Bookmarking Book Art – Julia Hou

Julia Hou’s Asterisk (2019) may remind you of an E.E. Cummings’ poem or a Hasegawa Tōhaku print or the Xu Bing animation The Character of Characters. Just as appreciation of Cummings grows with exposure to broken syntax and playful typographic layout in other poems — or of Tōhaku, as understanding of the depth effects minimalism, size, definition and tone can have on the eye — or of Xu Bing, as his inspiration from Autumn Colors on the Qiao and Hua Mountains (c. 1296) and The Sutra on the Lotus of the Sublime Dharma  (c. 1315) both by Zhao Mengfu is learned, appreciation of Asterisk grows as more is understood about how Hou made her digital artist book. Screen grabs of Asterisk, such as the sequential ones below, only hint at the work.

Asterisk (2019) Julia Hou

To read Asterisk, click here and press the letter “f” to move forward through the work. Hou’s poem reveals itself in black text that turns red as a “refrain”-like block of text over which the poem’s lines sit dissolves into characters that fly up like leaves or birds, fall down like rain, float down like snow, or coalesce into foreground or tree-like shapes.

Colored in blue, the asterisks take up a left foreground position, bubbling up and falling back like a fountain of water available to refresh the tree-like forms made of letters, but as the artist book is scrolled forward from left to right, the asterisk fountain disperses across the screen like spray, butterflies or bluebirds. Here is a transcript, as it were:

Asterisk
the last time you were here was years ago
before you were punctured by asterisks
and written into footnotes.
the night your mother read your first published story
and told you it was too sad
too linear.
she told you to let in the light
to rip away whatever fears you'd stapled to your chest
to see the forest for the trees
and you tried. you raised your voice
spoke with confidence, loud and red
but it all seemed to fade into whitespace
as if God Himself had decided to erase
and rewrite you

[Refrain - which varies in length with each forward movement or refresh]

what do you see what do you see  what do you see  what do you  
see what do you see  an ink speckled sky  an ink speckled sky 
an ink speckled sky  an ink speckled sky  an ink speckled sky 
an  ink speckled  sky  an ink speckled  sky   an ink speckled
sky an ink speckled sky  and tree only traveler and tree only 
traveler and tree only traveler and tree only traveler and tr 
ee only traveler and tree  only traveler and tree only travel
er  look behind you look behind you look behind you look behi
nd you look behind you look behind you

Where appreciation on each revisiting of Cummings, Tōhaku or Xu Bing increases with the perceiver’s personal growth, Asterisk itself varies with each accessing, with access from the artist’s site or from the Carnegie Mellon University libraries’ Artists’ Book Collection, and with keyboard/screenpad interaction. As if in an online game, the reader/viewer must keep up. Hou has created her artist book with Satoru Ozaki’s created-index, a game app exploring a surreal 3D typographical world. Depending on how the reader/viewer touches the screenpad or moves the cursor and presses “f” to go forward or “b” to go back, the viewpoint tilts and pivots. It is like manipulating a sculptural bookwork such as Francisca Prieto’s The Antibook (2002).

Artist books born-digital vary wildly from one another — perhaps more so than analog artist’s books or even hybrids, or perhaps it’s just that we are not used to the artist’s “new material and tools”. Carnegie Mellon University’s acquisition and preservation of Hou’s digital artist book leads further into thinking about Asterisk‘s material status. The files can be downloaded here, but what is it that has been collected? Is its shape-shifting merely analogous to a viewer’s shifting perspective on an artist book in a physical environment? It would be interesting to have Matthew Kirschenbaum’s perspective on the preservation effort that Carnegie Mellon has put into Hou’s artist book and how that relates to his Mechanisms‘ analysis of “the textual and technical primitives of electronic writing that govern writing, inscription, and textual transmission in all media: erasure, variability, repeatability, and survivability” — in essence, the materiality of works like Hou’s.

Amaranth Borsuk’s The Book also provides a useful context here in its narrative of the book’s digital history from the Memex in Vannevar Bush‘s 1945 classic “As we may think” to T.L. Uglow‘s 100-author blockchain collaboration in 2017, A Universe Explodes from Visual Editions’ series Editions at Play. Borsuk reminds us:

Our current moment appears to be much like the first centuries of movable type, a cusp. Just as manuscript books persisted into the Gutenberg era, books currently exist in multiple forms simultaneously: as paperbacks, audiobooks, EPUB downloads, and, in rare cases, interactive digital experiences. (p. 244)

Borsuk weaves into this moment of the book’s future a reminder that print affordances such as tactility (or the haptic) and the paratextual (those peripheral elements like page numbers, running heads, ISBNs, etc., that Gary Frost argues “make the book a book”) have been finding fresh ways into the way we read digitally. The touchscreen enables us to read between the lines literally in the novella Pry (2014) by Samantha Gorman and Danny Cannizaro (2014). Breathe (2018) by Kate Pullinger, another work in the Editions at Play series, uses GPS to detect and insert the reader’s location, the time and weather, and when the reader tilts the device or rubs the screen, hidden messages from the story’s (the reader’s?) ghosts appear.

To add to Borsuk’s history (and conclude) with an analogue precursor, consider Livre de Prières Tissé d’après les enluminures des manuscrits du XIVe au XVIe siècle (which translates as Book of Prayers woven after illuminations in manuscripts of the 14th and 15th century).

Created in Lyon, France (1886-1887), Livre de Prières Tissé presents a bridge from the illuminated books on which it is patterned to Hou’s Asterisk, driven by a set of instructions designed to be carried out by a machine. Every image, letter, ornament and page of Livre de Prières Tissé consists of silver and black silk thread woven on silk looms programmed with the punched-card system developed by Joseph-Marie Jacquard (1752-1834). Those perforated cards inspired the famous “Analytical Engine” conceived by Charles Babbage (1791-1871), which in turn inspired Ada Lovelace (1815-1852) to compose its first computer program: a set of instructions designed to be carried out by a machine.

Further Reading

Borsuk, Amaranth. The Book (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2018).

Hindman, Sarah. “Meet Me at the World’s Fair“, Abebooks.com (ND). Accessed 22 June 2020.

Kirschenbaum, Matthew G. Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007).

Norman, Jeremy. “A Prayerbook Entirely Woven by the Jacquard Loom: The First Book Produced by a Program or Digitally Produced Book?“, Jeremy Norman’s History of Information, 20 April 2020. Accessed 22 June 2020.

Prisbylla, Andrew. “Art Meets Tech in Born-Digital Artist’s Book“, News/Carnegie Mellon University, 4 June 2020. Accessed 21 June 2020.

Books On Books Collection – Doug Beube

Breaking the Codex (2011)

Doug Beube: Breaking the Codex
Marian Cohn, ed. (New York: Etc. Etc. The Iconoclastic Museum Press, 2011). Acquired from the artist, 15 February 2014. Photo: Books On Books Collection

Jacket, outer and inner. Photos: Courtesy of the artist.

Back and front covers. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

In an interview with Judith Hoffberg, Doug Beube spoke of experiencing

the whole book as an entity in itself, which can’t be done by reading line by line. The book’s not made to do that. Readers experience the totality of the book by building up linear movement, word by word, sentence by sentence, etc. and I’m interested in the book as a simultaneous experience.UmbrellaVol 25, No 3-4 (2002)

Doug Beube: Breaking the Codex (2011) documents the impression that, in pursuit of that experience, Beube has foreshadowed and/or echoed nearly every variation of book art in play from the 1980s to the early twenty-first century. Beube has been extraordinarily inventive with the book as raw artistic material but not only for the sake of that experience. Beube is a biblioclast and an ideoclast. His works have altered the codex form and deployed its “syntax” and its metaphoric identities to address recurring political, social and philosophical themes. The two small works in the Books On Books Collection lean more toward the aesthetic and philosophical themes, but the presence of Doug Beube: Breaking the Codex makes a handy reminder of the artist’s substantial body of larger ideoclastic works.

Empty Talk (2016)

Empty Talk (2016)
Doug Beube
Altered book, plexi glass, acrylic box, wood. Framed, H286 x W232 x D51 mm.
Acquired from Kaller Fine Arts, 20 July 2017. Photo: Books On Books Collection.

Views of Empty Talk. Photos: Courtesy of the artist.

Empty Talk is part of the Speechless series, which derives from the work Cut ‘Shortcomings’ (2015). Beube describes the origin of the works:

Shortcomings’ is the original title of the graphic novel by cartoonist Adrian Tomine. It was published by Drawn and Quarterly in Montreal, Canada in 2007. The genre of this art form with seven to nine cells per page, in a gridded format, is drawn in black and white with ‘speech bubbles’ floating overhead of the characters in the book. In the Speechless series, an ongoing collage project, is the removal and outlining of the drawings and speech bubbles using an surgeon’s knife. Reducing the content to line drawings, the pages become veiled layers, a dissected essence of the story that the brain comprehends as both linear and abstract. Between the two, narrative and abstraction, it invites the viewer to literally read between the lines and pages. The final artwork is presented as four pages deep separated by 3/16th inch foam core. The backing of the meticulously cut mash-up of the collage is another version of ‘Shortcomings’ that is sliced into strips then stacked on top of one another. — Dougbeube.com. Accessed 16 April 2020.

Photo: Books On Books Collection.

Hanging on a wall in the collection, Empty Talk mesmerizes. It balances an abstract figure resulting from excision and collage against its pun and linguistic/visual jigsaw puzzle. That tension between abstraction and linearity harks back to Beube’s stated pursuit of “the book as a simultaneous experience” in tension with the reader’s linear experience of it. A kind of cross-eyed, twisted brain state.

Red Infinity #4 (2017)

Red Infinity #4 (2017)
Doug Beube
Altered book. 152 x 83 x 57 mm. Acquired from SeagerGray Gallery, 7 April 2020. Photo: Books On Books Collection.

Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Red Infinity #4. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

The book from which Red Infinity is formed is The Word: A Look at the Vocabulary of English by Charlton Laird (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1981). At play are at least three interlocking puns: “in the beginning was The Word”; the Möbius strip, a secular never-ending Alpha and Omega; and the symbol of infinity, a secular “world without end”. And the bonus fourth: take The Word as “red/read”. The surfaces of Red Infinity invite touch, but its fragility forbids it. Its weight less than a small bird’s nest, Red Infinity belies its weighty allusions. Here is infinity from the finite.

Looking Outside the Collection

Since Doug Beube: Breaking the Codex (2011), the artist has continued to create large numbers of individual bookworks, but another type of work has come to the fore: large dynamic multimedia installations: Melt (2014), Dis/Solve (2018) and Wash (2020). The first two still incorporate the book as artistic material, but the third moves away from it. Variously requiring participation or observation in the moment as with a performance, these works ironically remind us of Beube’s observation that

The codex is intractable as a technology; restricted from interacting with it by not altering its inevitable course, you read linearly from beginning to end. It is essentially inflexible. That is its built-in personality flaw; that is its elegance.Dougbeube.com. Accessed 18 April 2020.

Melt (2104)
Doug Beube
“… an environmentally sensitive sculpture that involves six selected books physically carved according to their theme. Once frozen, the ice functions to animate messages for social and political conditions, cultures of power or violence both physical and psychological, and those structures existing to support the inverse of the latter. Because Melt is subject to the weather, the anachronistic technology of the book is leveraged into the environment directly.”
Photos: Courtesy of artist.

Dis/Solve (2018)
Doug Beube
“… an environmentally sensitive sculpture that presents two books that have been physically carved and frozen into blocks of ice. …One book is Arab and Jew; Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land by David K. Shipler and the other is The High Walls of Jerusalem by Roland Sanders. The word ABRAHAM is carved into the books A-B-R on the left side and A-H-A-M, on the other. As the ice melts, the water is captured by two steel plinths that drain into one tank. The water is dispensed into bottles with labels that read dis/SOLUTION.”
Photos: Courtesy of artist.

Wash (2020)
Doug Beube
“…a collection of specially crafted soap bars etched with racial slurs and epithets. Carefully set onto a wall of soap dishes, this arrangement invites participants to wash their hands with a bar, letting the ink flow from the letters and mix with the white suds and lather.”
Photos: Courtesy of artist.

Fully experiencing either his dynamic or interactive installations re-enacts this linearity, this “built-in personality flaw” of the codex. Even accessing them by still image (online or offline in a book) or by moving image reminds us secondhand of this flaw. Perhaps the flaw belongs not only to the codex technology (there is no book present in Wash) but to any work of art “bound” by linear process and time. Whether caught by the experiencing, the image or merely the concept, we stand then to be implicated in what these three installations address: religious, environmental and political conflict and “othering” slurs — things of which we cannot wash our hands.

Further Reading

Barry, Rebecca. “Doug Beube’s Frozen Books Installation in Brooklyn Tackles Climate Change and Geopolitics“, Fine Books Magazine, 2 October 2018. Accessed 19 April 2020. Commentary on Dis/Solve.

Cohn, Marian (ed.). Doug Beube: Breaking the Codex (New York: Etc. Etc. The Iconoclastic Museum Press, 2011). “Etc. Etc. The Iconoclastic Museum” is a fictional mueseum invented by Beube in 1981 and curated by the equally fictional Art Gossip. This additional bit of evidence of Beube’s wide-ranging creativity is mentioned in the interview with Judith Hoffberg, entitled “A Cut Up and a Book Artist”, originally published in the journal Umbrella and included as a chapter in this book.

Frost, Gary. The Future of the Book (2000-2009). Available through the Wayback Machine. Accessed 19 April 2020.

In the Hoffberg interview, Beube mentions Gary Frost’s influence via his deep-seated knowledge of the history of the book. There is that, but there is also Frost’s ongoing exploration of the haptic nature of the book. Both strands of influence can be seen throughout Doug Beube: Breaking the Codex. But where Frost would seek the possibility of an ongoing link between the print and the digital — “In place of simplistic displacements a complex interaction of book formats surrounds us and continues to challenge our reading skills” (February 2006) — Beube finds a more sardonic and acerbic humorous split. A twisted phonebook dangled before his face in the photo entitled Facebook to create a self-portrait “both acknowledges and satirizes the intended community of computer users.”

Roalf, Peggy. “Doug Beube on Reading Art“, DART: Design Arts Daily, 8 July 2015. Accessed 19 April 2020. Interview in which Beube discusses the larger work Cut “Shortcomings” from which Empty Talk is derived.

Smith, Keith. The New Structure of the Visual Book (2003)

____________. The New Text in the Book Format (2004)

Beube’s aim at an experience of the wholeness of the book plays off a major theme in Smith’s two books: Composing the book, as well as the pictures it contains, creates pacing in turning pages. Just as poetry and cinema are conceived in time, so is a book.”  Both Smith and Beube are interested in the structure of the book, “the mechanical aspects of the book as  a technology, and how it functions as a container of  information,” as Beube puts it. But where Smith pushes the traditional form of the book to enhance the book experience that “Events depicted in writing unfold through time in space, alongside the physical act of turning pages,” Beube is “trying to solve the problem of experiencing the content of the book as a visual phenomenon, layering it and transforming it into a visual object.”

Bookmarking Book Art — Doug Beube

Doug Beube’s works exude the influence of his studies with Keith A. Smith and Gary Frost, craftsmen and scholars whose work has been referenced here.  Eleven years ago, in an interview with Judith Hoffberg in UmbrellaVol 25, No 3-4 (2002), Beube speaks of experiencing

the whole book as an entity in itself, which can’t be done by reading line by line. The book’s not made to do that. Readers experience the totality of the book by building up linear movement, word-byword, sentence by sentence, etc. and I’m interested in the book as a simultaneous experience.

The experience of the wholeness of the book plays off the major theme of Smith’s The New Structure of the Visual Book and The New Text in the Book Format: “Composing the book, as well as the pictures it contains, creates pacing in turning pages. Just as poetry and cinema are conceived in time, so is a book.”  Both Smith and Beube are interested in the structure of the book, “the mechanical aspects of the book as  a technology, and how it functions as a container of  information,” as Beube puts it.  

But where Beube is “trying to solve the problem of experiencing the content of the book as a visual phenomenon, layering it and transforming it into a visual object,” Smith pushes the traditional form of the book to enhance the book experience that “Events depicted in writing unfold through time in space, alongside the physical act of turning pages.”

Although Gary Frost’s influence on Beube’s deep-seated inspiration from the history of the book can be seen in the first two examples below, Beube’s more acerbic view of our digital world in Facebook, the third example, is where they part company.  Frost is still seeking the possibility of an ongoing link between the print and the digital:  “The circumstance of mixed delivery options for books reveals a surprisingly complementary and interdependent relation of affordances and a third stance going forward. We advocate for the interdependence of paper and screen books; neither will flourish without the other.”   Beube’s twisted phonebook dangled before his face in Facebook “both acknowledges and satirizes the intended community of computer users.”

Beube divides his bookworks into methodological categories — Fold, Gouge and Cut:

City by Doug Beube

Inspired by a phrase from the Hindu scriptures, the Vedas, in 1989 I began folding the pages of books in on themselves. The phrase goes, “Curving back upon myself, I create again and again.”

via Doug Beube – Fold.

"Reading

Using various power tools I selectively removed parts of the cover, pages, and content, for example, by grinding them away. The underlying pages revealed themselves, as hidden depictions interacting with top layers, interrupting what might have been an undisturbed reading of text and image now viewed as an altered book.

via Doug Beube – Gouge.

"Facebook2009altered

Theoretically and physically I ‘excavate’ the book, as a phenomenological endeavor, creating hypertexts, as if the text block itself is an archaeological site. When I appropriate books, their words are sometimes readable, their shapes are sometimes recognizable, but in every case they are transformed into objects that are visual and speak volumes.

via Doug Beube – Cut.

See also

Bookmarking Book Art – Doug Beube | @scoopit http://sco.lt/9Jn1tp

Bookmarking Book Art — Doug Beube | @scoopit http://sco.lt/8Dp5UH

Bookmarking Book Art — Rebound – An exhibition at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art | @scoopit http://sco.lt/5rNMkz

Bookmarking Book Art — Paul Forte | @scoopit http://sco.lt/58SMoz

Can Print and E-Books Coexist? Ceci n’est pas un signet!

grWJH

“So a video journalist goes into a bookstore …”  and finds little to report.  Beset by the BBC’s wallowing in non-events and the trivial, I am probably flailing out unfairly at the PBS’s “dog bites man” story or perhaps indigesting a bit of humbug this Christmas season.   MediaShift . VIDEO: Can Print and E-Books Coexist? | PBS.*

At least one commentator (gfrost; Gary Frost?), however, points out what video journalist Joshua Davis and his interviewees failed to explore:  “[M]issed is an inherent interdependence between print and screen books. An eerie complementary fit of the different affordances means that neither will flourish without the other.” Now there is a premise worth exploring, which Gary Frost does (see previous posting).

And what would Joshua Davis and his interviewees make of David Streitfield’s story in the NY Times that sales of e-reading devices seem to have reached a plateau?  “Even as prices fall, though, the dedicated e-reader is losing steam. The market peaked last year, with 23.2 million devices sold, IHS iSuppli said in a report this month. This year, sales will be 15 million. By 2016, the forecast is for seven million devices — as opposed to 340 million tablets, which allow for e-reading and so much more.”

Streitfield’s story actually begins with “the dog that didn’t bark”:  the prices for ebooks themselves have not fallen, despite the predicted result of the US Justice Department’s case against and settlements with six of the big publishers (five, now that two are merging).    For Frost’s premise that neither form — ebook or print — will flourish without the other, does that raise the question of whether either will decline without the other’s declining?   The rules of logic alone suggest otherwise, but consider Streitfield’s “more counterintuitive possibility … that the 2011 demise of Borders, the second-biggest chain, dealt a surprising blow to the e-book industry. Readers could no longer see what they wanted to go home and order.”

Perhaps the ebook and print are more intertwined than even Frost’s premise implies. Simba’s Jonathan Norris is quoted in Streitfield’s article:  “The print industry has been aiding and assisting the e-book industry since the beginning.”    Of course, someone needs to point this out with a cattle prod to the publishers withholding their ebooks from public and academic libraries.  The site TeachingDegree offers a succinct collection of data (PBS take notes) on the topic in a sort of dialectical digital poster.

Perhaps the whole story is just “human reads book” and is not worth a bookmark, but then where would have been the fun of finding out in punning

Magritte-pipe

with Magritte’s painting that the French for bookmark is either un signet (digital) or un marque-page (print), and in English we can make no distinction?

*In fairness to PBS, readers should take a look at the series “Beyond the Book 2012.”

Still, Frost’s Future of the Book goes far deeper.

“How important are paper books?” | TeleRead

In his Teleread article (11 October 2012), Dan Eldridge picks up on Associate Professor Justin Hollander’s New York Times op-ed piece protesting Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s  comment before the National Press Club that “over the next few years, [paper] textbooks should be obsolete.”

What makes his comments on comments on a comment bookmark-worthy are the comments they provoked from Gary Frost, Emeritus Conservator at the University of Iowa Libraries and the author of Future of the Book: A Way Forward (Coralville, IA: Iowa Book Works, 2012):

“The current rush of changes in print and ebook uses is dramatic evidence of our close relationship with books. A flood of digital reading devices and hybrid software and hardware designs are emerging as the print book is augmented by screen delivery and associated cloud libraries, ebook collection building, automated index and searching, and screen learning. While all screen book simulations deviate from print conventions the hybrids that emerge reference each other and often resonate with each other.  This rapidly developing book production and consumption landscape is dynamic and unique in media history, or is it?

It’s pretty amazing that little attention is paid to the emerging composite of print and screen delivery of books.  I mean looking directly between them and at an emergent functionality of all books. There you can now perceive the interdependence of print and screen and the likelihood that neither will flourish without the other. . . .  Also involved are other forums, other than the forum of current technologies, their products and marketing. These other disciplines include academic book studies, cognitive science aspects of reading, book sustainability within libraries and many vectors of book arts.”

One might single out the infiltration of the book by “the social web” from the vector of current technologies that Frost insightfully identifies as necessary to explore this moment in the book’s/ebook’s evolution in which those who buy ebooks buy yet more print books.  The ability to annotate and share print books is gradually being replicated, prodded as it were by the phenomenon of the social web.

So here you have it: a comment on comments on comments on comments on a comment.

“Of the making of comments, there is no end.”