Bookmarking Book Art – Ioana Stoian

It took a long look at the development of Ioana Stoian’s work to show me the relationship of trompe l’oeil to book art — and to appreciate how an artist can invent herself.

Stoian’s apprenticeship as an artist began with the decorative arts in 2004 in Lower Normandy, France, and has taken her to New York (MoMA), Cologne, Vienna, Salzburg, Minneapolis, Ostende (Belgium), Kadoide (Japan), Amsterdam (the Stedlijk) and, as of 2015, back to Minneapolis, where she is a Jerome Foundation fellow at the Minnesota Center for the Book Arts.

Stoian’s time as an assistant artist with the Scottish painter Lucy McKenzie, starting in 2008, honed her skills in deceiving the eye with faux woodgrain and faux marbling. For example, see McKenzie’s 2008 installation at MoMA, 2009 installation at the Ludwig (Cologne), 2011 installation at the Galerie Buchholz and 2013 installation at the Stedelijk. One may wonder whether Daniel Buchholz’s roots in antiquarian books or the Stedelijk’s in artists’ books prepared the ground for Stoian’s artistic direction toward book art and paper art, but book art and trompe l’oeil joined spectacularly in 2014 when Stoian had the chance to work with Tauba Auerbach in 2014 on the completion of Auerbach’s Wood and Bent Onyx. Stoian handpainted the fore, top and bottom edges of the book blocks in watercolor pencil and paints to match the color and grain of the prints of wood and marble digitally offset on pages of Mohawk superfine paper. As a technique, fore edge painting dates to the 16th century, and the “vanishing” variety, where the painting appears only when the pages are pressed and fanned out, dates to the 17th century. Over time, a standard type of press developed to hold the “canvas” of page edges evenly fanned to accept the painting.

Wood (2011)
Tauba Auerbach
Digital offset printing, Mohawk superfine paper, 55 pages,
hand painted edges 
closed: 43.2 x 24.1 x 5.1 cm
© Tauba Auerbach. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York.
Photo: Steve Probert
Bent Onyx (2012)
Tauba Auerbach
Digital offset printing, Mohawk superfine paper, Japanese tissue,
hand painted edges
closed: 43.2 x 16.5 x 16.5 cm
© Tauba Auerbach. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York.
Photo: Steven Probert.
Still from “Fantastically Fast Fore-edge Painting by Stephen Bowers
Friends of the State Library of Australia
18 February 2013
Stephen Bowers’ fore-edge painting on a copy of A Narrative of a Survey of the Inter-tropical and Western Coasts of Australia by Phillip Parker King, son of the third governor of New South Wales
Still from “Fantastically Fast Fore-edge Painting by Stephen Bowers
Friends of the State Library of Australia, 18 February 2013

Despite this established history of fore-edge painting, Stoian had to fall back on a mastery and technique that come from her apprenticeship work, inventiveness and meticulousness. These books were very heavy and the pages were very thick …. There was absolutely no way to fan the pages.  I went through the book, page by page, and made marks of where the wood/ marble veins were located.

Before Stoian started work on Wood

Then I clamped the book so that water wouldn’t seep in and using my ‘map’, I recreated the wood/ marble. As you can imagine, it was challenging to match the inside spreads. I had to constantly unclamp, verify that I was matching the spreads, re-clamp, paint, wait…

I used both watercolour pencils and paints. Needless to say, it’s very hard to erase watercolour without using lots of water and saturating the page. I had to be careful with every single brush stroke I made.  

Finished

There is something Zen-like about trompe l’oeil in the attentiveness to detail, to material, to execution.  But there is more. To mangle a Zen saying:  Trompe l’oeil is more than a pointing at the moon; those who gaze only at the pointing will never see beyond — never see the beauty of the moon, never see the beauty of the pointing. With the best of trompe l’oeil, that moment in which the eye is fooled recurs again and again for the attentive viewer. In its recurrence, the work of art alternates between the self-referential (the mind drawn to the pointing) and the mimetic (the mind drawn to the pointed at).

Moon of Enlightenment (2010)
David Bull
From a design by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-92) in his series “One Hundred Aspects of the Moon”.
The Zen saying is “All instruction is but a finger pointing to the moon; and those whose gaze is fixed upon the pointer will never see beyond. Even let him catch sight of the moon, and still he cannot see its beauty.”

So it is not surprising that Stoian has “always been interested in Japanese art and culture”. As early as 2008, origami appears in her commercial decorative work. She is the author of two books: Origami for All with her partner Eric Gjerde (2013) and The Origami Garden (2016). In reviewing both books for The Fold , Jane Rosemarin commented:

… as I paged through her first book, “Origami for All,” I eventually began to understand that Stoian is an artist who has chosen origami as her medium. Her work is not hard to fold, but it has a consistency of style and a real beauty.

Recognized not only for their origami, Stoian and Gjerde were invited in 2013 to exhibit their paper art at the prestigious Salon des Artisans et Métiers d’Art, held at La Propriété Caillebotte in the village of Yerres outside Paris. While Gjerde’s folds explicitly explore the mathematical (for example, Voronoi tessellations and hyperbolic paraboloids), Stoian’s explore shapes more suggestive of the oriental: cranes and flowers as in Strelizia (2010).

Strelizia (2010)
Ioana Stoian
Pigment on handmade flax and abaca paper
165cm x 59cm
Strelizia (Strelitzia reginae) is a South African plant, known as the “bird of paradise” or “crane” flower.

Where Gjerde’s interest in his material has led him to bio-art (paper grown from bacterial cellulose), Stoian’s has hewed to traditional papermaking, which figures consistently in her work: for example, Hidden Within (2010). In 2012, that interest in traditional

Hidden Within (2010)
Ioana Stoian
Hand-made flax and abaca paper
1.3m x 1.3m

western papermaking had turned eastward:

After discovering western papermaking, I became fascinated with thin, strong sheets, which obviously led me to washi – the Japanese paper made from mulberry. I naturally had the desire to go to Japan and see how this paper was made.

It so happens that a friend of mine, Tomoko Fuse (a very talented and well-known female origami artist and perhaps the most published origami author in the world), was at a paper folding event in France. I casually mentioned that I wanted to go to Japan to learn papermaking. Next thing I know, she had very kindly organised for me to spend a month with Yasuo Kobayashi, master paper maker and owner of Kadoide Washi – an offer I could not refuse.

I spent a magical month in the mountains, during the Kozo harvest (December) and had an amazing time learning from a great master.

Yasuo Kobayashi is a fifth-generation papermaker but also a writer and philosopher, whose unique views on papermaking warranted his inclusion in the American Folklore Society’s sponsored report on apprenticeship and papermaking. Yasuo Kobayashi told the report’s author, Aimee Lee: “I wanted the kozo to tell me what kind of paper it wants to become, not to force it to be what I want. This is not typical for papermakers. I want kozo to be my teacher.” When asked to elaborate,

… Kobayashi compared bunka (culture) and bunmei (civilization). “Bunka is what you think from your heart.” In contrast, bunmei’s goal is to develop constantly, exemplified by the western desire for progress: people do not want today and tomorrow to be the same—they want things to be less difficult and more convenient. This mindset cannot translate to making real paper. His grandfather’s and father’s lives were not very different. His father’s and his lives were a little different. But his son’s and his lives are so different that it is hard to relate across that rift. He sees two roots for the future of paper: growers and makers. Real kozo goes with the heart but is inconvenient and does not follow progress. Kigami [paper] comes from the root “to be born,” and this word also relates to breathing. When born, paper is like a child: weak, but growing stronger over time until it dies. He knows that his point of view is rare, but also said people must balance bunka and bunmei, rather than to go absolutely one way or another. Today, the balance is too heavy on the professional side, so he tries to balance this by leaning towards the growing side.

Stoian’s jump at the chance to learn from him is consonant with her “journeyman’s” approach to her artistic development. Note that the visit to Kadoide Washi precedes the work on Wood and Bent Onyx for Tauba Auerbach in 2014. The methodical diligence required in making washi and the resulting appreciation of the properties of paper re-present themselves in Stoian’s mapping of the grain and perceiving what the works and the paper “wanted”. The impressive fore-edge work with Wood and Bent Onyx now seems inevitable, rising from a combination of technique and deep appreciation of color, material, form and structure in the service of illusion. In her own work, Stoian strives toward bunka, which is evident in works like Strelizia and Hidden Within, where the form and color her handmade paper takes combine to convey feeling — or “heart” as Kobayashi might put it. Her aim has become even clearer during the Jerome Foundation stage of her “journeyman’s” journey.

Stoian received the Jerome Foundation Mentorship grant for 2014/15 at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts to create an artist book — an extraordinary artist book. The mentorship program  offers emerging artists the resources to create a book, fusing together newly acquired skills with aspects of their own artistic practice. The grant provided one year of 24-hour access to the Center’s facilities, a mentor, and a series of introductory workshops on paper making, letterpress printing, and book binding.

Responding to her new wintry environment, Stoian embarked on l’hiver (2014), a new work consisting of 80+ individually hand-made and dyed pieces of paper. L’hiver is reminiscent of Hidden Within (2010) in its pursuit of a harmony of color, structure, and form. The former is perhaps more open than the latter and lets each part’s snowflake-like uniqueness assert itself.

l’hiver (2104)
Ioana Stoian
Hand dyed, handmade flax and abaca paper
3m x 1m

The congruence and continuity of those two works do nothing to prepare the viewer for Nous Sommes (2015), the artist’s book that follows them. While Nous Sommes continues Stoian’s aim of harmony among color, structure and form, while its intensity of colors harks back to the stencil work for Lucy McKenzie’s Stedelijk exhibition in 2013, the structure and form Stoian chose marks a bold departure.

The cover and binding of Nous Sommes has the feel of a Solander box.  The book opens in a particular order of lifting the triangular flaps, one of which displays the “Table of Contents” and another the colophon. 

Nous Sommes (2015)
Ioana Stoian

Nous Sommes has nine “chapters” or differently sized, shaped and colored slipcases whose material matches that of the cover and binding. The chapters fit precisely together (tangram-like), but the order of their reading lies with the reader’s choice of color, shape or size. The video provided by Stoian and Gjerde offers one of many readings of the work.

Nous Sommes (2015)
Ioana Stoian
Empty “chapters”
Nous Sommes (2015)
Ioana Stoian

Within each chapter is a precisely fitted paper structure to be “read” by unfolding, positioning, displaying, contemplating and, in conclusion, returning it to its chapter/slipcase.

“Contents” of nine chapters/slipcases
Nous Sommes (2015)
Ioana Stoian 

Commenting on Strelizia, shown earlier, Stoian writes,

I am interested in intuitive color experiments; this work represents the flow from mood to colour, with the final form of the paper manifesting itself from these captured emotions.

In Kandinsky’s footsteps, perhaps, this artist finds and aims to offer the spiritual in art. The title Nous Sommes suggests so. Whether the expression “we are” applies to the art object (self-referentially) or to its audience (individually or collectively), form, structure and colors assert community, inclusion and a fitting together. 

We can look forward to Stoian’s next chapter as she has received a follow-on appointment from the Minnesota Center for the Book Arts: the 2017/18 Jerome Foundation Fellowship.

Bookmarking Book Art – Publishing as an Artistic Toolbox, Vienna, 28 January 2018

Last Sunday, 28 January 2018, this ambitious exhibition curated by Luca Lo Pinto closed.

The metonymic metaphor of the glazed roof tiles’ evoking the concept of “home” in support of  the individual and common ritual experience of reading as being translated into space is a bit topsy turvy if not strained. Overall, though, the effect was pleasing, playful and distinctively European (as was the selection of artists) in the cast concrete hall. The simultaneous warmth and cold of the color proved a pleasing contrast with the items displayed, although its glare and the occasional protective plexiglas made viewing and photographing a challenge.

In Section 01 Artists’ Library and propped on stainless steel shelves were artists’ own publications and choices of books from 1989 to 2017 that have influenced their view of publishing. So then, with the usual sly humor of book art, we have “artists’ books” and artists’ “books” — from Cory Arcangel to Heimo Zobernig.

Arcangel’s The Source Digest (from his series in which he rings the changes on selling us annotated source code in varying metaphorically driven and recursive manifestations) struck the first of several common notes in the exhibition: the digitally driven artist’s book. At the far end of the hall, in Section 05 Expanded Publishing, Antoine Lefebvre‘s La Bibliotheque Fantastique (an online library of free artists’ books) echoed that note and added one of its own: book art’s genre-reflexive, form-reflexive and self-reflexive tradition.

The ninety-item display is a genre-reflexive nod to series such as Dick Higgins’ Great Bear Pamphlet series. One row here on its own embodies multiple forms of reflexivity: Jérémie Bennequin‘s homage to Marcel Broodthaers’ homage to Stéphane Mallarmé’s Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira Le Hasard. 

Bennequin’s homage is the result of a decomposition performance in which he and Lefebvre — sometimes each in two different cities — decompose Mallarmé’s poem by rolling a die then locating and erasing the syllable corresponding to the number rolled. 

The title’s missing “s” from “Dés”the subtitle’s missing “h” from “homage” and its isolation of  “dé” in the hyphenation of “decomposition” pun self-reflexively — as book art so often does — underscoring here the paradoxical technique of creation/de-creation. 

Section 02, devoted to periodicals and zines, occupied the most space in the hall. Although the coverage was wide, it seemed odd not to find Brad Freeman’s Journal of Artists’ Books or Sarah Bodman’s Bookarts Newsletter or The Blue Notebook. But Lo Pinto did not set out to present the encyclopedia of everything within each compartment of the toolbox. The unexpected — like Lefebvre’s display — and the provocative depth of resonance within Section 01 and across sections more than made up for omissions of the expected.

Among the “interventions” in Section 03 The Medium as Message was Michael Riedel‘s Frieze CMYK (2007), now, like so many other items in the exhibition, out of print — a reality-imposed dollop of self-reflexive irony given Riedel’s paradoxical view that an exhibition must generate ephemera to live on.

As with the echoing Section 05 that sent me back to look at Arcangel’s contribution in Section 01, the color play of Riedel’s Frieze CMYK returned me to Tauba Auerbach’s entry in Section 01. But I was misremembering and thinking of her work titled 2,3, (2011), RGB Color Atlas (2011) and their color play. On display here was her Z Helix (2014) behind plexiglas. Only the interlocking blue and red spiral bindings hinted at the color inside.

Strolling back to Section 05 and thinking of the physicality as well as color of Auerbach’s works, I stopped at Section 04 Autoretrospective, which focused on Philippe Thomas’ fictitious ad agency readymades belong to everyone® that he “installed” in the Cable Gallery in New York in 1987.  The section’s title seems ironically unfair to Thomas’ self-effacing, deconstructivist intent. Given what was on display in Vienna, it was inescapably — like the mythological World Turtles — Thomas “all the way down”. Perhaps there is something to the row-upon-row of roof tiles metaphor after all.

The remaining sections — one being a space for performances and readings, another a screen showing the home page of Silvio Lorusso’s Post-Digital Publishing Archive and another entirely elsewhere in the city — began to push the limits of the senses and imagination to make up for that lack of three-dimensionality that limited the impact of Auerbach’s and others’ shelves. (It was commendable, however, that visitors were allowed to touch the works not behind plexiglas.)

Being familiar with Lorusso’s site, I looked back over the roof top shelves and wall projections and momentarily found myself slipping into that  “consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions … in every nation, … A graphical representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the non-space of the mind, clusters and constellations of data” (William Gibson’s definition of “cyberspace” from Neuromancer, New York: Berkley Publishing Group, 1989, p. 128). As with all white cube spaces, though, the physical arrangement did not fail to reassert itself and draw me out of the exhibition through Section 11 The Bookshop as Medium, which much like Sections 01 through 05 offered unexpected tangible and intangible compensations.

Section 11 The Bookshop as Medium
Austellungsansicht: Publishing as an Artistic Toolbox: 1989–2017, Kunsthalle, Wien
Photo by Stephen Wyckoff

As noted at the beginning, an ambitious exhibition: one also reminiscent of Germano Celant’s  effort in 1973 Book as Artwork 1960/1972.  With the hope for more to come from this talented curator and the artists and publishers gathered, here are some favorites on the way out … best enjoyed with the downloaded or printed catalog close to hand (links after the favorites).

For a copy of the catalogue/journal, go to http://www.kunsthallewien.at/application/files/6015/1021/8686/Dallas-Journal-Publishing.pdf

See the following for interviews with the curator Luca Lo Pinto about the exhibition:https://daskunstbuch.at/2018/01/04/interview-i-spoke-with-luca-lo-pinto-about-the-current-exhibition-publishing-as-an-artistic-toolbox-1989-2017-at-kunsthalle-wien/http://www.c-print.se/single-post/2017/10/24/Curator-Talks-Luca-Lo-Pinto

A bookmark for letters “outside themselves”

Ecstatic Alphabets, Heaps of Language – Art – Domus.

In his review in Domus, Zachary Sachs describes this MoMA exhibition which “courses through the history of twentieth-century art animated by language and language given artistic form.”   The works of art “tease apart the connection between sign and signified through modes of interruption largely inspired by the technology of printing.”    And the catalogue includes “texts that attempt at intervals to rationalize and idealize language, at once to purify it and to demonstrate its essential muddiness.”

Why bookmark this exhibition?

It is apropos to our unease, excitement or dismay about the digital metamorphosis of the book.  As Sachs puts it, “The historical works here swing between anxiety and ambivalence, emotions seemingly inevitable in response to the immense power (and attendent limitations) of written communication.”  The same is true of our reaction to the moiling of books, ebooks and apps.  

And the MoMA exhibition is one of those “full circle” phenomena, a recapitulation, a reminder of how, in trying to ground the history or evolution of the book, in reading its situation, we often go right back to the alphabet, the word, language itself.

Of David Diringer‘s two substantial volumes on the history of the book, the first is entitled The Alphabet (1968).  In Helmut Lehmann-Haupt’s brief but important One Hundred Books about Bookmaking (1949), an entire section is given to writing and lettering, and that is preceded by a bibliographical entry for Edward Chiera‘s They Wrote on Clay (1938), on how the tablets of the Babylonians still speak to us today.  For another instance, see also the posting here on Norma Levarie‘s The Art & History of Books (1968).

Art can be a means to, or cause of, ecstasy — extasis, to stand outside one’s self.   Book art and specifically in this case the “ecstatic alphabets” exhibition can encourage us to stand outside what is happening to the book in order to reflect on it.  If the exhibition were open to further curation, two “bookend” additions the exhibitors might agree would fit are

Heilige Maagschap (c.1470 )
Westphalian School
Panel 69x144cm

the Holy Kinship from the St Servatius Cathedral Treasury in Maastricht, which exults in the letter, scroll and book in the service of sacred art, and

Agrippa (A Book of the Dead) by Dennis Ashbaugh and William Gibson (New York: Kevin Begos, Jr., Publishing, 1992), which “

even compared with other artist books . . .  is an unusual textual artifact.  Beyond the materiality of the book and realia themselves lies the issue of authorship. The text of the poem on the self-erasing diskette is by the novelist William Gibson, and the copperplate aquatint etchings inside the book were created by artist Dennis Ashbaugh.  Gibson and Ashbaugh are most frequently cited as the book’s “co-authors.”   However, the project was conceived by publisher Kevin Begos, Jr., and the code for the software that scrolls Gibson’s poem as well as for the encryption program (sometimes mistakenly called a “virus”) that subsequently erases that poem was written by a programmer signed “Brash” (who desired to remain anonymous) with help from John Perry Barlow and John Gilmore (founders of the Electronic Frontier Foundation).”  

James J. Hodge, “The Agrippa Files, an online archive of Agrippa (A Book of the Dead).