Books On Books Collection – Caroline Penn

Standen (2014)

Standen (2014)
Caroline Penn
Altered book, overprinted digitally, cut with a scalpel and rebound with thread. H210 x W140. Acquired from the artist, 9 June 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

The William Morris wallpapers in Standen House, an Arts & Crafts home in Sussex, and the memory of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s story “The Yellow Wallpaper” inspired the creation of this altered book. The work altered is a 1979 National Trust publication on Standen House. In Gilman’s story, the main character, who has a mental breakdown from being forced into domestic seclusion, gradually claws away the yellow wallpaper in the room where she is locked away. In correspondence, Penn writes that she unbound the original booklet, ran the pages through a digital printer, performed the cutting and then rebound it. In a clever reversal, by the end, the wallpaper print and its excision have taken over the walls of the book of Standen House.

Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

By coincidence, American book artist Harriet Bart co-curated an intriguing exhibition called “Wallpaper“. Bart’s entry, too, was inspired by the Gilman story.

fieldwork (2017)

fieldwork (2017)
Caroline Penn
Digitally printed concertina.
Cover: H126 x W90 mm; pages, H125 x W88 mm.
Edition of 20, of which this is #8.
Acquired from the artist, 6 February 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

A book within a book, fieldwork offers an entrancing visual narrative. A small white book unfolds from nothing to small pebbles, larger pebbles, more pebbles to fewer, and finally to one pebble in the center. Is it the reverse of the process of erosion? Is it categorization by the human eye and hand striving with nature’s agglomeration?

The artist has embedded the visual narrative here in an innovation on the framing device to be found in Helen Douglas’s Wild Wood and A Venetian Brocade. As with the latter works, fieldwork encourages us to touch with our eyes. It is a stunning piece of trompe l’oeil. On glimpsing any double-page spread, the reader/viewer is tempted to pick up one of the pebbles apparently resting on that white piece of paper open on a photo of a shingle beach. Visitors to Kettle’s Yard will recognise the temptation.

Project C: Destination Unknown (2020)

Organised by Pauline Lamont-Fisher, Project C is the result of a collaborative effort among 14 artists:

This project is about intersemiotic translation between images to words and from words to images and the paths that form between them. Roman Jakobson in Linguistic Aspects of Translation suggests the idea of intersemiotic translation as the translation from one sign system to another: i.e. interpretation of verbal signs by means of signs of non-verbal sign systems. So every novel adaptation into film, constitutes a translation. The illustrations in a book act as translations of text into images. Every time you watch Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, you watch an intersemiotic translation from narrated story into ballet.

The artists were given a set of anonymised covers of Italy Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler and asked to choose one and, keeping in mind Jakobson’s notions of intersemiotic translation, produce a folio or pamphlet in response. Caroline Penn’s contribution uses text, typography, structure, choice of paper, density of ink and a pattern of hole punches to translate or evoke not only the image below but the substance of Calvino’s novella — or at least a key element of the substance susceptible to translation to an artist’s book of translucent Bible paper and pergamenata.

Project C: Destination Unknown (2019)
Caroline Penn
Digitally printed on Offenbach bible paper stitched to pergamenata. Concertina, H186 x W130 mm. Edition of 30. Acquired from whnicPRESS, 7 March 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

The contrasting whites of the Bible paper and the translucent paper that comes uncannily close to animal parchment mirror the different colors of snow in the cover.

The dispersed positioning of the letters of the word “vapour” mimic the falling snow. The series of darker inked phrases set below, separated from each other by hyphens and staggered downwards across the panels echoes the rail track and cars in the cover.

The body of light gray likewise sloping down from left to right recalls the declining mountain gap crossed by those train tracks.

Across the foot of the page, the holes punched in a lowercase letter “o” and separated by two unpunched uppercase “O’s” also evoke the rail tracks and cars. In a nod to the Oulipo pattern-driven nature of Calvino’s work, the noughts of the “O’s” are answered in the crosses of the “X’s” supporting the text that crawls across the panels, finally turns the corner of the last panel and fades into the gray word “invisibility” on the reverse of the last panel.

A tour de force of book art — making text, image, ink, papers, layout, structure and impression work, mean and become a thing independent of the inspiring constraint.

Bookmarking Book Art – Updated: “Wallpaper: An Altered Book Experiment”

If you are anywhere near Minneapolis in July or August, bookmark these items in your calendar and make your way to the Traffic Zone and the Minnesota Center for Book Arts:

2 July through 10 August 2018 — “Wallpaper: an altered book experiment”, Traffic Zone Center for Visual Art Mission, 50 Third Avenue North

15 June through 21 October 2018 — “Formation: A Juried Exhibition of the Guild of Book Workers”, Minnesota Center for Book Arts, 1011 Washington Avenue South, Suite 100

20 July through 30 September 2018 — “Freud on the Couch: Psyche in the Book”, Minnesota Center for Book Arts, 1011 Washington Avenue South, Suite 100

Harriet Bart and Jon Neuse are curating the intriguing exhibition “Wallpaper”. They invited twelve artists, known for their engagement with the art of the book, to participate in an experiment. The artists were each given a copy of the book Wallpaper: A Collection of Modern Prints by Charlotte Abrahams and tasked with using it, its form and/or content, to deliver an original work.

A screen grab from an iPad alteration (2018)
Yu-Wen Wu
Photo: Courtesy of the curators

The result of the Neuse/Barton effort is a mixed media exhibition well worth pondering. Below is a sampling of photos from the exhibition (links lead to the artists’ sites).

The Yellow Wallpaper (2018)
Harriet Bart
Photo: Courtesy of the curators
The Yellow Wallpaper (2018)
Harriet Bart
Photo: Courtesy of the curators
The individual pages of the Abrahams book, removed and painted cadmium yellow with text from Gilman’s story added, will be given away.
Wawlpeyper – A Study in Unobtrusive Backgrounds (2018)
Scott Helmes
Photo: Courtesy of the curators
Vesna’s Altered Wallpaper Book (2018)
Vesna Kittelson
Photo: Courtesy of the curators
Wall Covering: A meditation on appropriation, class and the other, and on the power of images (2018)
Joyce Lyon
Photo: Courtesy of the curators
Scrolls (2018)
Jon Neuse
Photo: Courtesy of the curators

As always with book art, there is the self-reflexive, self-referring humor: Jon Neuse’s pun on the book scroll housed in a house-shaped codex in which miniature scrolls of wallpaper are housed and Scott Helmes’ pronunciation-entitled work subtitled with a joke to which the work’s sculpture is the punchline. The exhibition also covers a good variety of the forms book art has taken and may pursue even further in the future: Vesna Kittelson’s carving, Joyce Lyon’s accordion book, Doug Beube’s excavated book (not shown), and Harriet Bart’s painted-book homage to Charlotte Perkins Gilmore’s short story “The Yellow Wall-Paper” and Yu-wen Wu’s digital take on the challenge.

Other artists included are Chip Schilling
, Jody Williams
, Karen Wirth and Sarita Zaleha.

It is not far from Traffic Zone to the MCBA: a 5-minute drive, a 24-minute walk or bus ride. A rare occurrence to have three book art exhibitions within such close proximity.

Subsequent to this notice, one of the participants – Doug Beube – posted the following demonstration of his contribution Wallpaper Selfie.