit and Alice sequence
Danielle Lathrop, Book Art, 2013
The White Rabbit and Alice sequence

Danielle Lathrop, Book Art, 2013 The White Rabbit and Alice sequence
Danielle Lathrop, Book Art, 2013
The White Rabbit and Alice sequence

Danielle Lathrop, Book Art, 2013 The White Rabbit and Alice sequence
Danielle Lathrop, Book Art, 2013
The White Rabbit and Alice sequence

Danielle Lathrop, Book Art, 2013 The White Rabbit and Alice sequence
Danielle Lathrop, Book Art, 2013
The White Rabbit and Alice sequence

More recently, and posted here, another example of animated book art – Giulio Maffei’s series Le Vite dei Libri (The Lives of Books) – demonstrates the increasing engagement and sophistication in this variant form of book art.

Giulio Maffei, Edward Ruscha's The Sunset Strip, 1966, 2015
Giulio Maffei, Edward Ruscha’s The Sunset Strip, 1966, 2015

The search is on; “roll camera”.