Books On Books Collection – Clarissa Sligh

Transforming Hate: An Artist’s Book (2016)

Transforming Hate: An Artist’s Book (2016)

Clarissa Sligh

Perfect bound softcover. Four-color offset lithography. Illustrated paper wrappers with flaps. Housed in foldout die-cut box with gold foil origami crane inserted into cover slot. H203 x W204 mm, 104 unnumbered pages including inserts. Edition of 1000 numbered and signed, of which this is #18. Acquired from Vamp & Tramp, 13 August 2020. Photos: Books on Books Collection with the permission of the artist.

A forthright Franklin Gothic typeface announces the title, descriptive subtitle and author’s name in brown, black, and brown on the warm golden yellow of the die-cut box. As it opens from its velcro fastener, it reveals a gold foil origami crane, inserted in the box’s internal flap. As the flap turns, the straightforward Franklin Gothic re-announces the title, subtitle and author’s name, this time on the book’s white cover. So far, the work gives a sense of simplicity, elegance and warmth. Only the title hints at something uncomfortable to come. Finding a book’s foreword on its cover flap is unusual, but that Franklin Gothic now matched with plain-spoken prose — “I am a black woman. I am an artist.” — reassures. By the foreword’s last line though — “Do we have the courage to live differently?” — the reader/viewer may sense a need to keep the gold foil origami crane close like a guardian angel.

The crane also provides an organizing or, more accurately, guiding principle. Across the double-page spread of near-translucent golden endpapers just before the half-title, the truncated instructions — “cut fold crease flatten turn over cut fold creas” — start to articulate how to alter another book’s pages into origami cranes. On a startling full-page bleed of reddish brown ink, “The Proposal” in yellow and its text in white names the book to be altered: The White Man’s Bible, a white supremacist screed. Wings extended against the reddish brown, the crane hovers over the text.

More startling is the following double-page spread with the artist’s acceptance of the challenge, yet doubt, on the left and a photo of the unopened box full of hate casting a shadow from light falling from the right. The photo on the right spills leftward over the gutter, encroaching on the artist, her acceptance and doubt. And yet, her diagram of a box pushes back, rightward against and into the encroaching shadow.

The guardian angel becomes a necessary angel over the next two double-page spreads. From the left page of the first spread —

My uncle was lynched in South Carolina before I was born. Rope around his neck, his broken body was tossed from a wagon to the yard in front of my mother.

— the text faces on the right a full-page bleed of black ink in which the transparent box diagram sits full of hate-red words. Turn the page.

What the double-page photo of hummocks of grass in the foreground and, in the far background, some fencing, a sandbox, houses behind a stand of brush and trees conveys, with its contrast to the preceding spread of text and image, sticks in the chest and throat.

In the next double-page spread, the box sits, still closed, now on the left in a reversal of its first appearance. The light that casts the box’s shadow shines across the gutter from the artist’s question on the right hand page — “Can it be transformed?” The artist seems to be drawing a deep, preparing breath, one that the next double-page spread implies is calming.

At the next turn, an organizing principle only implicit so far but now explicit in the words “When I was 3” joins the principle of the folding instructions “cut fold crease craft”. These instructions appear again on the same paper used for the endpapers, used here to mark the end of the book’s first section. The first section’s final words “A container to hold broken” fall between the instructions, leaving a warranted sense of foreboding. As the work proceeds akin to a growth chart — “when I was 5”, “when I was 11” and so on — can the necessary angel suffice?

In the four sections that follow, the artist’s life, fears and hopes intersect personally with painful local, national and international history. As she communicates her sense of living this history, she also charts her engagement with others’ history of subjection to hate. If any reader thinks that this somehow gives in to an “all lives matter” chorus, one corrective course is to lay hands and eyes on a copy of this artist’s book. If somehow that does not make plain the power of this artist’s voice, then a further corrective course is to listen to her read the text here. If that does not work, then follow the instructions on the back cover.

Inside flap of the die-cut box; back cover of the book.

I am a white man. I write about book art. Encountering this work of art is to stumble, fall, get up — cut fold crease flatten fold out cut fold in flip over turn again open — and begin to do the work toward acknowledging and accepting this necessary angel. Reminder to self: “again open”.

Further Reading

Adrian, Kathleen D. “The Decentralization of Subject in African American Feminist Photography: Constructing Identity based on Representation and Race in the Work of Lorna Simpson, Carrie Mae Weems and Clarissa Sligh“, disClosure: A Journal of Social Theory: Vol. 7 , Article 3, 1998.

Gleek, Charlie. “Centuries of Black Artists’ Books“, presented at “Black Bibliographia: Print/Culture/Art” conference at the Center for Material Culture Studies, University of Delaware, 27 April 2019, pp. 7-8. Accessed 20 July 2020.

Hubert, Renée Riese, and Judd David Hubert. The Cutting Edge of Reading : Artists’ Books (New York: Granary Books, 1998), pp. 212-16.

Lawrence, Carol. “Clarissa Sligh: Living A Life, the Personal and the Political“, Women’s Studio Workshop, 6 June 2019. Accessed 22 August 2020.

Sligh, Clarissa. “Witness to Dissent: It Wasn’t Little Rock”, IKON #12/13, 1992, pp. 110-15.

Sligh, Clarissa. “On Being An American Black Student“, Heresies 25: A Feminist Publication on Art and Politics, Vol 7 number 1, Issue 25, 1990.

Sligh, Clarissa. Interview with Steve Miller, Book Arts Podcasts, School of Library Information and Sciences, University of Alabama, 1 July 2006.

Stevens, Wallace. The Necessary Angel: Essays on Reality and the Imagination (New York: A.A. Knopf, 1951).

Tia Blassingame”, Books On Books Collection, 17 August 2020.

Books On Books Collection – Guy Laramée

A Caverna (2012)

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

H160 x W105 x D80 mm

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

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

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

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

Further Reading

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

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

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

Bookmarking Book Art – Ximena Pérez Grobet

The year 2019 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of Ximena Pérez Grobet’s Nowhereman Press. To celebrate, she has issued the catalogue below illustrating twenty-five of her works. (Books On Books declares a treble interest, having provided twenty-five words for the opening page and owning two of the works in the catalogue.)

The catalogue itself demonstrates this artist’s ingenious engagement with what the critic Gérard Genette called “seuils” or the “thresholds” of the book — its features such as cover, binding, edges, the page, title page, preface, index, colophon, typography, printings, etc., that make up “this fringe at the unsettled limits that enclose with a pragmatic halo the literary work” (quoted by Richard Macksey in his preface to Genette’s Paratexts (Cambridge University Press, 1997), p. xvii).

For example, the catalogue opens right-ward rather than left-ward — despite the false hint to open it left-ward given by the “almost” quarter-paperbound appearance of the front cover. Inside is the catalogue’s true spine, with its externalised sewing. Turning the inner cover and first page to the left reveals that each recto landscape page holds a photo of a double-page spread from one of the twenty-five works.

These are the catalogue’s first reminders of Pérez Grobet’s playful embrace of the “book” as her chosen form of art. Only a few pages in, though, and her serious — political, thoughtful and philosophical —side shows itself. The page above shows the first and last pages from 2.10.1968 – 2.10.2018 (2018), which commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of the Tlatelolco massacre that occurred in Mexico City.

The work Dis-Cover (2019) pictured above and below exhibits Pérez Grobet’s play with the paratext of the book — in this case, select two- and three-dimensional aspects of the book: the cover, fore-edge and double-page spread. The title splitting across the French fold opening enacts one pun while the trompe l’oeil effect inside, done with the simplest of papers and bindings, enacts another.

Another and richer example of the depth of Pérez Grobet’s work is words (2016). In its colophon, she makes a statement that is both finishing touch and starting point to words: “The word is possible considering the space of the letter.” Rather than follow the tradition of the “fine press” edition, Pérez Grobet appropriates Wallace Stevens’ poem “The house was quiet and the world was calm”, breaks it into lines and letters, and creates an original work of book art.

In depicting a reader becoming “the book”, speaking its words “as if there was no book” and wanting to be “The scholar to whom his book is true”, Stevens’ poem seeks to lead us to “The access of perfection to the page”: a state of mind and situation. The state of mind is that in which the truth of meaning is as much a pose, perception and act of the body as it is of the mind. The situation is the threshold of object and subject, of being and the possibility of meaning, where the summer night we feel is “like the conscious being of the book” and where the act of perceiving meaning is simply being there, “leaning late and reading there”.

Pérez Grobet’s work challenges the reader/viewer to re-enact this. As the pages turn, the poem explodes into letters scattered across the recto pages. The letters “T”, “h” and “e” that first separately appear suggest a linear decomposition — a letter by letter representation of the poem. But “The” is followed by “o”, other random letters and even a comma — each dispersed in different patterns across its allocated page.

What’s more, the seemingly indecipherable book can be opened in more than one direction and read. Along the mountain folds of the open spine, the poem appears line by line.

Book or object, which way to read it? Which way to open it? Whichever way, the texture of the Cordenons paper combines with that traditional font of the periodic table (Helvetica) to provide a reassuring background for the mental and tactile challenge.

As an object — in its structure and its placement of text, especially Stevens’ text — words embodies both the sense of Pérez Grobet’s statement in the colophon and the sense of the poem. The possibility of meaning (the word) rests in the space of the letter and at the threshold between the physical and idealised fact of the cover, spine and page, on the one hand, and our physical and mental acts as readers/viewers, on the other.

The catalogue has twenty-two more works — equally engaging with different structures, colors, papers, type, techniques and content. More than enough to warrant another solo exhibition, and as always with book art, the challenge will be how to let the readers/viewers engage with the possibilities before them.

Bookmarking Book Art – “Darkness Visible”, Sam Winston’s performative installation

Sam Winston’s Darkness Visible at the Southbank Centre aims to give its “viewers”/participants a taste of what the artist has experienced during seven-day stretches of living and working in his studio plunged in total darkness. Despite the title being taken from one of the best of blind John Milton’s lines in Paradise Lost (“No light, but rather darkness visible Served only to discover sights of woe.”), Winston’s work has little to do with blindness and even less so with hell.

Come along and see.

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Entrance to the commissioned dark room on Level 5 of the Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre

The weighted black curtain I pushed aside swept quickly closed behind me. I fumbled to find the parting in the second black curtain and, briefly switching on then off the flashlight provided by the attendant, found my place on a bench in darkness.  Two young women stifled nervous giggles as we waited for the first recorded poet to speak. It was surprising how time seems to stretch in the darkness.

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Second curtained entrance
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Interior of the commissioned dark room

It seemed a long time before my eyes’ biophotonic activity from staring and blinking settled down. Then my peripheral vision picked up a leak of light in the lower right hand corner of the booth. At first I felt an urge to turn toward the light, but then an urge to look up and to the left toward more profound darkness took over. I thought of holding up my hand in front of my face, but did not. I wanted to see the dark, not what I knew I couldn’t see. I wondered why my ears also seemed, at first, to want a silence as profound as the dark but then accepted almost any sound as part of the darkness.

George Szirtes began to speak his twelve strophes of plain lines, at least the ones that were not muffled seemed plain (“I have not talked about blindness./ I can’t see how I could”) and reminded me in the darkness of Wallace Stevens’ “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” (“It was evening all afternoon”). Then silence, broken by a train or trains crossing the Thames. Kayo Chingonyi, second to speak, intoned words of praise, again difficult to follow on this one-off hearing, which allowed another poem to intrude, W.S. Merwin’s “For the Anniversary of My Death” and its last line “And bowing not knowing to what”. Then silence, broken by an announcement from the nearby auditorium telling theatre-goers to return to their seats and an airliner passing. Emily Berry, the third poet, innovated with a snatch of the hymn “Jerusalem” and uhms and uhs to mimic her words groping in the dark against a “continuous hum” and finally stopped mid sentence, the overall effect being to evoke Denise Levertov’s “O taste and see“. Another silence, now broken by a child squealing (laughing or shrieking?) somewhere in the building, by more giggling until one then the other young woman parted the curtains to leave, breaking the darkness briefly.  My eyes “readjusted” to the dark — that is, accepted it and again looked into it without seeking light. I re-membered in it half the image I’d seen of the recently invented carbon nanotubes surface. If you wondered, as I did, how the artist managed

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Mask coated (and uncoated) with Vantablack S-VIS
SurreyNanoSystems

the unrelenting darkness for a week, he has written about it here and spoken of it here.

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Darkness Visible installation (2017)
Sam Winston
Text piece on walls and floor
Three months of transcribing sensations outside of sight. Starting with sounds and touch (wall) then moving into abstracted thoughts and emotion (floor)
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Detail of Darkness Visible (2017)
Sam Winston
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Darkness Visible (2017)
Sam Winston
Installation at Southbank Centre, London

Reading Closed Books (2018)
Sam Winston
Set of three artist books Acquired from the artist, 31 May 2019.

Being reminded of other poems in the darkness, I was also reminded of two other artists (Maloney and Beuys) who had locked themselves away in pursuit of creativity. So I wondered whether there was a some tradition of this and, on the train home, searched and found:

Martin Maloney’s Intervention (Five Days and Five Nights at the Galerie MTL) (1971);

Joseph Beuys and his overnight stay with a coyote in a locked room, resulting in America Likes Me and I Like America (1974);

Het Observatorium’s Dwelling for Seclusion — New York (1997), “a pavilion erected in the gardens of Snug Harbor Cultural Center on Staten Island, New York City, [that] arose from the desire to place art at the service of an individual experience of quietness, seclusion and prolonged observation”;

Alan O’Cain’s Hunting Schiele (2012), drawings, writings and a web recording of their creation during the artist’s overnight stay, locked in the cell where Egon Schiele was imprisoned in Neulengenbach in 1912.

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Untitled/ 7 days blind (2016)
Sam Winston
Coloured Luminance pencils on Fabriano Artistico paper
Drawn in complete darkness over seven day & nights
(In this work, Winston restricted himself to red, green and blue pencils to mirror the red-green-blue sensitive cones of the eye.)
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Untitled/7 days blind (2015)
Sam Winston
Graphite crayon and pencil on Fabriano Artistico paper
Drawn in complete darkness over seven days & nights

In a way, Sam Winston is Walt Whitman-like — expansively absorbing this tradition and its future: like those of Maloney, Beuys and O’Cain, Winston’s “aktion” has yielded tangible works of his own in multiple forms; like Het Observatorium, Winston has created a participative space for its audience and invited creators. How will any artists ever close themselves off, invite others in, without taking account of Darkness Visible?

Yet, he is utterly unlike Whitman: in the non-egocentric generosity of Darkness Visible, rooted in a genius for sharing, evident in the planned immersive performance with photographer Andy Sewell, composer Jamie Perera and film-maker Anna Price  (with live readings by poets Emily Berry, Kayo Chingonyi and George Szirtes) scheduled for 11 January 2018 at the Whitechapel Gallery. Somehow Winston’s “darkness visible” is not an invitation to influence, just an invitation to creativity.

Where this generosity and genius come from is hard to say, but it seems hardly an accident that much book art and many artists’ books have been the fruit of collaborative effort.

Further Reading

Hargrave, Lindsay. “Alone in the dark”, Eye Magazine, 13 December 2017. Accessed 15 May 2020.

Bookmarking Book Art – “I placed a jar in Tennessee,/ …”

cropped-bookartsHollie Berry has two brief posts on book art at Book Arts at The Open Press (BA@TOP), a supportive community of book artists in Chattanooga, Tennessee, for whom The Open Press provides access to printmaking, book arts, and letterpress classes, workshops and equipment. Her first post offers as examples of the breadth of book art: Dan EssigSandy WebsterBrian Dettmer and Maddy Rosenberg. A good start, if light on installation book artists (say Alicia Martín).

The Open Press is 225 miles from Elizabethton, TN, where Wallace Stevens wrote “Anecdote of the Jar” in 1918 and which is only 67 miles from Asheville Bookworks in West Asheville, NC, where Landon Godfrey hosts Vandercooked Poetry Nights dispatching listeners into the mountain air clutching poems printed on broadsheets from the resident Vandercook Press, on which the authority Paul Moxon lectured in March this year at The Open Press, 199 miles away by the backroads across the Appalachians.  …”And round it was, upon a hill.”