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Book Art Theory

Capitalizing on the interdisciplinary nature of the field, this blog calls attention to criticism and theory about the book as a medium and/or subject in works of art and, more generally, about book art. It seeks to encourage dialogue, solicit comments, and create a generative space for new ideas from critics and theorists of various fields regarding the aesthetic, semiotic, haptic, cognitive, historical, and other features that distinguish these works and their function in ethical, political, and social matters.

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  • 15 Feb 2020 12:00 AM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)

    The trouble with breaching the threshold lies in a need to understand the “fixedness” of a term. This is further complicated by the necessity to understand multiple terms which lie within that primary term and, consequently, their fixedness as well, so as to unearth a “flexibility.”

    Terms have been established to point us to some sort of (maybe) universally understood “meaning,” or a mutually agreed upon set of qualities that compose the term’s use in an effort to better communicate a set of ideas, etc. based on a shared knowledge of what those terms mean [1]. From this fixed point, or specificity, comes the potential for flexibility and more so, interpretive flexibility. Interpretive flexibility allows us, in either art or theoretical discourse, to stretch and flex certain qualities into a nuanced and multi-faceted space of inquiry. Interpretive flexibility, therefore, is born out of (usually) a practical understanding of the classificatory implications embedded in the language utilized to frame them.

    “Publication” is just one term which points to many terms representing a diverse range of objects [2] and activities [3]. All of which we may have yet to grasp with a totality or thoroughness to match our understanding of the holy trinity that has been the descriptive foundation of Book Arts: book, paper, and print. An example that might help clarify this proposition within one branch of Book Arts practicum is letterpress printing.

    Within a studio course for letterpress we emphasize using specified terminology when identifying parts of the press, the tools used for the process of printing, type, the layout of a job case, etc. In the process of printing, it is stressed (here: in traditional practice) that one must “master the process of printing” before making such “experimental” leaps that often lead (or have lead to) “products” or “finished works” heralded for their affective qualities, or “artistic expression.” An intimate and shared understanding of the materially, socially, and culturally complex (yet practical) foundation that defines “letterpress” [4] aids our ability to interpret nuances of “expression” (possible intent), leading to possible interpretations (or constructs) of “meaning” unique to theorists or critics in different fields of specialization. This further demonstrates the potential of specificity internally (within one field for “artistic expression”) to externally (in other fields that take interest in one or many of the original term’s functions, or course of operation). Thinking of primary, secondary, and tertiary fixedness in totality is better framed now as a fixed assemblage [5]. 

    A field’s ability to render their evaluations relevant remains tied to the fixed assemblage of meaning embedded in the object of interest, which includes but is not limited to such complex qualities as: materiality, methods of production, final form(at) or type, and its pattern of movement (circulation or distribution). The latter of which is both effected and affected by its initial overall assemblage (the shape or format wherein its meaning is not necessarily contained, but held in some capacity).

    It is only when the term, as fixed assemblage, is thoroughly understood that we can exercise interpretive flexibility.

    My concern with the present patterns of integrating both new media form(at)s and alternative (or digital) production methods into Book Arts curriculum lies in a negligence in tending to the foundation of these new forms and their place in the larger schema of the fixed assemblage of “publication.” E.g. when considering online publication, we rarely (in curriculum) acknowledge it as a surveilled and privileged space of access that is perhaps no more (if not less) environmentally friendly than a sewn paper pamphlet. 

    Integration seems to only consider similarities rather than differences. This points to a pattern of isolation, inclination towards homogeneity, and a non-reciprocating relationship to the broader fields of fine arts practicum and liberal arts scholarship. These form(at)s can be located here but must be seen as also distinctively not here.

    The materiality of publications vary wildly despite the fact that a .PDF or website or online journal are part of the same technological and communicative lineage as the book. The electronic format remains qualitatively and quantitatively distinct. The materiality embedded in these various published formats is awash with different social, cultural, political, and theoretical concerns and contexts. This begins with the nuances implicit in their fixedness which extends to varying levels or manifestations of flexibility only afforded by the fixed assemblage.

    Without saying much more, I would like to narrow this to published documents (where the future of my investigation lies), and make the following statements: 

          A book is a document and can be published, thereby a type of publication.

          A document need not be a book to be published, but “document” accounts for multiple types of publication.

          Various types of published documents are produced in unique ways, utilizing different materials and processes, thereby moving, or circulating, by different means, making both their physical manifestation and distribution patterns differ wildly.

          As aesthetic forms, they further complicate these patterns which also impact their overall affective capacity.

          No(thing) is the same.

    [It should be noted that I support interpretive flexibility; the merits of poetics to shed light on otherwise darkened spaces of a wor(l)d [6] accounts for some of the most significant theoretical and critical arguments I’ve seen (whether or not we read them that way is dependent on who you talk to). However, the terms utilized ultimately provide clarity and commonality that must go both ways.]

    A case for the fixed assemblage, (or specificity?) may seem an isolating phenomenon, a sort of “caging in” that goes against an aesthetic, and thereby artistic, line of critical inquiry. But, it is in fact, a rich place to explore. Why do we resist what is in many ways a democratic modality?

    Please consider the following visual exercise:

    Example 1: Document in “Common Culture” - Academic Paper


    Fig. 1. DOI = Digital Object Identifier; document accessed via library search database. Blanchette, J.-F. (2011). A material history of bits.  J. Am. Soc. Inf. Sci., 62(6), 1042–1057. https://doi.org/10.1002/asi.21542

    Fig. 2.  (digital document) PDF = Portable Document Format; downloaded from online journal and opened on desktop.

    Fig. 3. (paper document) printed PDF 

    Fig. 4. (PDF as paper document) converting PDF as paper document back to PDF as digital document using Scanner Pro.

    Fig. 5. (PDF_02; digital document)

    Example 2: Document in “Artistic Culture” – Artist Publication


    Fig. 6. (web-based digital document) Located in Google Drive as Google Document

    Fig. 7. (web-based digital publication) published Google document. H.R. Buechler and Vida Sačić, notes for a conversation on: “Like Some Female Hamlet” (New York: Oxblood Publishing, 2017)  https://tinyurl.com/td5h8cq

    Fig. 8. (conversion of web-based digital document to PDF-for-print)


    Fig. 9. (digital document, PDF-for-print)

    Fig. 10. (publication as paper document) H.R. Buechler and Vida Sačić, notes for  a conversation on: “Like Some Female Hamlet” (New York: Oxblood Publishing, 2018) 

    Fig. 11. (publication as paper document) Buechler and Sačić, notes for a conversation (2018)

     ---

    [1] This is akin to the idea of “concreteness,” “structural integrity,” or “specificity” – as discussed in Part 1 and 2, and which exist within particular frames and establish their framework.

    [2] noun., formats

    [3] verb., function of n. and the cultural and social implications of n. as v.

    [4] This aligns with one aspect of documents in Michael Buckland’s Document Theory: An Introduction (Zadar, 2013). Following the phenomenological aspect, is cultural codes. Cultural codes state, “All forms of communicative expression depend on some shared understandings, which can be thought of as language in a broad sense.” At this point, I have not mentioned the document as an object of interest. However, that is ultimately what I am concerned with. 

    [5] Of course, Delueze and Guattari’s theory of assemblage notably argues against fixedness or stability, and therefore seems in direct opposition to the term with which it is partnered here. Yet, it is in fact, apt. When dissected, we would find the fixed assemblage is not definitively fixed at all, but an oscillating entity. See: Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987)

    [6] Credit for this poetic adaptation of the word for emphasizing two readings should be given to Johanna Drucker,  History of the/my Wor(l)d (1995)


    H.R. Buechler is an interdisciplinary artist, researcher, and founder of OXBLOOD publishing. Her work is broadly concerned with historic and contemporary communication technology, classification, and the valorization of aesthetic objects.


  • 01 Feb 2020 12:00 AM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)

    A year ago exactly, I began writing this, call it, “article” for the College Book Art Association’s Book Art Theory Blog. It was written in two parts, for two posts, and in both cases exceeded the maximum word count and posed multiple problems with regard to its “publishing”—containing embedded images, superscripts, footnotes, and specialized formatting to aid in linguistic emphasis [1]. While I might encourage you to circle back and review Part 1 and Part 2 before moving forward with me here, I will also admit that is not entirely necessary. It is my intent to continue that (this) work, but in such a way that it is ultimately unsuitable for publication in this particular format—a blog. 

    However, by openly acknowledging a blog is not the appropriate (form)at for a particular type of written work meant for publication [2] is a point which lies at the heart of my article’s argument: specific forms provide specific spaces where various ontological parts (content) are processed (contextualized) and subsequently activated into a state of movement afforded by the specific qualities of the space itself. These forms are unique, their space suited to the material they contain, and their trajectory is in part predetermined by how their material (content) is intended to be mobilized. Thereby the success (or suitable fit) of a given format may be measured first, by its ability to hold its content stable, and second, by the overall range of its mobility once launched into action. These forms are both determinate and indeterminate; they have been born out of the changing needs of their content, and their content is also now constructed to suit them. As a result, both the form and the content build their path, which further allows for a multiplicity of contextualization. Yet still, they must suit one another. 

    Or: This format does not provide a suitable space to further process the previous content (in common colloquial: unpack), and consequently, the content cannot be successfully mobilized via this format’s predetermined trajectory.   

    While the above is meant to support the two parts previously written, it is written is such a way so as to position it outside of artistic discourse. Instead, through my use of particular terminology, it may find itself better placed in a conversation regarding the relationship between contemporary communication media and knowledge distribution. Yet, can it not also be applied to the arts? Or more abpt: book arts? 

    By locating specific terms within the second paragraph, we can easily pull this into another realm of discourse, through the modifican, or adaption of these terms by locating some qualities of flexible semantic nuance. To do this, we first must acknowledge the terms we pull as fixed. This is the term’s foundation, a primary quality which consists of a mutually agreed upon understanding of what “x” means; the qualities (or signifiers) embedded in that term which remain constant across dialogic fields. 

    Then we identify the term’s flexibility; a secondary quality.This may better be identified, now, as a sort of “keyword” [3]. These are qualities of the term that do not carry across fields, but instead are distinguishable marks that locate it in one field or the other. This flexibility is often the very quality that the arts capitalize on. 

    As scholars we all utilize the above process (usually subconsciously) in order to make academic, theoretical, or critical arguments. 

    But the purpose of the above exercise is to make conscious the subconscious function inherent in a term’s fixedness; to entertain specificity, here, in developing a critical dialogue around publication as an artistic object and activity. 

    Further, not just entertain, but acknowledge it as crucial and real. We have nary been able to develop new theoretical inquiries in the field of book arts, let alone wholly and successfully identify and integrate theory from many (and expanding) sympathetic fields in order to both bolster previous discourse, and participate in (or move forward with) new discourse. To pass that threshold of potentiality into what is actually multiple already articulated and actualized presents [4]. 

    [maximum word count reached—end of Part 3—to be continued in Part 4]

    [1] These problems continue here, but after writing the previous posts, this post was written with adaptations integrated. 

    [2] Here: publication (n.): to make public, or generally known, online, and not for public sale

    [3] See: Raymond Williams, Keywords : a Vocabulary of Culture and Society. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985). This takes into account the way words, as keywords, are used in discourse, and how their meaning (and use) changes (or adapts) to the present social and cultural climate.

    [4] This phrasing is in direct reference to the first post’s use of interpretive poetic flexibility.


    H.R. Buechler is an interdisciplinary artist, researcher, and founder of OXBLOOD publishing. Her work is broadly concerned with historic and contemporary communication technology, classification, and the valorization of aesthetic objects.



  • 15 Jan 2020 12:00 AM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)

    On a cool November Sunday in the Printmaking & Letterpress Studio at Penland School of Craft, a handful of artists gathered around Bryce McCloud, founder and proprietor of Isle of Printing (Nashville, TN), to begin a class he titled, Analog Social Media. Discussions continued late into the evening about the history of communication technologies, the value of materials and community, and the distinction between studio art practice and social art practice. Bryce had proposed the course as a case study for teaching artists the core elements involved in a social art practice. He envisioned a communication station to encourage listening and talking to one another during a historic week and asked us to move forward from that idea. The students embraced and also questioned the base idea, but after a Monday morning planning session a station for human-powered, analog communication was underway.

    The communication station consisted of spaces and materials to facilitate conversations, recording, and broadcasting. Once completed, the records of the conversations would be elevated (or released).

    Conversations—two talk and listen spaces were outfitted with materials and placed in open area to welcome participants. Chairs were placed at the small tables for individuals who agreed to respectfully talk and listen or listen and talk to one another. 

    Communication Station, Talk/Listen side

    Recording—following the conversations, individuals were asked to write what they heard on a printed postcard and confirm with their conversation partner that the recorded text was an accurate record of their statement(s). 

    Student broadcasting text message at the Communication Station

    Broadcasting—an American flag symbol was painted on cardboard which covered one side of the station’s eight by four foot movable magnetic board. The remaining side could be covered, letter by letter/sort by sort, with short, Twitter-length statements using magnetic strips adhered to alphabet letters and punctuation marks (printed using wood type). The “case” of sorts sat on a small table in front of the board and our staff would “broadcast” the incoming text.


    Message attached to balloons, ready for release

    Elevations—the postcards were collected and the texts reviewed by those running the station and shared in a cycle of “broadcasting” on the station’s board. The postcard was then attached to a helium-filled balloon, gathered near the station locations, and released over the hills of North Carolina in an effort to elevate the conversations.

    Communication Station, Flag side

    Members of our team wore white relief-printed “communication station” t-shirts—the first project of the class—as a means of identifying ourselves and creating a clear sense of our purpose. Our team members discussed our respective personalities and determined who would be most adept at the various roles of soliciting participants, conversating with an individual at the talk/listen tables as needed, broadcasting the texts, coordinating supplies, and observing and responding to needs during the sessions. 

    Following the Voting Tuesday results, we set up the station at the Penland student center during lunch and through dinner  at Penland and a local bar in Spruce Pine, North Carolina Wednesday evening.

    On Thursday morning, our team of artists contemplated the emotional responses shared by those in the Penland and Spruce Pine communities. We saw a need for additional tools to help individuals talk and listen to one another, particularly given the polarizing election results. One common concern which we heard (and ourselves expressed) was how to get through upcoming holiday events with our families. Our team set to work on creating a dinner guide to inspire civil discourse. We had some 30 hours to design, print, and assemble our guide which we wanted to share with each of the 150 members of the Penland community.  Illustrations of progressive meal courses from various culinary traditions were drawn by the expert sign maker, wordsmithing was done to clarify intentions for the guide, and a folded packet designed. The packets were printed by hand on Risograph and letterpress machines and the packets were folded and formed to the card collection.

    Civil Dis-course: A Holiday Took Kit

    On Friday our team distributed the meal guide, titled Civil Dis-course, to nearly all of the Penland community members and encouraged them to take a copy for a friend, if helpful. In addition to the many hugs and words of gratitude received, I felt as if our work had given individuals a pathway for moving beyond the profound fears and immense frustrations they were experiencing. The onsite station and printed guides were creative, playful ways to support the challenging act of having meaningful dialogue with others, particularly when individual views are divided further by politics or when there has been an ongoing disagreement. The products of the class were handsome tools for healing and progress made valuable when used to nurture conversations.

    Civil Dis-course; A Holiday Tool Kit, contents

    Bringing members of a community together to talk about and listen to their collective thoughts on an important happening takes a great deal of patience, humility, resolve, and creativity—much like any art process. Sharing the 2016 election with others staying at Penland gave me a powerful sense that Art—creative works that you can hold in your hand—can, and does, heal. 


    Amanda Nelsen is an artist and educator working in Charlottesville, Virginia.


  • 01 Jan 2020 12:00 AM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)

    In these first days of 2020, we ask for your help with a new project: the CBAA Diversified Reading List for the Book Arts. This effort is to recognize important contributions within the field of book arts that may have been previously overlooked. The goal is to make our field more inclusive through providing a wider range of frameworks and historical and contemporary examples, and to ensure that all students and artists have the opportunity to recognize their peers and predecessors in the field.

    This crowdsourced list, sponsored by the CBAA Theory & Criticism Subcommittee, is intended to highlight marginalized and under-represented voices in the book arts and to be a resource, collected in one place, for educators, students, artists, and scholars. The idea, inspired by the Feminist Art & Architecture Collaborative’s Space/Race Reading list, is that this reading list will be created by crowdsourcing knowledge from the CBAA membership and the book arts community.

    This means you, dear reader. We need your knowledge represented on this sheet!

    We are aware that this list is puny and wholly insufficient at the moment. We realize that it will always be inadequate and incomplete. We recognize that your contributions will only improve it. In addition to adding books, articles, websites, etc., please also consider adding or editing keywords and annotations to works you are familiar with to help users locate the resources that will be most helpful to their practice or their classrooms. Our hope is that the list may quickly grow unwieldly. We imagine that once it has more entries, this list may be reorganized and reformatted in order to make it more user-friendly. In the meantime, we hope you agree that “there’s just too much, it is too confusing” would be a good problem to have.

    What sorts of contributions are we looking for? Books, articles, websites, videos, chapters, any media resources that both 1) feature the contributions of folks from marginalized groups and 2) address one or more areas of the book arts (printing, binding, typography, the book, printmaking, papermaking, photo books, etc.; you know as well as we do the enormity our field comprises). Primary and secondary sources are both welcome, and eventually may be separated into different categories or separate sheets for ease of use. When in doubt, please go ahead and add the resource. Someone may be looking for that very thing.

    There is a second sheet, Diversified Reading Lists in Allied Fields, compiling similarly crowdsourced reading lists from other art and design fields. To get there from the Reading List, look for the second tab at the bottom of the page. We welcome your contributions to this list as well.

    Feeling overwhelmed by the vast amount of work ahead of us? Please share this list with your colleagues, students, and friends. May we suggest getting together with your local book arts community and hosting an editing party, akin to an Art+Feminism Wikipedia edit-a-thon, during which participants update Wikipedia to represent the work of female and nonbinary artists? Suddenly this work could become more interactive and social.

    The CBAA Diversified Reading List initiative grew out of the CBAA Board Retreat at the 2019 Annual Meeting at Tucson, and includes the input of H.R. Buechler, Aaron Cohick, Carley Gomez, Emily Larned, April Sheridan, Levi Sherman, Dianna Taylor, and Kathy Walkup. Please email blog@collegebookart.org with any suggestions and, also, if you are interested in joining the team as we continue to develop and improve this new project. Especially welcome would be a librarian or archivist or someone with similar experience who can suggest how to better organize this list as it grows.

    We hope you will bookmark this list and return to it often, as both a contributor and a reader. Thank you, in advance, for your help with this important work.

    "As a reaction to systemic racism and other forms of discrimination and exclusion in the United States, and the violence they have incited, communities of humanities scholars have been producing crowdsourced, collectively built syllabi and reading lists. These documents use knowledge as a form of action by producing collective scholarship . . .  Importantly, these documents can be both written and read by broader publics, unsettling traditional teacher-student hierarchies . . . Digitally created and disseminated syllabi and reading groups have become important responses to the violence waged against vulnerable populations because of their race, class, or gender, but also to the privatization of knowledge sharing." 

    -- Ana María León, Feminist Art & Architecture Collaborative (FAAC)


    Emily Larned initiated this project while serving as Co-Chair of the CBAA Publications Committee from January 2018 - 2020. She is Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at the University of Connecticut.


  • 15 Dec 2019 12:00 AM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)

    This post is the second half of my look into how Hamish Fulton and Richard Long use lists in their art, and how Ian Bogost’s concept of ontography provides a productive new way to engage these works.

    In their move towards text, especially lists, both artists have maintained a complicated relationship with photography. This may reflect the tension between the photograph as representation and the photograph as enumeration. As a medium, it straddles the construct of landscape and the reality of the outdoors. As Bogost notes, “on the one hand, it offers a view of the world that is representational, thanks to the photographer's framing and choice of exposure. On the other hand, it offers an automatically encyclopedic rendition of a scene, thanks to the photographic apparatus's ability to record actuality.” However, as a visual medium, photography cannot record all of the actual experience. In “The Blue Mountains are Constantly Walking — On the Art of Hamish Fulton,” Andrew Wilson writes, “For all their brevity — arrangements of small numbers of single words — Fulton's text works do approach the essence of the walk in ways that the specificity of a photograph cannot. . . . These words, taken from his walk diaries are things that were observed by him on his walks — observations that provide a sense of place, season and measurement. However, by bringing seven words together — 'Wind Mist Rain Moss Lava Rock Sand' — he is, for instance, able to suggest something unseen but felt in that particular walk in southern Iceland in 1996 in ways that a photographic image could not.”

    It is by turning to the book form that Fulton and Long overcome the limitations of what Wilson calls the “specificity of a photograph.” As a single image, the photograph is the list and the represented objects are the items it contains. In a book, the photographs themselves can become the list items. Bogost calls the list “a group of items loosely joined not by logic or power or use but by the gentle knot of the comma.” In the artist’s book, the binding itself is the comma. The book form brings together the disparate repleteness of reality through the simple force of connection and sequence. This frees photographs from their encyclopedic, denotative function and introduces a meta layer.

    Fulton especially creates photographs that are as much about photography as the representational content. Jan Alber explains this same phenomenon in the context of fiction: “To begin with, the lists...serve a self-reflexive or metafictional function because, due to their stylistic peculiarity, they draw our attention to the linguistic medium.” Likewise, Fulton makes photographs that are unremarkable or even poor by conventional formal standards, but draw attention to the act of photography, to the photograph as one among many in the book (and thus one moment among many in the walk), and of the inadequacy of photography to replicate the photographer’s experience. One salient example is his book 10 Views of Brockman’s Mount, a naturally formed hill near Hythe, Kent, England, which seems to document a walk around the hill. A close look at the light and atmospheric conditions reveals that the images were made on different walks on different days. This revelation not only foregrounds photography as a medium, but also the book as a structure for producing inter-objective meaning, just as a simple comma brings together items in a list.

    This change in the part-to-whole relationship of photography, from a photograph as a list to a list made of photographs, is just one way that Fulton draws parallels between the photograph and the word. Just as the repleteness of the photograph is limited by the frame (and the act of framing), so too does Fulton impose limits on text. Anne Moeglin-Delcroix points this out in her discussion of Fulton’s artist’s book, Ajawaan. “Knowing Fulton's work, always composed using what he has observed or encountered, we realize that the inventory is of elements actually seen. However, their choice is obviously constrained by the decision to only use four-letter words.” She further notes that the composition avoids any representational logic and “evokes, rather, an abstract work on language, of the kind found in concrete poetry.” Fulton and Long demonstrate a keen grasp of the stylistic peculiarity of photography and text alike, bringing them together to great effect in their artists’ books.

    Fulton and Long are not landscape artists; they are artists of the great outdoors. They use lists to convey the reality of the objects in the world, even as the disruptive formal properties of enumeration show the impossibility of entirely sharing their experiences with viewers. Yet this impossibility does not lead the artists to correlationism — the belief that humans have only indirect access to reality. Rather, the inadequacy of photography and text matters to Fulton and Long precisely because they believe there is a real world that they engage directly on their walks. Their work has challenged viewers and critics for decades, but new materialism and related philosophical movements offer a promising and productive perspective on these important artists and their artists’ books in particular.


    Works Cited

    Alber, Jan. "Absurd Catalogues: The Functions of Lists in Postmodernist Fiction." Style 50, no. 3 (2016): 342-58. doi:10.5325/style.50.3.0342.

    Bogost, Ian. Alien Phenomenology, or, What It’s Like to Be a Thing. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012.

    Moeglin-Delcroix, Anne. Ambulo Ergo Sum. Nature as Experience in Artists Books / Lexpérience De La Nature Dans Le Livre Dartiste. Köln: Buchhandlung Walther König, 2015.

    Wilson, Andrew, et al. Hamish Fulton — Walking Journey: Exhibition: Tate Britain, London, 14 March–4 June 2002: Catalogue. Tate, 2002.


    Levi Sherman is an interdisciplinary artist and designer in Columbia, Missouri.


  • 13 Dec 2019 1:00 PM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)

    Lists have been a part of literature from the classical epic to the postmodern novel, so it is no surprise that they have also made their way into artists’ books. In the essay “Absurd Catalogues: The Functions of Lists in Postmodernist Fiction,” Jan Alber writes that postmodern lists “celebrate variety and plurality by illustrating that individual entities cannot (or should not) be forced into a rigid system of order; the lists...thus invite us to adopt a playful attitude which closely correlates with the capacity of ‘letting things be’ advocated by Zen masters.” The philosopher Ian Bogost ties enumeration to a particular branch of recent philosophy, including New Materialism, Object Oriented Ontology and Speculative Realism. I am lumping these movements together for the sake of simplicity and to provide as many access points as possible to readers, but the important feature they share is a rejection of idealism and correlationism — they assert that there is a real world outside the human mind. Bogost notes that philosopher “Quentin Meillasoux uses the phrase ‘the great outdoors’ to describe the outside reality that correlationism had stolen from philosophy.” I argue that it is no coincidence that Hamish Fulton and Richard Long, two artists whose practices are based literally and figuratively in the great outdoors, use lists prominently in their artists’ books.Though Fulton and Long’s artists’ books precede Bogost’s theory, they provide an excellent example of what he calls ontography. Bogost terrms ontography “a general inscriptive strategy, one that uncovers the repleteness of units and their interobjectivity” and writes that “an ontograph is a landfill, not a Japanese garden. It shows how much rather than how little exists simultaneously, suspended in the dense meanwhile of being.”Catalogues and monographs reveal the challenge presented to critics by both artists’ use of text. Many writers can only say what the writing isn’t. Paul Moorhouse’s assessment of Richard Long’s use of text is typical: “Neither poetry nor straightforward prose, the structure of such texts is closer to sculpture than to literature, arising from the connection and inter-relation of words, ideas and experiences.” Ontography gives the reader a positive language to grapple with what text is — or, more accurately, does — in the work of Fulton and Long. 

    Page 153, Photography © Richard Long, extracted from: Richard Long: Heaven and Earth, 2009, Reproduced by permission of the Tate Trustees.

    The role of the human artist is arguably more central to Long’s work. While Fulton seeks to leave nothing but footprints, Long alters the land and uses natural objects as materials for his art. Even so, he complicates the idea of agency in much the same way as new materialist theorists like Bogost. His 1983 work, A Moved Line in Japan, entails “PICKING UP CARRYING PLACING / ONE THING TO ANOTHER / ALONG A 35 MILE WALK / AT THE EDGE OF THE PACIFIC OCEAN.” After this introduction, the piece proceeds in the following manner: SHELL TO CRAB / CRAB TO FEATHER / FEATHER TO FISH / FISH TO BAMBOO / BAMBOO TO CARROT — and so on. Long is acting, but on whose behalf? The emphasis is on the relationships among objects, of which Long is just one. Rather than documenting his actions as an artist, Fulton’s work shows the impossibility of recreating the experience of the walk. Anne Moeglin-Delcroix writes, “He does not seek to overcome the separation between experience and representation, but expresses it through his books. This also explains the increasing presence of words...first a simple caption accompanying the image, they then become a part of it and more recently have sometimes replaced it.” Lists are a particularly effective way to access this tension between presence and absence. Alber observes that “catalogues...frequently begin as assemblages of objects. But then, they gradually evacuate language of presence, leaving only word-lists behind.”

    Works of Art © Hamish Fulton, extracted from: Hamish Fulton: Walking Journey, 2002, Reproduced by permission of the Tate Trustees.

    Both artists also align themselves with the new materialist approach by rejecting the landscape tradition. Consider Fulton’s sparse piece, A Fourteen Day Wandering Walk Fourteen Nights Camping Southern Iceland September 1996: WIND / MIST / RAIN / MOSS / LAVA / ROCK / SAND. By comparison, Moeglin-Delcroix characterizes landscape as “taking nature as interlocutor, projecting one's sensibility or imagination into it” — a process “by which nature is not considered in itself but for the sake of what it reveals about the artist contemplating it.” Fulton and Long pursue neither representation nor interiority. They flatly present the inadequacy of such attempts to convey the outdoors, in part by using lists, which Bogost shows “are perfect tools to free us from the prison of representation precisely because they are so inexpressive.”In part two of this post, I will further examine the boundary of experience and representation by examining Fulton and Long’s continued use of photography, and how photography can be ontography. 

    Works Cited

    Alber, Jan. "Absurd Catalogues: The Functions of Lists in Postmodernist Fiction." Style 50, no. 3 (2016): 342-58. doi:10.5325/style.50.3.0342.

    Bogost, Ian. Alien Phenomenology, or, What It's Like to Be a Thing. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012.

    Long, Richard, and Clarrie Wallis. Richard Long: Heaven and Earth. Tate Publishing, 2009.

    ____________ and Paul Moorhouse. Richard Long: a Moving World. Tate St Ives, 2002.

    Moeglin-Delcroix, Anne. Ambulo Ergo Sum. Nature as Experience in Artists Books / Lexpérience De La Nature Dans Le Livre Dartiste. Köln: Buchhandlung Walther König, 2015.

    Wilson, Andrew, et al. Hamish Fulton - Walking Journey: Exhibition: Tate Britain, London, 14 March - 4 June 2002: Catalogue. Tate, 2002.


    Levi Sherman is an interdisciplinary artist and designer in Columbia, Missouri.



  • 15 Nov 2019 12:00 AM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)

    I concluded my last post by quoting Ulises Carrión, a concrete poet and book artist. Carrión is perhaps best known for the manifesto The New Art of Making Books, which he wrote in Spanish in 1975.  Because at least two serviceable translations into English already exist [1], my own recent translation of The New Art of Making Books was not prompted by any pressing need for a new one. Rather, I simply wanted to experience this seminal manifesto in its original language. 

    At the time I was translating The New Art of Making Books, I was also making a series of book-objects. As I worked on them, I often found myself mulling over the question Carrion poses at the beginning of his manifesto: “what is a book?” Some of Carrión’s answers in The New Art of Making Books seem intrinsic to the book as sculpture: “a book is a sequence of spaces,” “a volume in space,” and “an exploration of space.” However, for Carrión, sequence—rather than space—was at the heart of the book. He clarified that “I definitely exclude so-called 'object-books' since they seem to belong rather to the realm of sculpture. My emphasis lies on the notion of sequence and this doesn’t seem applicable to the 'object-book.' [2]

    Caption: The Book As a Volume in Space? Installation of soft sculptures in UIowa Main Library. 

    This is why using the book as sculpture to interpret Carrión’s ideas about space and volume isn’t particularly faithful to his ideas. As seen in the photo above, it may be a fairly reductive interpretation of his vision for books: volumes of book-shaped space are probably not what Carrion meant by “a book is a volume in space.” Yet the more I read of Carrión, the more I’m persuaded that he is right: that his definition of the book, as both space and sequence, may be the most adequate one that we have. 

    That’s why I don’t describe the sculptures I’ve made in response to The New Art of Making Books as ‘expanding’ the idea of the book. They may, however, expand the idea of bookbinding

    In mulling over bookbinding in the expanded field, I have ultimately found myself back where I began: but not as a translator--this time, as an author. I am currently re-writing The New Art of Making Books, in collaboration with the translator and poet Andrea Bel.Arruti. As Ulises Carrión himself proclaimed, “plagiarism is the point of departure for creative activity in the new art.” By inverting all of  Carrión’s claims, we’re generating a new manifesto, The Old Art of Making Books

    “Books, contrary to popular opinion, are not for reading. They are for making. 

    Making books is a sequence of processes, unfolding into space, whose making happens in time. 

    The making is a space-time sequence.” 

    Caption: The Old Art of Making Books, a printable zine

    A sequence of links: 

    The New Art of Making Books: A New Translation (with Annotations) by India Johnson

    The Old Art of Making Books by Andrea Bel.Arruti and India Johnson (voluntary collaborators) and Ulises Carrión (involuntary collaborator)

    A printable zine of portions of The New Art of Making Books: A New Translation and The Old Art of Making Books 

    Notable publications of The New Art of Making Books

    Letterpress printed by Imprenta Rescate 

    With a commentary by Robert Bringhurst

    With excellent translation and commentary by Heriberto Yépez

    With design by Santiago da Silva 

    The coveted Taller Ditoria editions of Carrión  

    To listen to a recording of Ulises Carrión’s poetry on vinyl: 

    The Poet’s Tongue 


    Notes: 

    [1] The two translations I have into English are in Artists’ Books: A Critical Anthology and Sourcebook, edited by Joan Lyons, and Quant aux livres: On Books, edited by Juan J. Agius.   

    [2] Ulises Carrión, “Bookworks Revisited,” in Quant aux livres: On Books, ed. Juan J. Agius (Geneva: Éditions Héros-Limite, 1997), 166.  

    [3] Ulises Carrión, “On Criticism,” in Quant aux livres: On Books, ed. Juan J. Agius (Geneva: Éditions Héros-Limite, 1997), 178. 

    Any other quotes come from my own translation of The New Art of Making Books, based on the text co-published by Tumbona Editions and the Mexican Ministry of Art and Culture in 2016.


    India Johnson (@indi.gram): I am a Book Art MFA candidate at the University of Iowa. My training also includes bench work in book conservation, and bookbinding school at the LLOTJA. I make artists’ books and book objects; I also do translation or lexicography projects about bookbinding. 

    Andrea Bel.Arruti (@belarruti): I am a poet, translator, and editor. I also make letterpress-printed artist’s books, which are about language in an expansive sense. My practice investigates how the handmade artists’ book might dialog with sound art and digital media. I’m also the co-founder and editor-in-chief of El Círculo Cuadrado (@el_circulocuadrado), an independent publisher of artist’s books in Oaxaca, Mexico.  








  • 01 Nov 2019 12:00 AM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)

    Writing in The Century of Artists’ Books about the codex, Johanna Drucker claims that the most successful artists’ books with codex structures synthesize form and content into a unified whole. They “account for the interrelations of conceptual and formal elements, thematic and material concerns.” [1] Drucker’s approach in Century remains a valuable way of conceptualizing the artist’s book. For example, Susan Viguers reports that she was struck by the continued relevance of Drucker’s approach while curating a survey of artist bookwork whose purpose was “that of defining the artist book.” 

    Let’s call Drucker’s approach, which defines the artist’s book as the kind of book whose elements cohere into a unified whole, the nominal definition of the artist’s book. For, as Drucker elaborates in her discussion of the codex, “it is important to begin with the obvious but profound realization that a book should be thought of as a whole. A book is an entity, to be reckoned with in its entirety.” [2]

    But is the book best understood as whole? Are artists’ books best conceptualized as total works? In contrast to Drucker, the poet and printer Alan Loney suggests a different way to conceptualize the codex. He claims that while the codex may combine a written text and a physical volume, ‘the book’ does not emerge due to their integration. Rather, the book results from the inherent tension between text and volume: a tension which codex structures foreground, according to Loney. He ponders: “The book as the excess of text, text’s supplement ... ‘the book itself as expressive means.’ The book is more than, extra to, the text. It has a history as bodily existence and function that is not that of the text ... but reading a book is excess to the volume. Volume and [written] composition are therefore in excess of each other ... Reading a book and reading a text is an example of indeterminacy. We cannot do both at once. There is instead a sort of shuttling back & forth, however rapid, between the two.” [3]

    To define the book as the tension between the composition and the volume, as Loney proposes, does not center the book as a specific kind of object. It centers the reader’s experience of the object. Loney’s writing about the codex suggests a verbal definition of the book⁠—one which defines the book in terms of the experience of reading. Yet a book cannot be read all at once, as the body’s sensory apparatus can only focus on one element of the book at a time. This means the body of the reader may work against, rather than facilitate, the experience of an artist’s book as a total work.  

    Although he is not writing about the artist’s book specifically, Loney’s ideas about reading resemble those of Ulises Carrión, whose definitional arguments about the artist’s book also focus on reading (although Carrión preferred the term bookwork): “What our definition has failed to take into account is the reading, the actual experience of the bookwork by a viewer. Bookworks must create specific conditions for reading. There must be a coherence between the possible, potential messages of the work (what our fathers called “content”), its visible appearance (our fathers’ “form”), and the manner of reading that these two elements impose, or suggest, or tolerate. This element I call “rhythm.” [4]

    In fact, Carrión was so focused on the experience of reading that he goes so far as to trumpet, in The New Art of Making Books, that “reading itself is proof of the reader’s understanding.” [5] It may seem either outrageous, or obvious, to claim that to read is to understand. But if the artist’s book is best understood not as a noun, but as a verb, Carrión was right to center the reader. 

    Notes

    [1] Johanna Drucker, The Century of Artists’ Books (New York: Granary Books, 1995), 122.

    [2] Ibid.

    [3] Alan Loney, "What Book Does My Library Make?" In Threads Talks Series, eds. Steven Clay and Kyle Schlesinger, 3-17 (New York City: Granary Books and Cuneiform Press, 2016), 13-15.

    [4] Ulises Carrión, “Bookworks Revisited,” in Quant aux livres: On Books, ed. Juan J. Agius (Geneva: Éditions Héros-Limite, 1997), 163.  

    [5] This comes from my own translation of The New Art of Making Books, based on the text co-published by Tumbona Editions and the Mexican Ministry of Art and Culture in 2016:  https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ahIxtopMmTdZY_MeyYnSuAdPaxKWWZ6L2ChSMoskQ3w/edit?usp=sharing

     

    India Johnson: I am a Book Art MFA candidate at the University of Iowa. My training also includes bench work in book conservation and bookbinding school at the LLOTJA. I make artists’ books and book objects; I also do translation or lexicography projects about bookbinding. 






  • 15 Oct 2019 12:00 AM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)

    First, a confession. 

    In my last post I referred to the castillo/corrales Paraguay Press series The Social Life of the Book (SLOB) with having only once glimpsing an issue belonging to a friend, while staying in her apartment, across the country from mine. Years ago.

    After my last post I ordered the complete set of eight issues from the After 8 Books (Paris) online shop. The package just arrived. To my surprise, there is very little on what I had imagined as the social life of the book. The exception is James Hoff’s essay about, among other things, the role of personal anecdotes and “a social working process” in making books. Otherwise, the series description printed on the back of each issue accurately characterizes it as “original texts by writers, artists, publishers, designers, booksellers, etc. – reflecting on reading, designing, publishing, and distributing books, today.” By its very existence the series creates a social life of the book in the form of a conversation from one issue to the next, and each issue and its reader, and certainly the editorial process that led to the creation of the series in the first place. I very much enjoyed it, but it was not what I was expecting.

    So what was I expecting? 

    What did I imagine would constitute “the social life of the book?” 

    1. The scenario described in the first paragraph above. The book learned about, accidentally, from a friend. The book as part of sociability.
    2. The loaned book. 
    3. The borrowed book.
    4. The recommended book.
    5. The book as gift: to give or receive a book.
    6. Reading aloud, one person to another; one person to a group. Multiple people reading aloud, as a group.
    7. The book group: reading the same book together, discussing it.
    8. The growth in social awareness that comes from reading novels that explore character interiority.
    9. The assigned book / the textbook / the reader, read and discussed in common for a specific purpose.
    10. The reserved book / the desk copy.
    11. The life of a library book, one volume circulating within a place-based community.
    12. The book as hub, as agreement, as rule book, willingly entered into as contract: the Cub Scout Handbook, the Dungeon Master’s Guide.
    13. The book as agreement not completely freely chosen: an employee handbook, a directory of “must/should” and “do not.”
    14. A violated diary: the reading of a private book.
    15. The book read at night that keeps your partner awake because you are reading it: the begrudged book. 
    16. The book as signifier: representing something other than itself, a way of a tribe recognizing its members.
    17. The book launch, the book signing: social events around the book.
    18. The book fair, the art book fair in particular, often organized by other independent artists and art publishers for other artists and art publishers, rather than by institutions or organizations. The New England Art Book Fair (Portland, ME) and the Northampton Print & Book Fair (MA) are both this way, organized by artists and held at artist-run spaces operated by artists other than the fair organizers. 
    19. Book trades at art book fairs: perpetuating the relationship beyond the fair, as the received book serves as a stand-in for the person who made it.
    20. The postal trading networks of zine culture: reciprocal exchange, circulating books instead of money, creating relationships instead of transactions. 
    21. Collating parties, binding parties, socially producing books together in one place.
    22. All those book-generated friendships that come from being around other book people.

    I see I was imagining the social life of the book to be the bonds, engagements, relationships created between people, because of books. And clearly this list is only a beginning, an incomplete inventory of the social life of the book. Reader, what would you add to it? Please comment! The blog is free to be actively social in a different way than the book. 


    A letterpress printed card by the Virginia Center for the Book, Charlottesville, where I wrote this post. My visit was thanks to Professor Dean Dass, University of Virginia: another enactment of the social life of the book. Thank you, Dean.


    Emily Larned has been publishing since 1993, when as a teenager she made her first zine. She is co-founder of Impractical Labor in Service of the Speculative Arts (ILSSA), a union for reflective creative practice, and founder of Alder & Frankia, an imprint of collaborations and feminist anthologies and reissues. She is currently Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at the University of Connecticut, Storrs.


  • 01 Oct 2019 12:00 AM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)

    It is autumn: Art Book Fair season. 

    Last weekend was the New York Art Book Fair (NYABF); reportedly 40,000 visitors attended in 2018. The Tehran Art Book Fair is happening right now, in Iran, as I type this. This coming Sunday is the Northampton, MA Print & Book Fair. The following weekend is the New England Art Book Fair in Portland, ME; simultaneously there are art book fairs in Montréal, Vienna, Sheffield (UK), and Nampa (Idaho). Detroit, Vancouver, Manchester (UK), Antwerp, Toronto, and Setouchi (Japan) all are hosting Art Book Fairs in October. There are at least 15 more Art Book Fairs happening in November, including fairs in Italy, the Netherlands, France, Argentina, Ireland, and Lithuania. And Leah Mackin’s Internet Art Book Fair is always online.

    All of these Art Book Fairs have emerged in the 21st century; many in the past decade, most in the past five years; some are new this year. In fact the “Art Book Fair” named as such is I believe a 21st century invention, coined by Printed Matter’s inaugural New York Art Book Fair in fall 2005. (The New York Art Book Fair was preceded by fine press / book arts fairs such as the Oak Knoll Fair (DE) and the Pyramid Atlantic Book Arts Fair (MD), and numerous Antiquarian / Rare Book Fairs. But the “Art Book Fair” which gathers together zinesters, multi-disciplinary artists, activists, students, book artists, photographers, graphic designers, small press publishers, rare book dealers, collectives, contemporary art galleries, risograph printers, organizations, etc., anis especially popular among young people, appears to be a Twenty-First Century phenomenon: a post-internet turn to publishing as artistic practice.)

    While the Art Book fair may be new, the “Book Fair” famously dates back to the earliest days of incunabula. The Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany, first held in 1454, is assumed to be the oldest continually operating book fair. Prior to the first Frankfurt Buchmesse, the city was already well-known for its brisk trade in manuscripts. (The Frankfurt Book Fair, by the way, is also held in October.)

    I have never been to the Frankfurt Buchmesse. But have you been to the NYABF? It is nuts. Immersive and enormous, being among books among people being among books. Surveying a table with a glance; picking books up, paging through, intermittent reading, fluttering pages; conversing with other publishers; meeting book lovers, artists, collectors, booksellers, librarians, curators, distributors, old friends; being crushed by crowds; waiting in lines; the exhausting heat. Tabling at the NYABF is a very particular expression of the book as a hub of social activity — morphing into a blur of thousands of micro-interactions with hundreds of people, many of whom are bookmakers themselves — demonstrating yet again how the book is deeply socially charged, and always has been. So I’ve been thinking about how the act of tabling at a book fair, of presenting your work to members of a book-buying public, and explaining your ideas over and over again, is itself a type of publishing: or shall we call it public-ing? 

    Publish : make generally known, make available

    Publicus (Latin) > Publicare (make public) > puplier (Old French) / public (English) / publish

    From Oxford

    Tabling at a book fair is “making [your work] available” through individual interactions one person after another.  It is a series of potentially intimate, confessional encounters in a very public space, not unlike reading an anthology of autobiographical essays on a subway. Publishing as an artistic practice is not just the making of a book as an art object, but considering every stage of its creation from inception to amplification and distribution, considering as integral to the whole the systems that sustain the book. Tabling is just one method of distribution, of inserting one’s work into an enormously elaborate network. But tabling and fair-attending is a very particular manifestation of the social life of the book that warrants much closer attention than I am able to give it here, as I am out of time. I need to print for the Art Book Fair happening this Sunday.


    Works alluded to:

    Stencil.wiki/fairs 

    Publishing as Artistic Practice, Annette Gilbert, ed.

    The Social Life of the Book (SLOB) was a series of commissioned essays published in pamphlet form by castillo/corrales (2007-2015), Paris.

    Some Forms of Availability, Simon Cutts.


    Emily Larned has been publishing since 1993, when she made her first zine as a teenager. She is co-founder of Impractical Labor in Service of the Speculative Arts (ILSSA), a union for reflective creative practice. She is currently Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at the University of Connecticut, Storrs.


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