Bookmarking Book Art – Julia Hou

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

Asterisk (2019) Julia Hou

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further Reading

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

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

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

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

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

Bookmark – eCodices

default.jpg

From the e-codices project, here’s something the history of the book can teach us going forward.

Well designed digital work will be machine-actionable, but will also be capable of expressing its content when moved to other media, even non-digital media.  Neel Smith, College of Holy Cross, Boston, MA.

The manuscript page in the photograph above comes from a copy of Plato’s “Phaedo,” the description of Socrates’ death.  Its round humanistic script belongs to a single scribe, who identifies himself in red thus, “Marcus Speegnimbergensis scriptsit“ (fol. 75).

The attribution for the image associated with this item is Pellegrin Elisabeth, Manuscrits latins de la Bodmeriana, Cologny-Genève 1982, pp. 330-331. The item has a Digital Object Identifier: DOI: 10.5076/e-codices-cb-0137, which provides a fair bit of that metadata needed for Dr. Smith’s purposes.

Lesson? It might be a good idea for every book and ebook to have a DOI, but then the International DOI Foundation and its registration agencies would need to find a sustainable business model to provide easily accessed DOI-generators for everyone seeking to publish those items.

Smith’s comments on the Fondation Martin Bodmer Collection at Cologny also imply a tangential and harder question. In the absence of some persistent unique identifier like the DOI and well-provided and maintained metadata associate with it, what are the digital (but technology-agnostic) forensic tools with which we will uncover our ebooks’ “Marcus Speegnimbergensis” and the evidence of the social contexts and creative tools with which “our Marcus” worked? That’s a “poser” for the likes of Matthew Kirschenbaum and webliographic scholars to come.

Bookmarking Book Art – New England Guild of Book Workers

For 2014-15, the New England Guild of Book Workers have organized a traveling exhibition: Geographies: New England Book Workits itinerary covering each of the 6 New England states.  Last year, the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), the Wishcamper Center at the University of Southern Maine and the Bailey Howe Library at the University of Vermont hosted it. This year, the show has appeared at Williams College Library and is scheduled for Dartmouth College Library and the Creative Arts Workshop in New Haven, CT. Criss-crossing geographical boundaries as well as those of book art and the book arts, Geographies calls to mind the last line of Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Map“:

More delicate than the historians’ are the map-makers’ colors.

Or, in this case:

More delicate than the historians’ are the [book-artists’] colors. 

Although born in Nova Scotia, Elizabeth Bishop grew up as a New Englander in Massachusetts with her paternal grandparents. As a far-traveller and visual artist as well as poet, she would have enjoyed this exhibition and found it fitting if it had included a broadside of “The Map”.

Nevertheless, what a range of “colors” from all the New England states and beyond – from historic to modern, from fine and design bindings to traditional and creative bookbinding, from artist books to calligraphic manuscripts, from masters to apprentices and from object to narrative. The latter finds a wintry exemplar in Snow Bound in September: A Re-Imagining by Laurie Whitehill Chong, retired Special Collections librarian and curator of Artists’ Books at RISD.

Snow Bound in September: A Re-Imagining © Laurie Whitehill Chong Artist Book, Text in Book Antiqua letterpress printed on Rives Lightweight paper using polymer plates, with 13 fold-out two and three-color linocut illustrations. Folded map in inside back cover pocket, letterpress printed using polymer plate and linocut; edition of 25 15.24 x 8.89 x 2.54 cm
Snow Bound in September: A Re-Imagining © Laurie Whitehill Chong Artist Book, Text in Book Antiqua letterpress printed on Rives Lightweight paper using polymer plates, with 13 fold-out two and three-color linocut illustrations. Folded map in inside back cover pocket, letterpress printed using polymer plate and linocut; edition of 25 15.24 x 8.89 x 2.54 cm Snow Bound in September: A Re-Imagining © Laurie Whitehill Chong
Cloth covered binding with flap and front pocket, smythe sewn.
Text in book Antiqua letterpress printed on Rives Lightweight paper using polymer plates, with 13 fold-out
two and three-color linocut illustrations. Folded map in inside back cover pocket, letterpress
printed using polymer plate and linocut. 
15.24 x 8.89 x 2.54 cm 
Edition of 25

The artist made this book the same size as her grandfather’s Appalachian Mountain Club hiking guide. Snow Bound is an invented ancestral narrative, in which the artist uses a surviving photograph and her grandfather’s notes about being stranded with his wife for five days on Mount Washington by a hurricane-driven snowstorm in September 1915 to re-imagine the ordeal from her grandmother’s perspective. Note the slotted front cover into which the flap extending from the back cover fits to keep the book closed, snug against the elements.

Snow Bound in September: A Re-Imagining © Laurie Whitehill Chong
Snow Bound in September: A Re-Imagining © Laurie Whitehill Chong Snow Bound in September: A Re-Imagining © Laurie Whitehill Chong

Julie B. Stackpole’s creative re-binding of Samuel Eliot Morison’s Spring Tides takes us from the New England mountains to the shore as can be seen from the layered binding.

Spring Tides by Samuel Eliot Morison Boston: Houghton-Mifflin Co., 1965. Julia B. Stackpole, Design binding  21.8 x1 5.0 x 1.6 cm  January 2014
Spring Tides by Samuel Eliot Morison Boston: Houghton-Mifflin Co., 1965. Julia B. Stackpole, Design binding  21.8 x1 5.0 x 1.6 cm  January 2014 Spring Tides
by Samuel Eliot Morison
Boston: Houghton-Mifflin Co., 1965.
Julia B. Stackpole, Design binding
21.8 x1 5.0 x 1.6 cm
January 2014

In Stackpole’s words:

The traditional tight-joint binding is covered in navy blue Niger goatskin with waves in the lower parts created by paring before covering. Cut-outs in the onlays of the lighter blue leather of the water help it transition from the dark of the navy to the sky’s azure. Onlays of other leathers create the forested landscape of the shoreline and hills. These blues were chosen because the only blue leather in a large enough piece to cover the whole binding was the dark navy, while I only had scraps of the water and sky’s blue. The endpapers are a Cockerell marbled paper over-painted with blue, with leather hinges.

Pictures of the works in the catalog (and others not) can also be found at the Williams College Flickr site (for now). I say “for now” because they will be  pushed downstream inevitably in the way of today’s digital flow.  They may even disappear; although as Matthew Kirschenbaum has explained in Mechanisms, something digitally forensic will remain. That boundary of the tangible and the digital, the haptic and the virtual, is only lightly but evocatively touched in this collection.

When Julia Stackpole writes in the online catalog about that Cockerell marbled paper that it “felt to me like the waves and the shoals and ledges of Maine waters”, you long to lay hands on the Spring Tide. Anne McClain’s Place includes photographs taken digitally of places on Maine’s midcoast that have been special to her her “entire life and will continue to be a constant as other things change and move on”. What is captured digitally is reproduced physically to fix those places that will “continue to be a constant”. But places do change.

Anne McClain, Place Drum Leaf Binding  19 x 15 x 1.8 cm  February 2014
Anne McClain, Place Drum Leaf Binding  19 x 15 x 1.8 cm  February 2014 Anne McClain, Place
Drum Leaf Binding
19 x 15 x 1.8 cm
February 2014

Rutherford Witthus’ contribution touches the boundary between the digital and physical most directly. His artist’s book is entitled 28 Fort Square: What Charles Olson wrote on the window casings of his apartment in Gloucester, Massachusetts, of which there are eleven copies.

Rutherford Witthus, 28 Fort Square: What Charles Olson wrote on the window casings of his apartment in Gloucester, Massachusetts, 2014
Rutherford Witthus, 28 Fort Square: What Charles Olson wrote on the window casings of his apartment in Gloucester, Massachusetts, 2014 Rutherford Witthus, 28 Fort Square: What Charles Olson wrote on the window
casings of his apartment in Gloucester, Massachusetts, 2014

In these 11 copies, Witthus digitally reconstructs the windows of Charles Olson’s apartment at 28 Fort Square where he wrote his main work, The Maximus Poems, and covered the window casings with meteorological data. The artist book “presents for the first time all of the images of the window casings”.

Rutherford Witthus 28 Fort Square: What Charles Olson wrote on the window casings of his apartment in Gloucester, Massachusetts Artist book Edition of 11 42 x 28 x 2.5 cm 2014
Rutherford Witthus 28 Fort Square: What Charles Olson wrote on the window casings of his apartment in Gloucester, Massachusetts Artist book Edition of 11 42 x 28 x 2.5 cm 2014 Rutherford Witthus
28 Fort Square: What Charles Olson wrote on the window casings of his apartment in Gloucester, Massachusetts
Artist book
42 x 28 x 2.5 cm
2014
Edition of 11

Athena Moore, chapter secretary of The New England Guild of Bookworkers, produced the catalog for this itinerant exhibition organized by Stephanie Wolff, Exhibitions Coordinator and Todd Pattison, Chapter Chair. If you have the chance to see the exhibition in its next venue, take it.

Just as Elizabeth Bishop questioned the depiction of the boundary between land and water on her map – “Shadows or are they shallows at its edges …”, you will find the juxtaposition of these works reminds you that the boundary between book art and the book arts can be shadowy or shallow indeed.

Bookmarking Book Art — Emma Taylor, updated 20190818

tumblr_mgkjvswnc41rkjdtfo1_500

tumblr_mjz56lte2t1rkjdtfo1_500

The fate of the book is becoming more and more critical as digital replacements ingrain themselves deeper into our society.  To me the possibility of the end of the book is a tragic one; I appreciate books as an object as much as I enjoy the stories and knowledge which they hold.  I predominantly work with antiquarian books as they often show evidence of their own personal story, perhaps through an inscription on the cover or a drawing on a page which adds a new layer of narrative.  The theme for each sculpture may be inspired by a number of things including the title, size, shape or cover of the book.  I work with wire, wadding and strips of book pages to create the impression of the sculpture emerging from within a book.

Emma Taylor, From Within a Book

Ironic that Emma Taylor’s site had its main life on Facebook, to which one must subscribe to read the great number of comments on her bookworks.  Her Tumblr website, however, displays many, if not all of her sculptures in the series From Within A Book, and in her posting of 29 March 2013 (here from the Wayback Machine), you can find reference to an article from the Cambridge News covering her work as displayed in the local shop Plurabelle Books.

Of course, the bookwork above (made from Poor Folk in Spain by Jan and Cora Gordon, published by Bodley Head in 1922) represents what appears to be a store clerk taking down a book but could just as easily be a housekeeper dusting the bookshelves (after all the chapter in which it appears is named “Verdolay — Housekeeping”).  Why “of course”?  Small sculpted books created “from within a book.”  Tending and caring for the physical artifact by altering the physical artifact. (A touch more irony could have been had with the addition of a tiny computer, iPad or Kindle.)

One direction Ms Taylor’s craft may take to evolve further into art would be to recognize and reflect that the fate of the book and ebook are as likely intertwined and separate in many respects as have been those of the many forms the codex has taken — from incunabula to paperback, bookkeeping to fiction or reference to textbook.

Paratextual devices such as the manicule, footnote, running heads, etc., have their “analogues” in ereaders, ebooks and books-in-browsers such as navigational icons, hyperlinks, breadcrumb trails, etc.  Through the W3C’s open annotation specification, even marginalia may be finding a place in the so-called digital replacement to the printed book.  With the insights of Matthew Kirschenbaum and others into digital forensics, the digital replacement and its “perfect” copies may yet yield the “evidence of their own personal story.”  And if “social reading” takes deep root in the individual reading experience, the reader’s relationship to the author (and vice versa) could be enriched by the reader-to-reader relationship in ways hard to articulate.  Ways that will offer the book artist new opportunities to “make it new.”

View My Modern Met article here. 18 August 2019

Bookmark for the “Used e-book, slightly foxed”

In “Used e-book, slightly foxed,” Nicholas Carr ponders Amazon’s widely reported patent on a method allowing the resale or giving of ebooks and other digital objects.

"Tiny Library Filled with Wee Books and a Deep, Dark, Secret,"  Artist, TheMistressT.  Accessed 10 February 2013.
“Tiny Library Filled with Wee Books and a Deep, Dark, Secret,” Artist, TheMistressT. Accessed 10 February 2013.

Matthew Kirschenbaum might dispute Carr’s view that there is no difference between the new and used ebook however.  In his book Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination, he explores the nano-differences between masters and their digital copies, much as textual bibliographers have delved into the meaningful and revealing differences among print editions and even copies of the same print edition.

And with the recent publication of a W3C specification for Open Annotation of digital text, what might be inside that used ebook?   As Baratunde Thurston, author of How to Be Black and founder of Cultivated Wit, writes:

What if you could download books that had been pre-annotated? I would pay extra to read Freakonomics with commentary by Paul Krugman,The New Jim Crow with notes from editors at The Nation, or the Bible annotated by the creators of South Park. A book could always inspire new layers of meaning, but now it can host that inspiration and a slew of associated conversations.

Thurston’s proposition though is more akin to the digital equivalent of the Norton critical editions or Robert Strassler’s oversized, beautifully enriched Landmark editions of Thucydides, Herodotus and Xenophon.  Still, a pre-loved ebook is a different virtual matter and might be desirable to some hapless, non-haptic readers.  No doubt, resellers of used ebooks will want to assure their customers that their digital goods are free of lesser annotators’ bytes of marginalia and the latest viruses and Trojan horses favored by vandals and hacksters.   How will eBay cope, assuming it can come to terms with Amazon’s patent claim?

But to bring Thurston’s proposition and Open Annotation together suggests another market: the collectible ebook.  Can there be such a thing as a rare ebook?  Which libraries will be bidding for Clay Shirky’s ebook collection after he has shuffled off his digital coil?

The implications for DRM and copyright are delicious.  Recall the hoax that Bruce Willis was considering legal action against Apple over his desire to leave his digital music collection to his daughters?  If his collection’s metadata contained extensive annotations providing insight into the music or, more likely, the celebrity himself, why should iTunes’ Terms and Conditions override the family’s claim to the Die Hard star’s intellectual property that they could share (or not) with future celebrity biographers?

This year looks set to be one of important bookmarks for the evolution of the book: secondary markets for ebooks, Open Annotation, social reading and still more devices and applications for reading.