Bookmarking Book Art – Amaranth Borsuk

borsuk-abra

Created for the November 2016 issue of The Bellingham Review, “Abra: The Kinetic Page” is a polymorphic tour de force – online prose poem, video, review of and homage to an installation at the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle, WA, in 2014 and a promotion of the artists’ book Abra: The Living Book by Kate Durbin, Amaranth Borsuk and Ian Hatcher, published in 2014.

From where did such work spring?  From a project called “Expanded Artists’ Books: Envisioning the Future of the Book”.

Inspired by the advent of the iPad in 2009 and a symposium held in 2011 with Bob Stein, Director of the Institute for the Future of the Book, Steve Woodall, then Director of Columbia College’s Center for Book and Paper Arts, secured funding for that project from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2012. That same year in a Tate Britain workshop, Woodall explained the intent of the project:

In its first phase, our project takes existing artist books and creates iPad applications that both represent and contextualise them. The apps will be made available as free downloads. With the many millions of portable devices running on the iOS platform, the reasoning goes that an under-distributed and too-obscure art form can gain wider reach and achieve greater public awareness. We will soon expand to include Android and other platforms, but we expect to stay within the ‘walled garden’ world of the app, as opposed to the open range of a purely browser-based platform – we feel that the smoother functionality and higher-quality user experience of the app work well with the expanded practices of authorship and craft engagement that define artist books.

In the project’s second phase we shall commission media artists to create born-digital artist book/apps, which will then be reverse engineered as physical books, or created in parallel with them. Owing to the creative countercharge it represents, we find this to be an extremely interesting phase of the project from a research standpoint.

It is the dialogue between the physical books and their digital avatars that provides a great part of the value of this project. … it is in the artist’s studio, whether that be an electronic workstation or a more traditional book art studio, where the dialogue will play out in the creative process. Artists will explore ways in which expression can take both virtual and physical manifestations, examining the advantages of each and how the interplay between the two can be leveraged to provide a comprehensive and powerful expression. – Steve Woodall, “Artists, Writers and the Future of the Book”, Transforming Artist Books Project, 2012.

Abra was funded by a grant from the project, and with Abra, Borsuk, Durbin and Hatcher have manifestly “embodied” the sponsor’s intent as will become clear as you read. But pause first on Borsuk’s Bellingham Review piece.

Borsuk is an inspired writer, a gifted conceptual and haptic artist. “Abra: The Kinetic Page” starts as a reflection on experiencing Ann Hamilton’s installation the common SENSE with its exploration and celebration of “touch”:

As I walked through the upper galleries, where newsprint images of the undersides of birds and small animals fluttered in the HVAC breeze, I thought about the way the exhibit invited us to read space. Hamilton’s juxtapositions, like the lines of a poem, rely on the visitor to bridge the between with their body. We provide the spark that leaps across the enjambed line where the tale of Cock Robin meets a downy hide.

I’ve strayed from what I wanted to tell you because Hamilton’s work requires it. It is, as she says, a form of attention she seeks to share with her audience—she creates installations as spaces animated by the viewer. She sets up the conditions for an experience or interaction, and then withdraws, trusting the reader / viewer / visitor to make meaning. To limn the contours of the work with their own gentle touch.

[Now note here how she pivots to experiencing Abra.] 

As I trace my finger along Abra’s cover, whose title is also the incipit, silently voiced by the reader, which activates the text, I’m invoking not only the magic word that brings things to pass as they are spoken, I’m invoking Hamilton, whose “handseeing” videos of the late 90s and early 2000s turn the fingertip into an eye, uniting reading and writing in a gesture that links dactyl and stylus, through the digital that fits like pen in glove.

Whether read on screen or heard in the video, Borsuk’s words and sentences are tactile. Listen:

borsuk-abra
Click on the image above for the video “Abra: The Kinetic Page” by Amaranth Borsuk

“Abra: The Kinetic Page” explores and celebrates the “fundamental relationship between the eye, the brain, and, critically, the hand” as Woodall hoped. It is a work of art as much as Abra itself.

If its artistry were not enough, The Bellingham Review piece takes things a bit further than might have been expected from the “Expanded Artists’ Book” project. Interestingly, The Bellingham Review piece also addresses changes in the value chain that hybrid books and hybrid book art must confront. As originally set out by Harvard’s Michael Porter, the value chain is the “set of activities that a firm operating in a specific industry performs in order to deliver a valuable product or service for the market.” Marketing is one of those key activities in the set.  In The Bellingham Reviewan online and print literary magazine, Borsuk has found not only a platform for marketing Abra, but a platform from which to offer a complementary work of art in the form of a video. An example of “art for art’s sake” that finally makes sense to the business school.

The example does not end there.  Reflecting in the Tate Britain workshop on the “Expanded Artist Book” project, Woodall remarked on “digitally trained designers … being drawn back to the fundamental relationship between the eye, the brain, and, critically, the hand, … photographers … combining digital processes with nineteenth-century ‘alternative’ techniques. … [and] … the enthusiasm most contemporary graphic designers have for letterpress printing.” Web skills, videographics and the YouTube/Vimeo channels are just as remarkably important, which is clear not only from the Abra siteThe Bellingham Review piece but from this shorter directly promotional video:

Abra: A Living Text Video editing by Louis Mayo: http://www.viewbility.com Shot by Nathan Evers at the Digital Future Lab, University of Washington, Bothell: http://www.bothell.washington.edu/dig... Music: Graham Bole, "We Are One": http://grahambole.bandcamp.com/releases
Abra: A Living Text
Video editing by Louis Mayo 
Shot by Nathan Evers at the Digital Future Lab, University of Washington, Bothell 
Music: Graham Bole, “We Are One”

Woodall did wonder whether the project’s prompting a dialogue of the physical and digital would have implications for practical matters such as distribution. While Abra has a paperback version as an entry in the traditional channels to market, that offers little insight into such implications — not like the insight realized by the combination of website, promotional video and The Bellingham Review piece.

In fact, from a perspective of craft and product, the experience promised by the videos and website is completely available only if you download the app and have a copy of the limited edition of the artists’ book. Constructed by Amy Rabas, the artists’ book allows you to insert an iPad in the back of the book creating a continuous touch-screen interface. This interactivity with the reader is one more aspect of the work that realizes perhaps more than was expected from the “Expanded Artists’ Book” project.

The book’s simple, mysterious foil-stamped cover. Created by book artist Amy Rabas. Courtesy of the authors.
The book’s simple, mysterious foil-stamped cover. Created by book artist Amy Rabas.
Courtesy of the artists.
The laser-cut openings coalesce into a pinhole that begins to reveal the iPad below.
The laser-cut openings coalesce into a pinhole that begins to reveal the iPad below.
Courtesy of the artists.
Readers can begin to interact with the iPad, on which the book’s text is mutating on its own.
Readers can begin to interact with the iPad, on which the book’s text is mutating on its own.
Courtesy of the artists.
At the end of the book, the iPad is revealed, and the reader can make Abra their own using the menu at the top of the screen to “Mutate,” “Erase,” “Graft,” “Prune,” and cast an unpredictable “Cadabra” spell.
At the end of the book, the iPad is revealed, and the reader can make Abra their own using the menu at the top of the screen to “Mutate,” “Erase,” “Graft,” “Prune,” and cast an unpredictable “Cadabra” spell.
Courtesy of the artists.

Another participant in the Tate Britain project was Johanna Drucker. Her comments on one of Borsuk’s earlier works – Between Page and Screen written with Brad Bouse – are relevant to this interactive aspect of Abra as well.  First, a description of the book:

Between Page and Screen chronicles a love affair between two characters, P and S. The book has no words, only inscrutable black and white geometric patterns that, when coupled with a webcam, conjure the written word. Reflected on screen, the reader sees him or herself with open book in hand, language springing alive and shape-shifting with each turn of the page.

The story unfolds through a playful and cryptic exchange of letters between P and S as they struggle to define their relationship. Rich with innuendo, anagrams, etymological and sonic affinities between words, Between Page and Screen revels in language and the act of reading.

Amaranth Borsuk and Brad Bouse Between the Page and Screen (2012) Now available from SpringGun Press: http://www.springgunpress.com/between...
Amaranth Borsuk and Brad Bouse
Between Page and Screen (2012)
Now available from SpringGun Press 

Drucker relates this interactivity between print and digital to “play with the condition of bounded-ness”:

The finitude of a bound codex quite literally defines its limits in analogue form. Even though the reference field of the work is broad, gesturing outward to the world of lived and imagined phenomena that comprise a shared realm of cultural knowledge, the book’s dimensions remain linked to its physical form. But where is such a book located in the spatial-temporal realms of networked environments? And when is a work produced? … Borsuk and Bouse’s depends on a linked connection between quick response (QR) codes on pages and files stored online. The capacity to conjure stored material that projects itself in augmented screens onto the perceived world further erodes the boundaries of interior/exterior edge and periphery that were traditionally defining features of an aesthetic work.

With its poems mutating on the iPad screen, Abra challenges the play with boundedness beyond the effect Drucker described in 2012. In its digital challenge to boundedness, Abra has much in common with Visual Editions’ reimagining of Marc Saporta’s Composition No. 1  in an app format. The original work was published by Le Seuil in 1962 and translated by Richard Howard for Simon & Schuster the next year.

Marc Saporta Composition No. 1 Translated by Richard Howard Visual Editions (2011)
Marc Saporta
Composition No. 1
Translated by Richard Howard
Redesigned and reissued by Visual Editions (2011)
Marc Saporta Composition No. 1 (2011) Introduction by T.L. Uglow, Google Creative Lab Diagrams by Salvador Plascencia Designed by Universal Everything
Composition No. 1 (the app)
Marc Saporta, Composition No. 1 
Diagrams by Salvador Plascencia, Designed by Universal Everything (2011)
Introduction by T.L. Uglow, Google Creative Lab (2011) Marc Saporta Composition No. 1
Introduction by T.L. Uglow, Google Creative Lab and YouTube (2011)

The unboundedness of Abra also has echoes in Field, the book, visual art and installation all in one produced by Johannes Heldén about the same time as Abra and The Bellingham Review piece. Field‘s interactivity, however, relies on a floor touchscreen of 20 square meters, one effect of which is to remove words from pages projected on a screen and another to animate a series of sculptural mutations of the Eurasian Jackdaw. The ephemerality of an installation combined with the effective of personal interactivity intensifies the challenge and play of unboundedness.

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

Which brings us full circle to the installation-inspired “Abra: The Kinetic Page” and the last aspect of Abra: The Living Text that carries it beyond the expectations of the “Expanded Artists’ Book”. The work began as a collaborative book-length poem between Borsuk and Durbin.  Writing separately using a series of constraints, then weaving their words together and editing them side by side, the authors found a new voice emerging from the conjoined poem, that of ABRA herself. To give a body to that voice, they created a series of conjoined costumes, each an avatar reflecting various aspects of the poems.

Abra Woodnymph
Abra Woodnymph
Courtesy of the artists.

When I hear sad tales of “The End of Books“, I think of these artists and authors and the distances between them – Borsuk in Washington State, Durbin in southern California, Hatcher in New York, Hamilton in Ohio, Rabas and Woodall in Illinois and Heldén in Sweden. Then I look at the distance between my finger and screen, between my hand and the copy of Borsuk’s Between Page and Screen lying on the table here.  Those sad tales fade before the palpable vibrancy of book art and the transformative effect of the digital.

 

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