Books On Books Collection – William Kentridge

Waiting for the Sibyl (2020)

Waiting for the Sibyl (2020)
William Kentridge
Casebound and dustjacketed. H275 x W200 mm, 360 unnumbered pages. Acquired from Blackwells, 1 July 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artist and the Marian Goodman Gallery.

Like the ancient Greek playwrights, William Kentridge begins his chamber opera’s retelling of the Cumaean Sibyl’s myth in medias res — in this case, in the middle of the dictionary at the letter M. Redactions and marks build and build across the dictionary pages, a visual prelude like a musical one. Then they suddenly disappear, leaving the “stage” to unmarked pages from the letter A, a thunderclap announcement in all caps bold and then an explanatory statement slightly reduced in volume with a lighter type face and uppercase with lowercase letters. What is going on?

Because performance of the opera was curtailed by the pandemic beginning in 2019/2020, we have only a few short clips from a trailer and filmed rehearsals to guess at how a live performance might have unfolded: this short clip posted by Teatro dell’Opera di Roma, this one from Quaternaire, this one from The Red Bridge Project and this version posted by the Centre for the Less Good Idea. A description from the Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg tells us that the performance consists of a series of six short scenes. From the Red Bridge Project, coordinating the commission, we have Kentridge’s description of four of them:

A scene in the waiting room for the Sibyl. A scene about which is the right decision and which is the wrong one. How do you know which is the chair that will collapse when you sit on it and which is the chair that will support you? Is the plane that you’re rushing to catch the one that will crash or do you relax and not catch that plane and take the next one − and in fact that is the one that crashes?

Judging from the videos and description, it is presumptuous to declare that the book and opera begin in medias res. Almost anywhere in the out-of-order pages or chaotic rehearsal scenes of performers snatching at and reacting to the scattered leaves of books, typescript and so on is the middle. But if the left-to-right reading convention of the Western codex prevails, the text to be sung continues to rumble along in the codex after the thunderous proclamations. The chorus or speaker seems to falter, admitting to having forgotten the message and losing the moment of its delivery. All the while, the libretto is being joined on the left by gradually forming images of leaves (a maple and an oak), an allusion to the leaves on which the Cumaean Sibyl would write the predictions of fate she had sung but which would be scattered and whirled by the wind before the supplicant could claim his or her rightful leaf.

As occurs in Kentridge’s other bookworks, these gradual formations draw on the flip-book tradition, introducing that other recurrent media in his work — film — as well as performing an echo of the projections in the to-be performed opera. As the leaves assert themselves, the speaker’s confidence returns in all caps, a larger face and some bold. And while the speaker quickly recedes into lowercase and a lighter typeface, only able of being reminded “of something I can’t remember”, a leaf begins to metamorphose into a tree, an ampersand and then a dancer. Metamorphosis is that mythical translation of one being or object into another. Metaphor is that figure of speech that uses one object to remind us of another. “Etc., etc.” is what we say when we can’t remember or be bothered to complete a statement or series of examples. What Kentridge offers here is unquestionably not mixed metaphor but rather metaphor-mosis.

The metamorphosing ampersand recalls an illustrative example from another of Kentridge’s favored media — sculpture. As Kentridge puts it:

The turning sculptures I’ve made in the past have all been ones which have one moment of coherence, when the different components of the sculpture align. From one viewpoint they turn into a coffee pot, a tree, a typewriter, an opera singer. And then, as the sculpture turns, the elements fragment into chaos. — from The Red Bridge Project site, accessed 21 July 2021.

Ampersand (2017)
William Kentridge
Bronze, 85 x 82 x 54 cm, 87 kg
Courtesy the artist and Goodman Gallery

Even though there is a speaker/singer for the libretto, the dancer has the central role in the opera. Performed by Teresa Phuti Mojela, the dancer casts her shadow over the projected pages and seems to “dance” the prophecies. Kentridge notes in the book’s afterword that he has added images of her to stand in for her projected shadows. As this sequence in the codex shows, the dancer/Teresa Phuti Mojela is the Sibyl.

In addition to containing the libretto, serving as part of the setting for the actual performance, presenting the central player and the Sibyl’s transformation into her, demonstrating the dancer’s performance (when flipped like a flip-book) and exemplifying the key props (prophecies on leaves), the codex also reflects the collaborative creative effort that Kentridge extols in describing the opera’s preparation:

… when we had our first workshop in Johannesburg, in which we brought together the singers, the pianist, a dancer to be the Sibyl, costume designer, set designer, videographer, the editor of the animations I’ve been drawing, we discovered very quickly that the magic of the piece was in the live performance of the music. At this point the project became possible to do only if we could have these singers on stage.

As the book’s last page notes, creative collaboration among Kentridge and Anne McIlleron (editors), Oliver Barstow (designer), Alex Feenstra (lithographer) and robstolk® (lithographer and printer) is what has made this work of art possible.

William Kentridge : Lexicon (2011)

William Kentridge : Lexicon (2011)
William Kentridge
Cloth boards, sewn bound. H234 x W177 mm, 160 pages. Acquired from Specific Object, 2 May 2021.
Photos of the book: Books On Books Collection. Permission courtesy the artist and Goodman Gallery.

The first work by Kentridge I ever saw displayed was 2nd Hand Reading (2014) at the Museum Meermanno (The House of the Book) in The Hague. The exhibition was called The Art of Reading and had been curated by Paul van Capelleveen. Curator at the Dutch national library and advisor to the Meermanno, he felt strongly that the challenges of artist books cannot be understood “under glass” and insisted that each work be touchable. So under his supervision, I was able to flip through 2nd Hand Reading and also watch the projected animation of stop-motion images across the pages being flipped. While the forward motion of the animation offers a narrative, its substrate — pages of the Shorter Oxford English dictionary on historical principles — contradicts any notion of logical beginning, middle and end: the drawn-upon pages are not in the original’s paginated or alphabetical order.

Compared to 2nd Hand Reading‘s 800 pages, Lexicon at 160 pages provides a small reminder of the experience. Bound in a green satin-sheen cloth, Lexicon begins as a facsimile edition of an antiquarian Latin-Greek dictionary. The dictionary’s browned pages and antique languages perform the role of drawing surface or projection screen for a flip-book metamorphosis. In scrawly black ink drawings, an Italian coffee pot emerges from the gutter and starts to tilt and turn.

Gradually the pot changes into a black cat, striding from right to left. Not the direction in which Western reading and narratives usually proceed. In its transformation and movements, the cat seems to pivot on itself as it turns and strides across the Latin and Greek like Rilke’s panther behind its bars until it turns back into a coffee pot. Or does it?

That drawing in the center certainly looks like the coffee pot, but as the pages turn, the cat returns to stride from left to right, expanding then shrinking until it is swallowed by the gutter.

The reference to Rilke’s panther is actually Kentridge’s, made ex post facto in the next book in the Collection.

Six Drawing Lessons (2014)

Six Drawing Lessons (2014)
William Kentridge
Cloth boards, sewn bound. H x W mm, 208 pages. Acquired from Amazon, 23 March 2019.
Photos of the book: Books On Books Collection. Permission courtesy of the artist and Goodman Gallery.

You rarely see a clear dustjacket. Of course, if it has type printed on it, you can see it. Still, it is rare, and in this case — in light of Kentridge’s film artistry — transparently ingenious.

The six lessons — Kentridge’s Charles Eliot Norton Lectures delivered at Harvard — begin with an extended riff on Plato’s allegory of the cave. Variations on the riff recur throughout — applied to film projected from behind the audience, to a stage design of The Magic Flute as the bellows of a tripod camera, to transformations and metamorphoses and to the mining caves under Johannesburg. Kentridge’s interpretation of Plato’s cave reminds me of José Saramago’s interpretation in A Caverna (2014) and Guy Laramée’s homage to A Caverna. All three address “the great cloud of unknowing“, a kind of knowing by not knowing — but without God.

A Caverna (2012)
Guy Laramée
Portuguese-Spanish dictionary carved. Wood and velvet plinth, wood-framed glass cover. H260 x W276 x D226 mm
Acquired from William Baczek Fine Arts, 12 September 2017.

What’s remarkable is how Kentridge brings so many variations, seeming tangents and media in the lectures into coherence. Or perhaps not so remarkable given that he manages it across his body of work and the multiple media in which he works. In breadth of stuff and raw material to hand and in his head, Kentridge himself identifies Picasso’s studio practices and work as an influence. Although not mentioned, Anselm Kiefer’s works such as Das Lied von der ZederFür Paul Célan (“The song of the cedar – for Paul Célan”, 2005) and his studio at La Ribaute, near Barjac in France, come to mind in these lectures. Likewise another artist called to mind is Xu Bing, especially his Landscape/Landscript (2013) and massive junk assemblage Phoenix (2008-15) among other works. Both Kiefer and Xu use the book as a medium with which to fuse language or text with the visual. All three artists confront similarly dark, raw cultural inheritances. Kentridge’s lectures, especially Lessons Two and Three, make plain his apartheid inheritance and its presence in his art.

Circling back to the book as artistic medium, the fifth and sixth lessons provide an important insight that underscores Kentridge’s artistry there. “Lesson Five: In Praise of Mistranslation” reproduces Rilke’s “Der Panther” and Richard Exner’s translation of it in full. In that same lesson, Kentridge presents us with a montage of the feline transformations and names the works from which they come, one of them of course being Lexicon.

Before going back to Lexicon for the cat, the reader/viewer would do well to wait for Kentridge to expand in the sixth lesson on the lines describing the panther’s walk around his cage as “a dance of strength round a centre where a mighty will was put to sleep”. He writes:

There is no avoiding it. …it is the circle in the studio, the endless walking around the studio, … Again here we go back to Rilke’s panther, and the radical insufficiency, the radical gap in the center. There has to be some gap, some lack, which provokes people to spend 20 years, 30 years, making drawings, leaving traces of themselves. It has to do with the need to see oneself in other people’s looking at what you have made.

With that, remember the cat — metamorphosing from the Italian coffee pot that slips from Lexicon‘s gutter, prowling from right to left, turning back into the coffee pot, striding from left to right and then being sucked into the center. Can you ever look the same way at the gutter of a book?

Further Reading & Viewing

The Art of Reading in a ‘Post-Text Future’“. 21 February 2018. Bookmarking Book Art.

Werner Pfeiffer and Anselm Kiefer“. 16 January 2015. Bookmarking Book Art.

Kentridge, William. 2012. Six Drawing Lessons, Charles Eliot Norton Lectures, Harvard University. Six videos from the Mahindra Humanities Center, posted 14-15 January 2020. Lesson 1, Lesson 2, Lesson 3, Lesson 4, Lesson 5, Lesson 6. Accessed between 1 April 2019 and 21 July 2021.

Kiefer, Anselm, and Marie Minssieux-Chamonard. 2015. Anselm Kiefer: l’alchimie du livre.

Krauss, Rosalind E. 2017. William Kentridge. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

Mudam Luxembourg. 11 – 12 Jun 2021. “Sibyl“. Announcement. Accessed 22 July 2021. “Waiting for the Sibyl, co-commissioned by the Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg, Teatro dell’Opera di Roma and Dramaten – Stockholm and created in collaboration with choral director and dancer Nhlanhla Mahlangu and composer Kyle Shepherd, unfolds in a series of six short scenes, …”

Books On Books Collection – Guy Laramée

A Caverna (2012)

A Caverna (2012)
Guy Laramée
Portuguese-Spanish dictionary carved. Wood and velvet plinth, wood-framed glass cover. H260 x W276 x D226 mm
Acquired from William Baczek Fine Arts, 12 September 2017.

H160 x W105 x D80 mm

Inspired by Nobel Prize winner José Saramago’s novel of the same name, A Caverna treats the pages of words as so much clay to be gouged from the dictionary. But a dig into this novel about a rural potter struggling to live and love in a conglomerate capitalist dystopia — and into Laramée’s artist’s statement — suggests that there is more to the work.

The central character of the novel is the potter Cipriano Algor. He lives with his daughter Marta, son-in-law Marcal, the dog (Found) and ultimately the widow Isaura Estudioso. Succumbing to Marta’s and Marcal’s plea that he move to the Centre with them since the conglomerate Centre will no longer purchase his wares, Cipriano stumbles one night onto the Centre’s subterranean secret: a nightmare Plato’s cave. In her review of the novel, Amanda Hopkinson shares this comment from her interview with Saramago: “Western civilisation has never been as close to living in Plato’s cave as we are now… We no longer simply live through images: we live through images that don’t even exist.”

In his artist’s statement, Laramée writes: “The erosion of cultures – and of “culture” as a whole – is the theme that runs through the last 25 years of my artistic practice. Cultures emerge, become obsolete, and are replaced by new ones. With the vanishing of cultures, some people are displaced and destroyed. We are currently told that the paper book is bound to die. The library, as a place, is finished. One might ask so what? Do we really believe that “new technologies” will change anything concerning our existential dilemma, our human condition? And even if we could change the content of all the books on earth, would this change anything in relation to the domination of analytical knowledge over intuitive knowledge? What is it in ourselves that insists on grabbing, on casting the flow of experience into concepts?”

Yet Cipriano endured. Saramago continued to write. Laramée continues to create art. Both the novel and the sculpture urge us to reflect and contemplate what the poet Stevens called the “Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is”.

Further Reading

Guy Laramée”, Books On Books, 16 February 2013.

Tever, Abdulkerim. “Guy Laramée: ‘Colors’ episode 1“, TRT2, 5 March 2020. Accessed from JHB Gallery, 19 March 2020. “The six-minute spot, which will air on TRT2, the cultural and educational channel of Turkey’s national broadcaster, follows Laramée as he works in his studio and traverses his native Montreal. The artist shares his thoughts on his work, the studio as a place of refuge, and on the daily processes of art-making as a unique form of knowledge—one that offers a radical alternative in our increasingly outcome-driven world. Directed by Abdulkerim Tever, the film includes some stunning close-up photography of Laramée’s unique book-landscapes—as they are being created, as well as in their finished form.”

Van Loon, Ben. “Interview with Guy Laramée, Part I”, ANOBIUM, 18 April 2012. Part II and Part III. Accessed 12 September 2019.

Bookmarking Book Art – On the Origin of Species

Charles Robert Darwin by John Collier
Charles Robert Darwin
by John Collier

It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us…. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

– On the Origin of Species, 1869, the final paragraph.

In disparate “entangled banks” and micro-climates around the world, book artists and Charles Darwin have evolved a symbiotic relationship. By date and place, here are some bookmarks on that evolution.

1995, Washington, D.C., USA

Carol Barton and Diane Shaw organized the exhibition “Science and the Artist’s Book” for the Smithsonian Institution Libraries and the Washington Project for the Arts. Barton and Shaw invited book artists to respond to works in the Heralds of Science collection in the Smithsonian’s Dibner Library.  Among twenty-one other pairings, George Gessert was invited to respond to Charles Robert Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, London, 1859.

Gessert’s response was Natural Selection (1994), an artist’s book consisting of computer-printed handwriting and Cibachrome prints of the results of Gessert’s own experiments in hybridizing irises. Citing Darwin’s description of the breeding of pigeons for their ornamental characteristics, Gessert contends “that Darwin also recognized aesthetics as an evolutionary factor”.  Since the 1980s, Gessert’s work and writings have focused on the way human aesthetics can affect evolution and the aesthetic, ethical and social implications.  His work and that of artists/theorists such as Suzanne Anker, Eduardo Kac, Marta De Menezes, the Harrisons and Sonya Rapoport have constituted the bio art and eco art movements.  A collection of his essays appeared as Green Light: Toward an Art of Evolution in the Leonardo Book Series, published by The MIT Press in 2010.

Gessert, George, “Hybrid 768,” Science Meets Art, accessed February 8, 2017, http://gamma.library.temple.edu/sciencemeetsart/items/show/37.
Gessert, George, “Hybrid 768,” Science Meets Art, accessed February 8, 2017, http://gamma.library.temple.edu/sciencemeetsart/items/show/37.

2004, Manchester, UK

Evolution Trilogy, 2004 Part 1 – 10 x 7.5 x 1 Part 2 – 12 x 9 x 2 Part 3 – 8.5 x 6.5 x 1 Emma Lloyd
Emma Lloyd
Evolution Triptych (2004)
Part 1 – 10 x 7.5 x 1, Part 2 – 12 x 9 x 2, Part 3 – 8.5 x 6.5 x 1

Inspired by Darwin’s The Descent of Man, Part I, and cell structures in biology texts, Emma Lloyd‘s Evolution Triptych sparks thoughts of fossils, woodcarved altarpieces or the tooled cover of the St Cuthbert Gospel, the code of life embedded in DNA structure and the code of information embedded in the codex.

Tree of Jesse Altarpiece Porto, Portugal
Tree of Jesse Altarpiece
Porto, Portugal
The St Cuthbert Gospel
British Library

The artistic technique here – carving the book as artifact – is prevalent in book art; see the work of Doug Beube, Brian Dettmer and Guy Laramée, for example. Lloyd’s treatment of the Darwin volume is the only one of its type in this collection of bookmarks. Given the influence of On the Origin of Species, though, it would be unusual if other “book surgeons” have not been similarly inspired by it.

2009, London, UK

Storyteller and book artist Sam Winston set about categorizing the words in On the Origin of Species and poet Ruth Padel’s Darwin, A Life in Poems (Chatto & Windus, 2009). He sorted them by nouns, verbs, adjectives and “other”.  As Winston puts it, he “wanted to present a visual map of how a scientist and a poet use language – a look at how much each author used real world names (Nouns) and more abstract terminology (Verb, Adjective and Other) in their writings.”

To do that, he categorized the 153,535 words in On the Origin – a dot with a 4H pencil for the 50,567 words categorized as “Other”, a 2H pencil for the 38,266 categorized as “Noun”, an HB pencil for the 26,435 categorized as “Verb” and a 4B pencil for the 38,266 categorized as “Adjective”. The result – Darwin, a series of visual “frequency poems” on display at Le Gun Studio in London – is a book altered through the DNA-like pattern of its own words into a completely “other” scroll and into a topographical map of itself – guided by the artist’s hand and mind.

Sam Winston, Darwin, 2009
Sam Winston 
Darwin (2009)
Right view. Sam Winston, Darwin, 2009 Le Gun Studio, 19 Warburton Road, London, E8 3RT, UK
Right view. Sam Winston, Darwin (2009)
Le Gun Studio, 19 Warburton Road, London, E8 3RT, UK

In the same sesquicentennial year, in the same city, Stefanie Posavec collaborated with Greg McInerny to issue (En)tangled Word Bank, a series of diagrams, each representing an edition of On the Origin of Species, and the work’s title alluding to Darwin’s “entangled bank” passage presented above.  The pressed-dandelion-shaped chapters and subchapters are divided into paragraph ‘leaves’ with wedge-shaped ‘leaflets’ representing their sentences.

The sentences forming the ‘leaflets’ of the organism are of orange, senescent tones when they will be deleted in following editions. The green, growth tones are applied to those sentences that have life in the following edition. The tone of each colour is determined by its age, in editions, to that point. Through these differences in colouration the simplicity in structure in the early stages of the organism’s life develops into a complex form, showing when the structures developed to its changing environment. Around the organisms the textual code is provided, showing the changes in the size of the organism, and where the senescence and growth is derived in that code. A series of re-arrangements of the organism focus on changes at each level of organisation.

This is “structural infographic” as art.

Greg McInerny and Stefanie Posavec, (En)tangled Word Bank, 2009.
Stefanie Posavec and Greg McInerny for Microsoft Research, Cambridge
(En)tangled Word Bank  (2009)

2009, Boston, MA, USA

Across the Atlantic, Ben Fry, author of Visualizing Data (O’Reilly, 2007), created a similar work of art called The Preservation of Favoured Traces. Fry color-coded each word of Darwin’s final text by the edition in which it first appeared and used the data to build an interactive display at fathom.com demonstrating the changes at the macro level and word-by-word. Fry went on to produce a poster version and print-on-demand book version.

Ben Fry, The Preservation of Favoured Traces, 2009
Ben Fry 
The Preservation of Favoured Traces (2009)

2009, Vancouver, Canada

Three thousand miles away that summer, Canadian poets Stephen Collis and Jordan Scott placed multiple copies of On the Origin of Species in various outdoor locations “not … to put the natural into the text, [but] … to put the text out into the natural world and see what happens to it” (p. 2). After a year, Collis and Scott photographed the results in situ and collected and used the some of the still decipherable words as found text for their volume Decomp (Coach House Press, 2013).

Artist: Stephen Collis and Jordan Scott Decomp, 2013
Stephen Collis and Jordan Scott
Decomp (2013)
Artist: Stephen Collis and Jordan Scott Decomp, 2013
Stephen Collis and Jordan Scott
Decomp (2013)
Artist: Stephen Collis and Jordan Scott Decomp, 2013
Stephen Collis and Jordan Scott
Decomp (2013)

This blend of the technique of found text and artistic collaboration with nature harks back to Marcel Duchamp’s 1919 Readymade Malheureux , Finlay Taylor’s East Dulwich Dictionary (2007) and M.L. Van Nice’s Feast is in the Belly of the Beholder (2010) among many others.

2009, Phoenix, AZ, USA

Former science teacher and now botanical artist and bookmaker, Kelly Houle embarked on a 10-year plan to create an illuminated and scribed copy of the first edition of On the Origin. Where medieval scribes and rubricators had abbots to preside over them and their book art, Houle has University of Chicago Professor Emeritus Jerry A. Coyne and several other academics. As she notes about her process, the past techniques have also yielded to present concerns:

Artist: Kelly M. Houle The Illuminated Origin, 2009 - Watercolor, gouache, interference watercolor, gold foil, shell gold on Fabriano Artistico, 22 x 30 inches
Kelly M. Houle
The Illuminated Origin (2009 – )
Watercolor, gouache, interference watercolor, gold foil, shell gold
on Fabriano Artistico, 22 x 30 inches

Today many artists still practice the tradition of illumination using medieval and renaissance-era materials and techniques. While many of these have stood the test of time, there are more earth-friendly materials than those used in the past….

Detail of frontispiece Courtesy of the artist
Detail of frontispiece
Courtesy of the artist

The Illuminated Origin of Species will be written on hot-pressed Fabriano Artistico paper made in Italy. It is the best paper in the world for both calligraphy and botanical art. These are extremely smooth, beautiful, and durable papers. They are chlorine-free, acid-free, and 100% cotton. No animal by-products are used in the sizing. Combined with Winsor and Newton watercolors and gouache, this paper will be perfect for the demands of The Illuminated Origin.

Detail of frontispiece Courtesy of the artist
Detail of frontispiece
Courtesy of the artist

To mimic the play of light on various shiny and iridescent surfaces in nature, I am using 23k gold foil, shell gold, and interference watercolors, which contain small flecks of mica to produce an iridescent effect. These metals will distinguish The Illuminated Origin as a truly “illuminated” manuscript.                — Kelly M. Houle, “The Making of a Modern Illuminated Manuscript

Houle aims to complete her work in 2019, On the Origin‘s 160th anniversary.

2009, Farnham, Surrey, UK

Between its hardback covers lined in marbled papers, Angela Thames’ Darwin’s Poetic Words  has distilled the often liturgical, poetic passages of On the Origin of Species.

Artist: Angela Thames Darwin's Poetic Words Hardbound, 12 pages, 12 x 8 cm, 8 linocuts, Somerset paper
Angela Thames
Darwin’s Poetic Words (2009)
Hardbound, 12 pages, 12 x 8 cm, 8 linocuts, Somerset paper

Between 2009 and 2013, Thames created four more artist’s books besides Darwin’s Poetic Words, based on excerpts from On the Origin of Species. In this focus and technique, Thames takes and interprets portions rather than the whole of the source as do Houle, Collis and Scott, Fry, McInerny and Posavec, Winston, and Lloyd in their differing ways.

Angela Thames Evident Evolution (2009-13) Collagraph images of bone structures and text, 8 pages, Silkscreen covers, Spiral bound edition
Angela Thames
Evident Evolution (2009-13)
Collagraph images of bone structures and text, 8 pages, Silkscreen covers, Spiral bound edition
Angela Thames A Grain in the Balance (2009-13) Collagraph images with rubber-stamped text, 8x10cm, 15 pages, Somerset beige paper
Angela Thames
A Grain in the Balance (2009-13)
Collagraph images with rubber-stamped text, 8x10cm, 15 pages, Somerset beige paper
Angela Thames Poor Man (2009-13) Folded card with pop up flower, Words spoken by his gardener, Silkscreen, wood-stamped text, Open edition
Angela Thames
Poor Man (2009-13)
Folded card with pop up flower, Words spoken by his gardener,
Silkscreen, wood-stamped text, Open edition

Angela Thames Poor Man (2009-13) Folded card with pop up flower, Words spoken by his gardener, Silkscreen, wood-stamped text, Open edition

Poor Man (2009-13) is the only exhibit in this survey that demonstrates the pop-up technique in book artistry, but as evolutionary biology and fossil-hunting have shown, who knows what undiscovered forms are out there.

2012, New York, NY, USA

Following in their tradition since 1984, Tim Rollins and K.O.S. (“Kids of Survival”) seized on Darwin’s “Tree of Life” diagram

Darwin's notebook sketch of an evolutionary tree. Charles Robert Darwin, Transmutation of Species, 1837
Darwin’s notebook sketch of an evolutionary tree. Charles Robert Darwin, Transmutation of Species, 1837

and “jammed” to produce a series of paintings and preliminary works in ink and watercolor on pages of the book to create ON THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES (after Darwin). Eighteen students, aged 13 to 16, worked with Rollins on the preliminary studies, one of which appears below, that preceded the 2013 exhibition of paintings at the Lehmann Maupin Gallery.

Artist: Tim Rollins, b. 1955, and K.O.S., founded 1984 Studies for ON THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES (after Darwin) ink and watercolor on book page 9 x 6 inches 22.9 x 15.2 cm
Tim Rollins and K.O.S.
Studies for ON THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES (after Darwin) (2014)
Ink and watercolor on book page, 22.9 x 15.2 cm
Photo credit: Lehmann Maupin Gallery

The large-scale paintings consist of almost all of the 360 pages of On the Origin fixed to canvas and ink-stamped over and over with the “Tree of Life” image, which had been cut into 60 handstamps. Rollins described the concept of the works in an interview for Brooklyn Rail:

The whole book is 360 pages but we don’t ever want to be literal so it’s not all of the pages. They’re there to inspire. It’s like an opera. The libretto inspires the music. You can watch an opera in a language you don’t know, without reading. It’s the same with our work. It’s about a visual correspondence with the text. The work is not about something. That’s why you can’t get hung up on interpretation. That’s a big issue, especially with so much politically engaged art. We want to create a situation, learning machines, so everyone is learning in the process of making and then hopefully the audience will be inspired too. Maybe they will pick up Darwin or continue with the idea. These are catalysts for action.

In a video interview with ArtNet, Rollins also refers to the K.O.S. jamming process -reading aloud from the book in a studio setting, discussing it with students and seeking inspiration from the text – not as a school lesson or classroom exercise but as a kind of séance, an assertion that touches the essence of “reverse ekphrasis” in book art. Rather than the literary work or book capturing the spirit of a work of art, the work of art captures the spirit of the book.

2013/14, Oxford, OH, USA

At the University of Puget Sound (2013) and Center for Book Art in New York (2014), Diane Stemper exhibited her Darwin-inspired book art that explores “the intersection between the natural world, daily living, science and the collective and individual experience of landscape”.

Artist: Diane Stemper Universal Sample (2014) Edition of 4, Intaglio and letterpress on Arches
Diane Stemper
Universal Sample (2014)
Edition of 4, Intaglio and letterpress on Arches
Diane Stemper Universal Sample (2014) Edition of 4, Intaglio and letterpress on Arches
Diane Stemper
Universal Sample (2014)
Edition of 4, Intaglio and letterpress on Arches
Artist: Diane Stemper Universal Sample (2014) Edition of 4, Intaglio and letterpress on Arches
Diane Stemper
Universal Sample (2014)
Edition of 4, Intaglio and letterpress on Arches

Hand bound, printed and produced in her Plat 21 Studio, in Oxford, her Galapagos Map (2013), Darwin’s Atlantic Sea (2014) and Universal Sample (2014), these works have an eerie physical presence.  At the Center for Book Art, I have seen and, with the kind permission of Alex Campos, the curator there, touched the works. The intaglio printing and richly textured creamy paper still communicate themselves even across the digital divide.

2014, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, and London, UK

Simon Phillipson completed a variorum edition of On the Origin of Species, in which every verso page is the evolved or amended text and the recto page is the final text from the the Sixth edition.

Charles Robert Darwin, On the Origin of Species, variorum edition designed by Simon Philippson, 2014. Printed in the Netherlands on special 60gsm bible paper and finished with a special metallic bronze ink
Charles Robert Darwin, On the Origin of Species, variorum edition designed by Simon Phillipson, 2014.
Printed in the Netherlands on special 60gsm bible paper and finished with a special metallic bronze ink

The verso pages are completely printed in a special metallic bronze ink. The recto is printed in a combination of black and bronze ink. The bronze highlighted words in the recto correspond to the evolving or amending text in the verso. Very reminiscent of, but distinct from, Ben Fry’s The Preservation of Favoured Traces (see above).

2014, Minneapolis, MN 

Vesna Kittelson, Mrs. Darwin's Garden, Book Two, 2014 Accordion book, 9 x 7 in
Vesna Kittelson,
Mrs. Darwin’s Garden, Book Two (2014)
Accordion book, 9 x 7 in

Vesna Kittelson is an American-Croatian artist based in Minneapolis. Her résumé cites public collections ranging from Tate Britain and Minnesota Museum of American Art to Cafesjian Center for the Arts in Armenia and the Modern Museum of Art in Croatia. In 2009, she spent time at Churchill College, Cambridge University, where she learned about the life and marriage of Charles Darwin and Emma Wedgwood. Subsequently she created four artist books titled Mrs. Darwin’s Garden depicting primitive-seeming plants imagined as flora that Darwin might have seen from the deck of the Beagle. The names of the plants are made-up Latin names or variations on those of contemporary plants.

Vesna Kittelson, Mrs. Darwin's Garden, Book Two, 2014 Accordion book, 9 x 7 in
Vesna Kittelson, Mrs. Darwin’s Garden, Book Two, 2014
Accordion book, 9 x 7 in

These abstract images are imagined plants for Mrs. Darwin’s garden. They are illustrations of named floral specimens that never existed in reality. In Mrs. Darwin’s Garden they are presented as if they correspond to data derived from Darwin’s experimentation in his greenhouse. In this book I replaced the 19th C methods of botanical drawing with pouring paints to incorporate the contemporary notion of valuing an accident, followed by drawing with brushes and pencils to gain control and give the images a place and time in the 21st C.

2014, Grasswood, Saskatchewan, Canada

Jonathan Skinner (Warwick University) wrote in his preface to Decomp (see above):

Writing rots, meaning flees. … Yet the book is written to locate (some) meaning here. Would it make any difference to leave Decomp itself in the wilderness? Probably not.

Book artist, papermaker and co-founder with her husband David Miller of Byopia Press, Cathryn Miller reviewed Decomp in 2013. If not prompted by Skinner’s preface, Miller must have felt how appropriately evolutionary it would be to attempt to replicate the Decomp experiment by substituting the result of that experiment for the subject of the replicating experiment. Thus, in January 2014, Miller nailed to a tree “a book based on letting brand new copies of On the Origin of Species rot in various locations”.

Artist: Cathryn Miller Recomp, 2014 Copy of Decomp, Collis and Scott (2013) nailed to a tree Photo credit: David G. Miller
Cathryn Miller
Recomp (2014)
Copy of Decomp, Collis and Scott (2013) nailed to a tree
Photo credit: David G. Miller

For over twenty months, Miller monitored and husband David photographed the book’s weathering. That, however, was not the transformation that would result in an altered book and possibly a work of book art. Nature had some ironic appropriateness in store for Miller, Skinner, Collis, Scott and all of us. The blown pages were visited by Bald-faced Hornets, who digested them á la John Latham and his students but regurgitated them as cellulose with which to build a large nest.

Artist: Cathryn Miller Recomp, 2015 Photo credit: David G. Miller
Cathryn Miller
Recomp (2015)
Photo credit: David G. Miller
Artist: Cathryn Miller and Bald-faced Hornets Recomp, 2015 Nest composed of pages from Decomp, Collis and Scott (2013) Photo credit: David G. Miller
Cathryn Miller and Bald-faced Hornets
Recomp (2015)
Nest composed of pages from Decomp, Collis and Scott (2013)
Photo credit: David G. Miller

In the context of book art, the nest offers a curiously serendipitous digression. In 1719, the French naturalist René Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur published an essay to the Royal Academy of Sciences on the natural history of wasps. In the passage below, he hypothesizes how their natural papermaking industry could be adopted by man.

René Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur, "Histoire des guêpes", Mémoire de l'Académie royale des sciences avec 7 planches (252) - En 1719, imprimé en 1721. http://www.academie-sciences.fr/pdf/dossiers/Reaumur/Reaumur_publi.htm. Accessed 12 September 2016.
René Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur, “Histoire des guêpes”, Mémoire de l’Académie royale des sciences avec 7 planches (252) – En 1719, imprimé en 1721. http://www.academie-sciences.fr/pdf/dossiers/Reaumur/Reaumur_publi.htm. Accessed 12 September 2016.

In 2015, Miller presented the results as Recomp in her blog at Byopia Press. In September that year, however, critics (raccoons, the artist thinks) visited the work and deconstructed it.

Recomp vandalized, 2015 Photo credit: David G. Miller
Recomp vandalized, 2015
Photo credit: David G. Miller

Might this prove that, to paraphrase the last paragraph of On the Origin, “by laws acting around us…. from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals [and their art], directly follows”? If so, that makes raccoons and critics equal laws of nature.

2015, Umeå, Sweden

Johannes Heldén’s work Field is book, visual art and installation all in one. Heldén’s is perhaps the darkest variant on Darwin’s theme here.

It consists of interactive landscape animations on a floor touchscreen of 20 sqm,

Field (2015) Produced, and premiered, at HUMlab, Umeå University Johannes Heldén
Johannes Heldén
Field (2015)
Produced, and premiered, at HUMlab, Umeå University

a series of sculptural mutations of the Eurasian Jackdaw*,

Field (2015) Produced, and premiered, at HUMlab, Umeå University Johannes Heldén
Johannes Heldén
Field (2015)
Produced, and premiered, at HUMlab, Umeå University

an ever-changing soundscape and an interactive screen wall with a text responding to the changing DNA of the bird

Field (2015) Produced, and premiered, at HUMlab, Umeå University Johannes Heldén
Johannes Heldén
Field (2015)
Produced, and premiered, at HUMlab, Umeå University

– as the ”code” of todays species is slowly lost, so is the code and context of language. The gaps in the text correspond to the shift in the DNA sequence, prose turns into dark poetry, connections and meaning changing for each iteration.

Field (2015) Produced, and premiered, at HUMlab, Umeå University Johannes Heldén
Johannes Heldén
Field (2015)
Produced, and premiered, at HUMlab, Umeå University
Field (2015) Produced, and premiered, at HUMlab, Umeå University Johannes Heldén
Johannes Heldén
Field (2015)
Produced, and premiered, at HUMlab, Umeå University

All these pieces are connected: as you explore the landscape and trigger the glowing touch points with your body, time is rapidly speeding up (clouds move over the scene, trees wither away, a flood is coming), one by one the four bird sculptures in the installation will be ”activated” with light and sound, spiraling the species further down into mutations. At the end of the piece, no lights remain in the landscape, the sound is immense, all mutations have occurred, the last poetry dissolves into entropy. Then all fades to black.

Since Darwin’s theory encompassed extinction, perhaps Heldén’s vision is not so much a variant on Darwin as it is a pessimistic appreciation and warning about the impact of our interaction with the entangled bank.

2016, Guildford, Surrey, UK

Cathryn Miller’s “bio-book-art” and that of Collis and Scott stand at the collaboration end of the bio art spectrum, where the artist yields considerable control to nature in the creative process. At the coordination end of the spectrum – closer to domestication of species – stands Dr. Simon F. Park’s bio-book-art – The Origin of Species –  perhaps “the first book to be grown and produced using just bacteria”. Presented at the Edinburgh International Science Festival, the small book has pages made of bacterial cellulose, produced by the bacterium Gluconoacetobacter xylinus (GXCELL). Its cover is even printed with naturally pigmented bacteria.

Artist: Dr. Simon F Park The Origin of Species "The small book shown here was grown from and made entirely from bacteria. Not only is the fabric of its pages (GXCELL) produced by bacteria, but the book is also printed and illustrated with naturally pigmented bacteria. " Posted 27 March 2016 Photo credit: Dr. Simon F. Park
Dr. Simon F Park
The Origin of Species
“The small book shown here was grown from and made entirely from bacteria. Not only is the fabric of its pages (GXCELL) produced by bacteria, but the book is also printed and illustrated with naturally pigmented bacteria. ” Posted 27 March 2016
Photo credit: Dr. Simon F. Park

Although Park’s science-driven process for paper manufacturing and printing echoes the speculations of French naturalist René Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur (see above), it seems to have much in common with the painstaking craft of handmade paper and hand letterpress printing.  The first sheet of Park’s micro-organically grown paper took a little under two weeks to be generated and stencilled with his bacterial ink.

2016, Colchester, Essex, UK

It seems chronologically backwards to move from bio-book-art’s live media to Chris Ruston’s ammonites of  The Great Gathering.  As should be evident by now, however, the evolution of the symbiotic relationship between book artists and Darwin has been anything but a straight line. It  has curved, circled and recursed.

Tim Rollins + K.O.S may have had their séance 30-50 feet away from Darwin’s lodgings in Edinburgh, but Chris Ruston brought her Darwin-inspired book art to an even more fitting venue: a church converted into Colchester’s Natural History Museum.

Natural History Museum High Street Colchester, Essex England Photo credit: Chris Ruston
Natural History Museum
Colchester, Essex, England
Photo credit: Chris Ruston

As the artist comments at her site:

The Great Gathering refers to our continued exploration of where we have come from, and where we are going. Combined the seven volumes tell an amazing story spanning 650 million years. Sculptural in form, each book reflects a moment of this journey. From black holes and dark beginnings, through ocean and sediment layers, Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, and recycled National Geographic magazines the work charts the inevitability of change.

View of exhibition of The Great Gathering Natural History Museum Photo credit: Chris Ruston
View of exhibition of The Great Gathering
Natural History Museum, Colchester
Photo credit: Chris Ruston

They are a response to visiting Museum collections, in particular the Natural History Museum, Colchester and the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences Cambridge. Fossils hold the key which have enabled us to unlock  the story of our Origins – from the largest creatures to the smallest organisms. The 19th century saw an explosion of knowledge  and understanding, culminating in Darwin’s publication of  On the Origin of  Species. By piecing together the riddle of the fossil record, Darwin and his contemporaries began asking revolutionary and challenging questions, the results of which are still felt today.

View of exhibition of The Great Gathering Natural History Museum Photo credit: Chris Ruston
View of exhibition of The Great Gathering
Natural History Museum
Photo credit: Chris Ruston

Science and art are the presiding geniuses over The Great Gathering. In The sciences of the artificial (1969), Herbert Simon emphasized: “The natural sciences are concerned with the way things are” and engineering, with the way things ought to be to attain goals. Like the scientist, the artist, too, is concerned with the way things are. They are the raw material with which the artist works or to which he or she responds. But like the engineer or the designer, the artist is concerned with the way things ought to be:

Artist: Chris Ruston The Great Gathering, 2016 Photo credit: Chris Matthews
Chris Ruston
The Great Gathering, 2016
Photo credit: Chris Matthews

how a solander box ought to be constructed to operate with the work and, in enclosing it, be “the work”;

Chris Ruston The Great Gathering (2016) Photo credit: Chris Matthews
Chris Ruston
The Great Gathering (2016)
Photo credit: Chris Matthews

what materials (photos from the Hubble telescope) ought to be used to reflect a moment in time;

Chris Ruston The Great Gathering (2016) Photo credit: Chris Matthews
Chris Ruston
The Great Gathering (2016)
Photo credit: Chris Matthews

how thread, tape and stitch ought to be to hold together a spine that will flex and spiral into the shape of a fossil;

Chris Ruston The Great Gathering (2016) Photo credit: Chris Matthews
Chris Ruston
The Great Gathering (2016)
Photo credit: Chris Matthews

how the color of the material ought to be juxtaposed with the material’s altered shape to carry meaning;

Chris Ruston The Great Gathering (2016) Photo credit: Chris Matthews
Chris Ruston
The Great Gathering (2016)
Photo credit: Chris Matthews

how the shift from content to blankness ought to be juxtaposed with the material’s altered shape to carry meaning;

Chris Ruston The Great Gathering (2016) Photo credit: Chris Matthews
Chris Ruston
The Great Gathering (2016)
Photo credit: Chris Matthews

how the selection and alteration of text ought to be made to show the fixity and flux of knowledge and ourselves;

Chris Ruston The Great Gathering (2016) Photo credit: Chris Matthews
Chris Ruston
The Great Gathering (2016)
Photo credit: Chris Matthews

and how our reflection in the mirror in Volume VII under the maker’s tools and the made thing ought to implicate us — the viewer here and now – in an ongoing process of making and remaking.

On display at "Turn the Page", Norwich, England (2016) Photo credit: Chris Ruston
On display at “Turn the Page”, Norwich, England (2016)
Photo credit: Chris Ruston

If you have come this far with these bookmarks on the evolution of book artists’ symbiosis with Darwin, note that today and every 12th of February is Darwin Day, marking international celebrations of the birth of Charles Darwin and his contributions to science. From today’s engagements and all those to come with the concepts of On the Origin of Species and (I hope) with these bookmarks, perhaps new discoveries and new creations of book art will emerge.

For further reading about

Stephen Collis: Facebook

Ben Fry: Ben Fry

George Gessert: Revolution Bioengineering

Johannes Heldén: News

Kelly M. Houle: ASU Magazine

Vesna Kittelson: Form + Content Gallery

Emma Lloyd: Facebook

Greg McInerny: Warwick University

Cathryn Miller: Byopia Press

Simon F. Park: Exploring the Invisible

Simon Philippson: LinkedIn

Stefanie Posavec: Wired

Tim Rollins: Artspace.com, Brooklyn Rail (article by Thyrza Nichols Goodeve)

Chris Ruston: Essex Life

Jordan Scott: Twitter

Diane Stemper: Saatchi Art

Angela Thames: Angela Thames

Sam Winston: Articles

de Lima Navarro, P. & de Amorim Machado, C. “An Origin of Citations: Darwin’s Collaborators and Their Contributions to the Origin of Species”, J Hist Biol (2020).

Bookmarking Book Art – Exhibit at the Grosvenor Rare Book Room

title“There is art to be found in science books and science to be found in artist’s books.”

The Buffalo & Erie County Public Library has been kind enough to share the exhibit labels for its display held in March this year in the Grosvenor Rare Book Room. The section devoted to “Artist’s Book History” begins with the Book of Kells and runs to Ed Ruscha’s Twentysix Gasoline Stations.

460px-KellsFol032vChristEnthroned

Although many will claim that artist’s books began with William Blake in the 1700’s or so that would dismiss entirely all of the artistry that went into many lovely and ornate illuminated manuscripts that proceeded and somewhat overlapped the printed text in codex form. Whether painted in monastic scriptoria, as was the Book of Kells (c. 800), or by secular guild artists as were many others, the figures and/or flora are artworks to behold.

280px-UneSemaineDeBonteWorld Wars I & II brought many artist books associated with the Avant-Garde, Futurist and Surrealism Movements. Max Ernst’s Une Semaine de Bonté (1934).

Dieter Roth, “Literature Sausage (Literaturwurst),” 1969, published 1961-70. Artist’s book of ground copy of Suche nach einer Neuen Welt by Robert F. Kennedy. Gelatin, lard, and spices in natural casing. Overall (approx.) 12 x 6 11/16 x 3 9/16 in. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Print Associates Fund in honor of Deborah Wye.
Dieter Roth, “Literature Sausage (Literaturwurst),” 1969, published 1961-70. Artist’s book of ground copy of Suche nach einer Neuen Welt by Robert F. Kennedy. Gelatin, lard, and spices in natural casing. Overall (approx.) 12 x 6 11/16 x 3 9/16 in. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Print Associates Fund in honor of Deborah Wye.

 

The second half of the nineteenth [sic] century brought Dieter Roth and Ed Ruscha’s works. Roth was a Swiss artist for whom the book was just one of his media. Paint, sculpture, installation work and more also provided means of artistic expression.

images

Ed Ruscha is an American pop artist whose focus is in paint, drawing, printmaking and photography. His Twentysix Gasoline Stations (1963) photographically captures gas stations in book form as Andy Warhol did Campbell soup cans on canvas. This artist’s book is considered an important milestone for the genre.

Ruscha’s book also figures in the exhibit section called “Artist’s Books and Bookworks Today” along with works by Julie Chen and Susan Allix as examples of the growing availability of collectible book art today.

Personal Paradigms, Julie Chen, 2004
Personal Paradigms, Julie Chen, 2004

 

Julie Chen founded Flying Fish Press in California through which she creates handmade “artists’ books with an emphasis on three-dimensional and movable book structures and fine letterpress printing” according to her web site. These books are frequently moveable and/or interactive in their design.

Egyptian Green, Susan Allix, 2003
Egyptian Green, Susan Allix, 2003
“The texts in Egyptian Green are mainly drawn from travellers visiting or writing about Egypt. The earliest is a spell written inside an ancient coffin; later writers include Plutarch and Catullus, also Leonhart Rauwolff, who noted in 1672 that the water of the Nile was “perfectly green”, and Amelia Edwards on the precise colour of palm trees. There are two calligraphic pieces of Kufic script printed from the original blocks found in Cairo.”

 

British book artist Susan Allix also has her own (self-titled) press and she creates handmade books with a variety of fine papers and textures with letterpress printing, embossing and all manner of printmaking. Though some of her books convey a certain whimsy, the choice of materials, method of printing and crafts[wo]manship is the result of serious thought, planning and selection.

Other sections are devoted to historical examples of illustrated works of scientists such as Vesalius and Lamarck, which are well punctuated by the inclusion of Guy Laramée’s Grand Larousse, Brian Dettmer’s The Household Physicians and Doug Beube’s Fault Lines.

Grand Larousse, Guy Laramee, 2010
Grand Larousse, Guy Laramée, 2010

The Household Physicians, 2008
The Household Physicians, Brian Dettmer, 2008

Fault Lines, Doug Beube, 2003
Fault Lines, Doug Beube, 2003

 

Books altered and/or sculpted by artists to represent something other than the original readable text are known as bookworks and they are works of art. This type of art is not technically an artist’s book whereby a book is created. Altered/sculptural books take from a book that had already been created and turn it into art by cutting, folding and/or sculpting it into an art form. Although there are many examples of this type of work, perhaps the most inspiring artists’ works (some available in art galleries today) are those by contemporary and still-creating Canadian Guy Laramée, American Brian Dettmer and Toronto-born, schooled-(in part)-in-Rochester/Buffalo and now-living-in-New-York-City Doug Beube. The examples of their works shown are all pieces inspired by some aspect of science or subject of scientific study including geology, medicine and geography.

The theme of the exhibit deserves a catalogue. As the exhibit’s online announcement notes, “Today’s mutually exclusive idea of ‘left-brained’ and ‘right-brained’ activity discounts longer understood ideas that science is a creative pursuit—that there really is art to be found in science—and that creative artworks often have some scientific basis and/or inspiration.” One would do well to start with Harry Robin’s The Scientific Image: From Cave to Computer (1992) and Brian Ford’s Images of Science: A History of Scientific Illustration (1993) and take further inspiration from the Grosvenor Rare Book Room.

via New Exhibit on First Day of Spring! | Grosvenor Rare Book Room and [Book] Art Inspired by Science [Books]

Permissions courtesy of Amy J. Pickard, Rare Book Curator, Buffalo & Erie County Public Library, 1 Lafayette Square, Buffalo, New York 14203.

Bookmarking Book Art — Long-Bin Chen

artwork_images_425933222_629303_-long-binchen
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 – Update to “Rebound: Dissections and Excavations in Book Art”

Brian Dettmer's TED talk
Brian Dettmer’s TED talk

Watch Brian Dettmer’s delightful TED talk here. More about his work and his contemporaries follows:

Three book artists previously featured here at BooksOnBooks — Doug Beube, Brian Dettmer and Guy Laramée — were showcased in this exhibition curated by Karen Ann Myers at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art at the College of Charleston, South Carolina.  Two other artists — Long-Bin Chen and Francesca Pastine — complete the show.  The exhibition ran from 23 May through 6 July 2013. 

Increasingly, contemporary artists have been exploring the interplay among the function, structure, and format of books. Rebound: Dissections and Excavations in Book Art brings together the work of five mixed-media artists from around the world who, using books as a point of departure, sculpt, scrape, bend, and carve to create astonishing compositions. Doug Beube, Long-Bin Chen, Brian Dettmer, Guy Laramée, and Francesca Pastine transform various types of literature and/or printed books through sculptural intervention. Despite the individual and exclusive perspective of each artist, there are remarkable connections in the themes and ideas they respectively mourn and celebrate. The fascinating range of examples, as diverse as books themselves, offers eloquent proof that—despite or because of the advance of digital media for sources of information—the book’s legacy as a carrier of ideas and communication is being expanded today.

via Rebound – The Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art.

Bookmarking Book Art — “Out of Print: Altered Books”, A Virtual Exhibition

In November 2012, the Bakersfield Museum of Art exhibited “Out of Print: Altered Books“, the book as a sculptural object. Ten contemporary artists, some of whose works have been bookmarked here, participated:   Doug Beube, Alex Queral, Jacqueline Rush Lee, Mike Stilkey, Jim Rosenau, Guy Laramee, Cara Barer, Robert The, Brian Dettmer and Mary Ellen Bartley.

Anthologia-2-385x295-1
Featured Image: Jacqueline Rush Lee, Anthologia, 2008, altered book

Behind each name is a link to each book artist’s site or gallery bio.  Consider it a virtual exhibition, but check out the dates of the real-world exhibitions announced on many of the sites.

Bookmarking Book Art – Guy Laramée

The form of the book, the book as technological artifact, each of the book arts (design and layout, typography, illustration, papermaking, imposition, printing, binding, preservation and restoration) and even the book as an objet d’art attract memes —  ideas, gestures, behaviors, methods, devices and practices that have spread from clay to scroll, from scroll to book, from book to ebook and perhaps from ebook to “cloud book.”

As we try to preserve – with clay counters in clay containers, with 0’s and 1’s stored on floating disks in tablets – we have assumed we are progressing.

Guy Laramée is a book artist,  a subversive book artist.   His “artist statement” articulates the meme of erosion, entropy and the dissolution of culture and knowledge — what he calls the “cloud of unknowing.”

Copyright © Guy Laramee.

Artist Statement

The erosion of cultures – and of “culture” as a whole – is the theme that runs through the last 25 years of my artistic practice. Cultures emerge, become obsolete, and are replaced by new ones. With the vanishing of cultures, some people are displaced and destroyed. We are currently told that the paper book is bound to die. The library, as a place, is finished. One might ask so what? Do we really believe that “new technologies” will change anything concerning our existential dilemma, our human condition? And even if we could change the content of all the books on earth, would this change anything in relation to the domination of analytical knowledge over intuitive knowledge? What is it in ourselves that insists on grabbing, on casting the flow of experience into concepts?

When I was younger, I was very upset with the ideologies of progress. I wanted to destroy them by showing that we are still primitives. I had the profound intuition that as a species, we had not evolved that much. Now I see that our belief in progress stems from our fascination with the content of consciousness. Despite appearances, our current obsession for changing the forms in which we access culture is but a manifestation of this fascination.

My work, in 3D as well as in painting, originates from the very idea that ultimate knowledge could very well be an erosion instead of an accumulation. The title of one of my pieces is “ All Ideas Look Alike”. Contemporary art seems to have forgotten that there is an exterior to the intellect. I want to examine thinking, not only “what” we think, but “that” we think. 

So I carve landscapes out of books and I paint romantic landscapes. Mountains of disused knowledge return to what they really are: mountains. They erode a bit more and they become hills. Then they flatten and become fields where apparently nothing is happening. Piles of obsolete encyclopedias return to that which does not need to say anything, that which simply IS. Fogs and clouds erase everything we know, everything we think we are.

After 30 years of practice, the only thing I still wish my art to do is this: to project us into this thick “cloud of unknowing.”

ADIEU Guy Laramée Copyright 2013
ADIEU (2013)
Guy Laramée

Is that the book’s evolutionary destination – in the “cloud”?

Further reading

http://sculpting.wonderhowto.com/news/artist-carves-old-books-into-beautifully-painted-landscapes-0175708/?_scpsug=crawled_46008_f4679e90-cedb-11e6-bd01-f01fafd7b417#_scpsug=crawled_46008_f4679e90-cedb-11e6-bd01-f01fafd7b417

http://www.thisiscolossal.com/2017/05/magnificent-new-carved-book-landscapes-and-architecture-by-guy-laramee/

“Guy Laramée’s (previously) new series Onde Elles Moran (Where They Live) captures the mystique of the native birds of the Brazilian region Serra do Corvo Branco (Range of the White Raven) through both portrait and carved landscape.”

http://wp.me/p2AYQg-wg

http://wp.me/p2AYQg-rE

http://wp.me/p2AYQg-eO

http://wp.me/p2AYQg-rH

Mihai, Cristian.  “Showcase: Guy Laramée“, Irevuo, 31 March 2018.

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