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15 Feb 2023 12:00 AM • Susan Viguers

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.

To contribute to the list of underrepresented voices in the book arts, see CBAA Book Art + Social Justice Resource List.

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  • 01 Oct 2023 12:00 AM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)

    Here’s a note from my planner: Three two-sided press sheets (each three-color) equals 18 print runs over six days. With an April 8th print deadline, plates should be made by March 15th, films must be printed by March 10th, and files completed by March 5th. Final deadline for imagery: February 28th.

    Spontaneity is not a hallmark of book arts. Although I’ve never met a book artist who likes rulers, it’s imperative to calculate borders, plan impositions, and set timelines. There is a range, of course—as a UArts student working with visiting artist Sarah Matthews and master printer Amanda D’Amico in the Borowsky Center, my cohort was able to complete an entire book in one day, a strong contrast to the often months or years-long process of development. But even Sarah Matthews’s quick collaborative book required a set of decisions about edition size and layout and preparations like pre-carved stamps to set the stage.

    Even so, the necessity of structure does not make book arts rigid. For book arts, planning and improvisation are dance partners. I see three significant opportunities for creativity and playfulness in the book arts process: learning, iteration, and moments of action.

    Book arts is a field of continuous education as a result of its breadth of mediums. As an acolyte of books, you never finish studying niche or historical structures, trying unusual print methods, or testing new paper fibers. I’ve observed that the practice of collecting techniques is a great source of inspiration and challenge: “What narrative suits this structure? What happens if I fold this way?” I believe this is why the book arts field has such a robust workshop circuit: learning is the flashpoint that sets long-term structured projects in motion. For me, trying a simple pants fold led to a book formed entirely from one shaped sheet of handmade paper. 

    Bryn Ziegler, Return, Recall, 2022, handmade paper, 6 in x 6 in x .5 in,, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

    For my colleague, Grace Johnson, mastering the drum leaf inspired a laminated board book that exploits the binding’s ability to open entirely flat. 

    Grace Johnson, Constructure, 2022, offset lithography, 4.5 in x 9.25 in x 0.5 in, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

    Mock-ups, the practice of testing book format through one-off iterations, are a natural continuation of learning exploration. Mock-ups are an opportunity to work directly without consequences. They’re also where book artists first make their ideas physical, exercise unconventional thought, and frequently innovate on the book format. Mock-ups are the strongest illustration of direct play in bookmaking and a significant point of intersection between creativity and planning. Erica Honson’s book If Shoeprints In Concrete are Urban Fossils is an excellent example— you can see their creative process in the shift from the first model, a fantastical amalgam of folding structures and fluctuating page sizes, to the second, a more measured object acting as a tool to work out the concrete (pardon the pun) aspects of the book. The finished piece, made from shaped sheets of handmade paper and letterpress printed, required enormous forethought and precision. But, like many artist books, it started with iterative, freeform exploration. 

    Erica Honson, If Shoeprints in Concrete are Urban Fossils, 2021, handmade paper and letterpress techniques, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

    Finally, we have moments of action. After extensive preparation, it’s time to print and bind. And therefore time to trust yourself to make the right moment-by-moment creative decisions for your project. No matter how calibrated the plan, there is always an unpredictable element: the artist…and sometimes studio humidity, press temperament, or any number of factors. Whether by re-mixing an ink, shifting an image two picas, or ordering a custom stamp to disguise a missing page number (not that I’m speaking from experience), the lengthy planning process culminates in an exhilarating spate of creative problem-solving.

    I often speculate about what unites us as printers and bookbinders. To print, you must cultivate the ability to think in reverse, not only by reversing your imagery but also by starting from the intangible end result and working backwards. Who does that appeal to? My theory is that the greatest creativity is inspired by imposing structure. Limitations encourage inventive solutions, prompting artists to push the boundaries of their ingenuity. It’s hard to think outside the box without knowing where the borders are. As book artists, it’s essential to consider how the inherent structure of book arts is a draw for the field. It isn’t a foil to the playful aspects of the process; it’s a prompt for them.

    Bryn Ziegler is a Philadelphia-based artist and educator specializing in intricate narrative books. She holds an MFA in Book Arts and Printmaking from University of the Arts. Bryn’s artistic practice embraces both contemporary digital techniques and profoundly traditional craft, giving her a dynamic perspective on the development of books today.

  • 15 Sep 2023 12:00 AM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)

    In 2021 I authored Photobooks &: a critical companion to the contemporary medium (Onomatopee). It is a publication that set out to connect the newly consecrated photobook to contemporary cultural situations, historical photographic relationships with the page, and the logistics of making public. Ultimately the book asked whether celebration of the photobook and its production were solidifying its status as an art object or creating an insular environment of little relevance for audiences to which both the book and photography have much to contribute.

    This tension is likely familiar for readers of the Book Art Theory Blog. The photobook has gone through a similar turn of legitimisation as the artist book, now recognised by individuals and institutions as a medium of considerable import rather than an adjunct or curiosity. Such acceptance brings notable benefits in the form of institutional support, scholarly activity, and market prices but with it the possibility for a clouding of specific publishing purposes. In excitement over the rich variety of publications emerging today and the communities that bring them to life, we should be mindful that photobooks are not only representations of the medium but are texts in the world. The vitality of the photobook should not be confused with, or transferred to, the vitality of an individual work. 

       What does this *book seek to do in the world?

       Who would enjoy seeing this *book?

       Who needs to see this *book? 

       (excerpts from A series of prompts)

    If we wish to position the medium as one that can ‘catalyse real change’ [1] and make our world ‘visible, understandable and alterable’ [2], a focus must now be brought to the making public of publishing. This most essential component of book-based practices is frequently overlooked in favour of the apparently more exciting creative aspects of concept, design, and production. It is an occurrence exacerbated when we see that contemporary photobook makers primarily produce works for other photographers and book makers. As photographer Laia Abril concisely puts it: 'the public is us' [3]. In this environment, collective values in production and shared reference points as well as common spaces of photographic encounter construct a safe harbour. 

       How does the *book fit into a larger plan of publishing?

       Does the *book act as a beginning, way-marker or end-point?

       What knowledge does the *book rely on?

       (excerpts from A series of prompts)

    Engaging with readers beyond an established and expectant audience for whom the book is a reference point – rather than an object of challenge or change – is not easy. It involves a rethinking not only of production choices but also the language we use in books, their price, distribution requirements, non-purchase accessibility, and republishing possibilities. To complicate matters, strategies must be custom-fit in recognition that just as each book 'has a specific flavour', so too that flavour should be 'accompanied by different ways of helping it to be out in the world' [4]. It is work not yet rewarded by peers or institutional accolades, but it is work I have sought to encourage in a series of questions to makers, readers, and all those involved in the ecology of the photobook that I posed in Photobooks &

    In an effort to nudge discourse towards situations of reading over production I used these questions at a number of workshops and lectures in the UK, but still their reach was limited. And so, A series of prompts is an attempt to amplify and activate anew. Its form is easy to distribute by pixels or post and its simplicity more inviting than the weight and formality of Photobooks & to many. Returning to an idea not fully realised has also provided an opportunity to energise content with other audiences in mind than those I considered two years prior. I have adopted ‘*book’ in place of ‘photobook’ in response to conversations with readers and the progress of my thinking that has led me to consider the need for more reader- and audience-centred approaches in fields other than the photobook alone. For while there are more examples of works and discussions that overtly include the reader under the broader terms of poetry, art publishing, and the artist book, tensions between the author(s) vision and audience are constant and universal.

    A series of prompts is available in its second riso print run for free by contacting the author and is also able to be downloaded as a DIY layered pdf for riso printing via the link here

    The front and back of A series of prompts.

    [1] Cataldo, Antonio. ‘Foreword’. In Photography Bound: Reimagining Photobooks and Self-Publishing, ed. Antonio Cataldo and Adrià Julià, 6–12. (Milan: Silvana editoriale, 2023), 10.  

    [2] Gilberger, Ruth. ‘Together We Are More’. In The Photobook in Art and Society: Participative Potentials of a Medium, 27–30. (Berlin: Jovis and The PhotoBook Museum, 2020), 32.

    [3] Abril, L., Ramon Pez, and G Golpe. ‘Let’s Kill the Ego’. In The Book: On Endless Possibilities: Independent Publishing Fair, Barcelona 2015, ed. Natasha Christia, 24–31. (Barcelona: The Folio Club, 2015), 28.

    [4] Reader, Manuel. ‘On Distribution’. In Books Is Books: A Statement of Intent from Minimum Efficiency Press, ed. Andrew John Beltran and Margherita Huntley. Minimum Efficiency Press, 2023.

    Matt Johnston is a visual practitioner, educator and researcher at Coventry University, where he is Assistant Professor in photography. For the last decade, his research and visual practice have been concerned with the post-millennium situation of the contemporary photobook and how it may become better equipped to engage new readerships.

  • 01 Sep 2023 12:00 AM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)

    In July of 2023, Levi Sherman and David Solo sat down over Zoom to talk about some of their goals and issues they’ve encountered in running platforms for artist book criticism and reviews. This is Part 2 of that conversation. Read Part 1 here.

    Book Art Review online contents for issues 1 and 2.

    What observations about the nature of artist books arise from running these platforms? 

    LS: In the 1960s and ‘70s, people like Dick Higgins and Ulises Carrión saw artist books as a vehicle for revitalizing literature (and art). Now the field has matured to the point that an artist can set out to make an artist book, to contribute to this tradition without challenging or galvanizing literature or art more broadly. Good or bad, this seems like a fundamental difference. It brings us back to the issue of artist intent. 

    With the maturity of the field, two conflicting tenets have emerged. On one hand, “production, not reproduction” means the critic should consider every aspect of how a book was made. Artists often facilitate this with extensive paratext. On the other hand, there is a belief that the artist book itself should tell the reader how it should be read. If the work succeeds, readers will handle an unfamiliar structure or read through challenging content. I don’t think these are mutually exclusive, and critics can evaluate how artists navigate the tension. For example, if a book is destined for an institutional collection, the artist can rely on more paratext than an activist anonymously distributing pamphlets.

    BAR Issue 2 article on Something Else Press.

    DS: Another facet of books going into institutional (or private) collections is the potential for those books to disappear and complicate the desire to view and study them. A related challenge working with institutions involves balancing their mission to preserve/conserve books and the desire for visitors to experience the book as it was intended and handle it. While setting up reading rooms or events for live engagement with books can be great for expanding visibility, many organizations are reluctant or not able to do so unless they have “disposable” duplicate copies. 

    LS: Many libraries do a great job selecting and showing books, but how much time is spent really reading? Imagine taking a film class where you only watched the trailers, or fast-forwarded every film? That seems analogous to a lot of institutional artist book encounters. I’d like to see more artist books on coffee tables and nightstands, and for artists to consider how the reading environment informs pace and duration.

    DS: Digitization (including page-turning videos/applications) can provide some help (within the restrictions of copyright and subject to makers’ preferences). A lot of work has been done to make both contemporary and historic photobooks viewable online which seems to affect the way they’re written about. Critics, publishers and artists have all contributed to this which perhaps also reflects the photobook as a major means of getting the photographer’s work seen.  The large number of prizes and the huge number of annual “top 10” lists for photobooks also contribute to the greater visibility of such works.  It’s also interesting to think about how that might translate to the wider artists’ book world. 

    LS: For artist books, digitization is stymied by two factors. First, book artists are more invested in materiality and hapticality than many photographers, so digital surrogates don’t seem adequate (although I personally think the benefits outweigh the shortcomings). Second, collection managers are very wary of copyright. So much of the art librarianship literature about artist books is about copyright, but I rarely hear book artists worry about a collection photographing their work. Digital access seems especially important since the artist book field doesn’t have many awards and prizes or other platforms. More prizes and events might be good, but a silver lining is that the pace of criticism can be slower and less oriented toward marketing.

    One side of the printable mini-zine version of a review from Artists’ Book Reviews (ABR). Each review is limited to five photographs to respect copyright and fit various formats, from full-length print and online reviews to abbreviated Instagram versions.

    How does criticism relate to the idea of a canon?

    DS: I’m less interested in revisiting the canon or creating multiple canons than in expanding the discussion of books that are interesting (in a variety of ways and to different audiences). It’s OK if these are mostly individual opinions (as are prizes). We want to recognize that and promote more discussion of what someone thinks is a great book and why — especially for overlooked or underrepresented areas. Shining a light on overlooked histories of the artist book (or photobook) is rewarding as we’ve also been working to do with 10×10 photobooks. It’s more about exposing those works rather than trying to then interpolate them into a new “top 100”. More useful is “Here’s a lot of great books that most of you have never seen.” Anointing a list as “the right answer” feels dangerous for any list.

    LS: I don’t think criticism should try to build or revise a canon, but if we ignore whatever artist book canon already exists, we may use it unwittingly as a benchmark. We should examine how our values reflect works that have been institutionalized and consider what those values exclude. 

    As an art historian, I am interested in (re)inserting artist books into mainstream art history. That doesn’t mean adding books to the art historical canon, though — in fact, artist books might be a good vehicle for deconstructing the boundaries between center and periphery. Through my own research into artist book historiography, I’ve learned how contingent the canon is (except, of course, the influences of structural racism, and sexism, etc., which are sadly predictable). Other research, including Megan N. Liberty’s institutional history reveals how the field has formed. I’m not sure whether criticism can contribute to this, but knowing the history will help critics avoid pitfalls.

    Levi is the founder and editor of Artists’ Book Reviews (, a website for reviews and interviews. David is a co-founder and co-editor of Book Art Review (BAR), a criticism initiative founded at Center for Book Arts in 2020 by Megan N. Liberty, Corina Reynolds, and David Solo. BAR is both a print and online (at ) publication.

  • 15 Aug 2023 12:00 AM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)

    In July of 2023, Levi Sherman and David Solo sat down over Zoom to talk about some of their goals and issues they’ve encountered in running platforms for artist book criticism and reviews.

    Levi is the founder and editor of Artists’ Book Reviews  (ABR) (, a website for reviews and interviews. David is a co-founder and co-editor of Book Art Review (BAR), a criticism initiative founded at Center for Book Arts in 2020 by Megan N. Liberty, Corina Reynolds, and David Solo. BAR is both a print and online (at ) publication.

    The first 2 issues of BAR were published in Spring 2022 and Spring 2023.

    What are ABR and BAR trying to achieve and for whom?

    DS: For BAR, the main goal has been to provide a platform for criticism and discourse about the artist book and that engages with the book as an object. Why and how does it work as a book as distinct from an exhibition on the wall or as a catalog of works? We don’t believe there is a right or wrong approach but rather that there are and should be a wide range of perspectives and the writing should express clear opinions supported by specific points. 

    LS: I try to write about things in a way that contributes to artist book discourse. Often the book does most of that work for me, but I might stretch more to write about a zine or pamphlet in a productive way for an artist book audience.

    DS: We’re looking to reach both the existing artist book audience and also to expand it.  One approach has been to look at how we can draw from the criticism of other artforms. Regardless of their background, people seem very comfortable criticizing a movie and the different components (script, casting, sound, etc.) that go into making a film. There can also be analogies with music criticism and the way an album is put together — looking at both sequencing and individual songs. It would be great to bring that same dynamic to artist books. It can be fun; it doesn’t always have to be serious. 

    LS: Film, music, and literature can all assume mass audiences. With a few exceptions, we can’t assume that another interested person has read a particular artist book or even has access to it. Exhibition reviews are a common solution for art writing in general, but exhibitions don’t offer a representative sample of the artist book field. I have noticed more platforms publishing artist profiles, interviews and collection spotlights, but these are not geared toward interpreting or evaluating art works. 

    DS: Regarding mass audiences, if you can’t assume that your reader will be able to access the book, how does it shape a review? For writers, editors, and people running platforms, what does it take to make a review meaningful in those circumstances? The selection of images to include (or links) becomes especially important in these cases and can influence what gets reviewed.

    LS: I review what I receive, so there is a feedback loop between my readers and the books I review. Interesting micro-trends emerge: a review of a Portuguese book elicits more submissions from Portugal, or a review of asemic poetry taps into that world. Now that ABR has a few other reviewers, they can pursue their areas of interest and expertise. As editor, I help them connect with the broader book art audience. 

    As the pandemic recedes, I have also been asking how criticism can build community. I recently used the ABRcollection for a few lectures and events, and it felt great to put people in direct contact with the books.

    Levi Sherman setting out books from the ABR collection for a show and tell event at the James Watrous Gallery in Madison, WI. Levi appeared with Kayla Bauer and Stephen Perkins to discuss collecting and curating in conjunction with Stephen’s exhibition, Stephen Perkins: Mining the Archive. 

    DS: BAR is also experimenting with various components and collaboration — through conferences, workshops, visits and working with organizations. That includes the collaborative production of Issue 2 with Appalachian State, launch parties, happy hours/salons, etc. We also hope such events will help attract writers as well as readers and those who want to participate in the conversation and build the community.

    We have found that finding and attracting writers interested in long form critical writing is a major challenge (not only for artist books, it seems) and so are working on partnerships, resources and other activities to help support aspiring writers from a range of backgrounds. 

    How does book art criticism intersect with book art theory? What questions should it ask and answer? What factors should it consider?

    DS: The “type” of artist book — and its context — can play a role in the way it’s reviewed. I might assess, and write about, a piece with a small budget intended as an experiment or immediate response to a current event differently from the way I would approach a deluxe livre d’artiste or book developed over many years. I’m not sure that counts as theory, but we wrestle with the question of how much we talk about context. Many artist books and zines are created to address social and political issues, whether rapidly or over a long period of time, so to what extent should the criticism consider the intent? Context feels even more important for historical works although the reviewer might have to speculate more about the context of a work produced 50 years ago. 

    LS: It makes sense to consider artists’ intent and their position within the overlapping practices that constitute the book art field. I take reception theory seriously (as do good artist books that leave room for interpretation), but artists today are highly professionalized and often explicitly articulate their goals. We can reject an artist’s claims, but they still offer useful context. 

    DS: A lot of the work I’m personally interested in is collaborative, especially between image-makers and writers, and I do find it interesting and helpful to understand how the collaboration worked, which might not be readily apparent. Drawing on paratextual material, which may be more process than intent, can also be useful. A review that draws on background information is fine, and so is one that says, “I picked up this book and here is my response.” A good editor should help the reviewer decide about including such information and what they can expect their audience to know and in ensuring the sources of such information are acknowledged. 

    LS: I want reviewers to consider what their readers might think, but I also want them to share how they personally responded to a work. I find myself deleting a lot of passive language, even from good writers. I started out trying to be comprehensive and objective, both of which are boring and impossible. 

    In some ways, ABRmight be art appreciation rather than criticism. That doesn’t mean I won’t mention an aspect of a book that falls short, but in general my goal is to help people understand and appreciate artist books. I find people rarely need help finding flaws or disliking things. 

    Mediocre books often fail in the same ways, so another format might be better than piling onto a single work in a review. 

    DS: One approach would be more of an essay looking at individual trends and evaluating and describing when it works and when it doesn’t with specific examples.

    LS: Perhaps a book that was bad in a unique or novel way could make for an interesting review. 

    BAR Issue 2 article on “The Economics of Publishing.”

    DS: Part of our larger objective is to foster wider accessibility for artist books and make the elements that go into a book more visible. That might involve discussing individual decisions — “did it need that insert?” or “perhaps it could have used one more edit” — in an otherwise positive review. Not that the decision is right or wrong, but making clear the reviewer’s reaction to the book and why. Sometimes these decisions are consequences of the tradeoffs that take place during the process of designing and publishing a book and in the most recent issue of BAR, we’ve also tried to shine more of a light on that, looking at the economic and other constraints associated with producing and distributing a book. This approach relates as well to our multiple audiences — both pointing readers to books that are interesting but also providing feedback to artists and publishers.


  • 01 Aug 2023 12:00 AM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)

    In 2022 we edited and published an anthology of conceptual artist books titled A Physical Book Which Compiles Conceptual Books by Various Artists. The books in the collection exist only as verbal descriptions, statements, or provocations. However, we found the Conceptual label too narrow for many of the books. Through the project, we learned the many ways and reasons that an artist book might go unrealized. The purpose of this blog post is to share some of those ways and reasons, and to consider what they tell us about the field of artist books.

    Faced with the challenge of categorizing the wildly diverse artist books we received, we organized our anthology according to Francis Bacon’s lofty system of human knowledge: Memory, Reason, Imagination. Recognizing such a system’s limitations, we added a fourth category: Touch. Any number of other organizational systems would have been possible (and many of the works fit just as un/comfortably into more than one category). Accordingly, this post will categorize books in yet another way, one that accounts for immaterialities beyond Conceptual art: conceptual, unrealized, implausible, impossible, and ekphrastic. From these, we can begin to learn what books can and can’t do, why books seem suited to certain topics, and what artists need for a sustainable practice.


    When Levi first envisioned the anthology, he pictured conceptual books in the vein of 1960s and ‘70s Conceptual art, and we did receive such books. Like many Fluxus publications, these conceptual books build a frame through which to view everyday experiences in a new light. An Index of Beginnings and Endings by Ellen Bruex makes this explicit: “Instructions: Move through your days with awareness of new beginnings and final endings.” Some instruction pieces lend themselves to execution, relying on chance to produce novel outcomes. Random Color Generated Instant Book by Esther K Smith & Susan Happersett exemplifies this approach with detailed, plainspoken instructions and everyday materials. Other instructions are more poignant as mental exercises. In this category, we would place Who Has Seen the Wind by Cathryn Miller of Byopia Press. One could feasibly print her ninety-nine sonograms of the wind, but it is Miller’s Duchampian declaration that these imagined prints are art, specifically asemic poems, that is so striking. Despite their variety, these works all share Conceptual art’s emphasis on the viewer/reader rather than the artist. They remind us that reading is a creative, constitutive act. 

    Ellen Bruex, “An Index of Beginnings and Endings,” page 1 of 2, in A Physical Book Which Compiles Conceptual Books by Various Artists, eds. Carley Gomez and Levi Sherman, 2022.


    Whereas Smith and Happersett’s conceptual book can be realized repeatedly according to chance operations, other books describe a more determined form. Perhaps the clearest example is Bruno Neiva’s Open your book!, which is bound on both sides and meant to be torn apart to relieve stress. A physical version of Open your book! was published by Team Trident Press a month after our anthology. 

    Other books say more by remaining unrealized. In Coma (deep sleep), Amandine Nabarra grapples with the difficulty of grieving her stepmother without saying goodbye due to COVID-19. Her frank description of guilt and pain alongside that of an unfinished collage is surely as poignant as the finished piece would have been. Linda Parr’s Circumnavigation outlines a book-in-progress meant for an exhibition celebrating Magellan’s quincentennial in 2020. The pressure to make art during an unprecedented pandemic seems perfectly captured by Parr’s reflections on Magellan, whose 1520 departure is celebrated but not his 1521 death or the 1522 return of his expedition under Juan Sebastián Elcano. Other unrealized books require elaborate installations or resources beyond most book artists, and still others — like Kristen Lyle’s Just a Phase — describe perfectly feasible projects where life has simply gotten in the way. 

    Amandine Nabarra, “Coma (deep sleep)” in A Physical Book.


    Without negating the real circumstances that result in unrealized books, whether structural or personal, we consider implausible books a separate category. These books are technically possible, but they place significance on mental processes — the reader’s imagination and the artist’s hypothetical thinking and mental problem solving. Nervous System by Andrew David King entails: a hidden bunker, a burlap sack of dirt, a single chair, a redacted facsimile of Edgar Kupfer-Koberwitz’s Dachau diaries, a cassette tape and player, and an iron supplement in a paper envelope. King’s piece is far more affecting than it seems from the description above, and perhaps the physical installation would be even more moving, but Nervous System seems written in lieu of that version, not as a practical plan. Not only is Nervous System more accessible in its verbal form, King has pruned and polished the writing as carefully as any poem. Contributions by James Spyker range in plausibility, from Clean After Reading, in which printed glycerin sheets are pressed into soap bars and then read as they are used, to Read it or else, which envisions a book as “voluntary ransomware” that must be painstakingly read to relinquish the reader’s computer. Implausible books make use of the book as a physical, time-based medium as well as its symbolic value.


    James Spyker, “Clean After Reading” in A Physical Book


    Impossible books also engage the book as a medium, but do so by pointing to its material and temporal limits. Nathanael Kooperkamp desires a sort of time travel in Future Memory Photo Album. Kyla Anne Spencer’s An accordion book (never ending) explicitly invokes infinity as does, effectively, VON WEIT HER(GEHOLT)’s imagined bestiary Life, Life-Size: Complete Collection. Numerous books connect the duration of books and lives. In Everything I never told you, Abigail Guidry imagines adding a signature to a codex on every birthday. Annelyse Gelman’s Tamagotchi-like PET requires care to remain readable. Even as such thought experiments challenge the limits of books, they also metaphorize the ways ordinary books and reading already transcend these limits. Narges Porandekhial’s Nothing and Everything and Nanette Wylde’s soul haiku both explore notion that no reader can encounter the same book twice.

    Nanette Wylde, “soul haiku” in A Physical Book. 

    Other impossible books are plausible books in impossible worlds. Genocide Incorporated by E.L. Gamble and The Book of Davron by ossa are both set in dystopian, sci-fi futures. Another form of speculation accounts for other impossible books, books which cannot even be described. Constanze Kreiser’s A Book on Jellyfish asks how a book might adequately capture the animal’s essence — not unlike Sydney Anne Smith’s make a book like a dog


    Ekphrastic books are a literary device to explore other subjects. Almost pataphorical, these books are fleshed just enough for the writer to move beyond them. In Ben the Hoose, Bea Drysdale makes a pamphlet while staying at her parents’ house, plumbing her grief and fear while her ailing father is quarantined in the hospital. In Maureen Alsop’s haunting prose poem Tally Ho Écriture Féminine Mechanique, the book is “the ash and the remaining cigar boxes,” “an interrupted line of thought.” Merridawn Duckler also explores relationships in Big Book of Nothing, which begins like a Conceptual instruction book, but in a long litany asks the reader to consider “someone you love who is indifferent, someone who loves you but is uneasy, someone with whom your love is reciprocal…” and so on. At first, the book seems absent altogether in Lily Oliver’s Appendage, though a footnote mentions reading. Conspicuously absent, the book has a way of claiming other objects, spaces, and stories — perhaps the crawl space is a book, and the camera with a single photo is almost certainly a book.

    Merridawn Duckler, “Big Book of Nothing,” page 1 of 2, in A Physical Book. 

    Thinking Books

    In 2015 Levi contributed a post to this blog titled “Book Thinking,” arguing that artist books offer critical and analytical tools for other disciplines. The artists above illustrate the potential of book thinking by thinking books. If book thinking is critical or analytical, thinking books is its creative counterpart. Just as these artists think books into existence, the reader can think them into new categories and make new discoveries about artist books as a medium and as a discipline. 

    Carley Gomez is an artist and writer in Madison, Wisconsin. Levi Sherman is a PhD student in Art History at the University of Wisconsin—Madison and the founder of Artists’ Book Reviews. Together they run Partial Press, publisher of A Physical Book Which Compiles Conceptual Books by Various Artists.

  • 15 Jul 2023 12:00 AM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)

    As I endeavor "to think what I am doing" (thank you Hannah Arendt). 

    6. In 2008 OEI published a special issue on the "aesthetics of editing”: “trying to reflect upon every possible aspect of the editorial work, from the commission of a text, or the appropriation of a selected document, to the editing of this text or document, the montage of texts and images, the choice of specific fonts or a certain paper, and the different degrees of collectivity involved in the work, in this specific space of tensions and unresolved questions that constitutes an editorial office.”[6] I consider how to make room for the “space of tensions and unresolved questions” in the task in front of me. Accepting that some questions are unanswerable.

    7. A quick google search for "aesthetics of editing" returns primarily film and video production, a smattering of literary editing. I find little exploration of this specific comprisal of activities that is artbookmaking, when one is both editor and designer (in addition to perhaps printer, binder, publisher, possibly many other roles . . .). Similarly, White's book Editing by Design presumes that the editor and the designer will be different people; the book's aim is to ease a collaborative process between different individuals and even different departments, not explore this singular yet multi-faceted process of being designer-editor / editor-designer[7]. I am pleased when google offers an article by Ramia Mazé entitled Bookmaking as Critical and Feminist Practice of Design, highly relevant to my interests, but it explores bookmaking as a team-based process, and not this more autonomous venture I face at my desk. While Codish and I are collaborating on this book, it is very different from what Mazé describes[8]. Codish shares remarkable material from her archives, lists of people to interview, and enormously helpful feedback, suggestions, and moral support. I couldn’t make this book without her. But our roles aren’t codified. She is not sitting here every day, driving the mouse, nor discussing the choice of this and not that.

    8. This and not that. How to visually represent an idea, or an emphatic point in the story? Grönberg has described her picture editing approach as “the visual material could make a proposal, or propose an argument, in a different way than a theoretical essay or another form of writing, but with the same intention to contribute to a way of conceptualizing an issue, a question, or a problem. Given of course, that the viewer/reader is willing to engage in looking at the images and reading the documents: to give them time.”[9] I consider this as I place scans of textual documents in the book file; how to encourage they are read rather than flipped past? When does it make sense to show the original document, and when does it make sense to typeset it anew? I had thought that my answer would be that when the form is important to the content, when it was carefully considered in the original, it should be scanned. Yet an ‘undesigned’ typewritten page has specificity and materiality. It is a loss of contextual, historic information to typeset it anew. On one hand: is all information equally important? Surely not? On the other: might my default be to show documents in their entirety, and only content that had no visual textual form (i.e., transcriptions from audio and video) be newly designed for the book?

    9. On Father's Day I visit my parents.  My mom is a quilter; both of my parents are avid gardeners. We play rummy. I realize that all these activities (quilting, gardening, rummy) are forms of editing: rearrangement of what is there, to achieve a desired outcome. Of course, in quilting, you seek out other fabrics to work with your stash; in gardening you identify what will function and flourish and accordingly transplant; in rummy, you draw cards to build your hand. In my work, as I cut out shapes and arrange the pieces and make relationships, I also identify absences, possibly needs. I wonder which might benefit from being left open as space.


    1.Jonas (J) Magnusson, “Editing OEI,”, accessed June 15, 2023.

    2.Jan V. White, Editing By Design (New York: R.R. Bowker Company, 1982).

    3.Ramia Mazé, Bookmaking as Critical and Feminist Practice of Design (Aalto University, Finland)., accessed June 17, 2023

    4.Cecilia Grönberg, “Image Editing OEI,”, accessed June 15, 2023


    Emily Larned has been publishing as an artistic practice since 1993. She is an Associate Professor of Graphic design at the University of Connecticut, Storrs. Emily is currently working on a book with feminist activist K.D. Codish, former director of the “non-traditional” New Haven Police Academy.

  • 01 Jul 2023 12:00 AM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)

    “What I propose, therefore, is very simple: it is nothing more than to think what we are doing.”—Hannah Arendt [1]

    1. I'm in an editorial-design phase of an archival-research-based book project that I began in 2020. That’s a lot of hyphens for one sentence. I will try again. I am adding pages to an InDesign file, cutting and pasting various text and images I’ve acquired over the past three years. I am resizing, rewriting, deleting, layering, interspersing, scaffolding, rearranging. On my desk I have a flexible outline of nested post-it notes that I refer to, remix, and add to. While I work, I've been reflecting upon this editorial process as one of the lesser discussed book arts. By “editorial process” I do not mean the mechanics of editing for grammar and clarity (although there is that too, I’m condensing many transcripts), but rather the larger editorial project of selecting, guiding, steering, (re)presenting. As Jan V. White writes in Editing by Design, the “Editors’ greater purpose is to organize the material in such a way that its significance shines out.... What matters is that some message, some point of view, be communicated to the viewer”[2]. 

    2. I am neither writing the text nor creating the images for this book I am “making.”

    So what am I doing?

    Pointing out

    Asking questions

















    Putting into relationship

    Cutting & pasting

    Moving things around



    Designing (is all the above comprised in this one verb?)

    3. As I compose this list, I think of Jenny Odell's Harvard Graduate School of Design 2020 commencement speech, published as the lovely slender volume Inhabiting the Negative Space. Odell offers that “the most substantive work you can do” as a designer is operate as an “orchestrator of attention,”[3] referencing Sarah Hendren's terrific 2016 Eyeo Festival presentation. In this talk, Hendren muses that synonyms for “designer” might also include “impresario” / “translator” / “curator” / “believer” / “amplifier”/ “archivist” / “conduit” / “midwife” / “radical generalist.” Hendren quotes George Saunders (also a favorite writer of mine), “When you tunnel deep into what you don’t know, sometimes that becomes your voice”[4]. Yes. All of this resonates deeply with my current activities. I am definitely tunneling into what I do not know. That is the main thing I am doing, in fact. Add it to the list in #2.

    Editorial Thinking, Image by OEI ( 

    4. Or, as Jonas (J) Magnusson and Cecilia Grönberg of the Swedish “extra-disciplinary” magazine OEI phrase it, “To edit is to work with what exists”[5]. In this particular kind of bookmaking, I am working with what exists to make what does not yet exist. 

    Founded in 1999, OEI has published 97 issues, which they describe as “experimental forms of thinking, montages of art, poetry, theory, visual culture, and documents; critical investigations, infrastructural poetics, localities, ecologies, new epistemologies, and counter-historiographies." 

    Last October at the Camden Art Centre in London, I had the pleasure of seeing Magnusson & Grönberg present about their editorial practice. While the OEI exhibition is a one-night pop-up, its installation is characteristically thoughtful. Individual issues, which appear not like magazines but rather as large, hefty softcover books, are dispersed among tables for perusal. A slideshow of images, including an intriguing diagram of “Editorial Thinking,” is projected on the wall. The sound of an operating printing press—an audio recording—fills the gallery.

    I extract small gems from their talk: 

    “Outsource as little as possible”

    “Proofreading is untheorized”

    "Prepress work = labor intensity + care + differentiation"

    Building an archive of an area — collaborating with experts about the area (scientists, historians, etc.)

    Fieldwork, editing, “radical publishing”

    Exhibitions, events, readings, are all seen as editorial events in 3 dimensions

    Micro-communities, localizing publishing (much of their work is in Swedish)

    “Giving a location a mirror of its history”

    “Cultural counter-history”


    “Very material work”

    You can only bind up to 6cm in Sweden!

    In answer to an audience member's question, “Why don’t you publish digitally?" Magnusson replies, “It wouldn’t be fun.” 

    5. I remind myself: what makes this type of bookmaking wholly engrossing is being wholly engaged in all the parts of making the book. It is very material work. It is multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary, extradisciplinary. And it is fun. Fun, I tell you! (Sometimes I need reminding).

    (To be continued July 15)



    1. Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1958), 5.

    2. Jan V. White, Editing By Design (New York: R.R. Bowker Company, 1982), 2.

    3. Jenny Odell, Inhabiting the Negative Space (Cambridge: Harvard University Graduate School of Design, and Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2021), 23.

    4. Sarah Hendren, Design for Know-Nothings, Dilettantes, and Melancholy Interlopers, Eyeo Festival 2016,, accessed June 19, 2023.  

    5. “Public Knowledge: OEI.” Camden Art Centre., accessed June 17, 2023 


    Emily Larned has been publishing as an artistic practice since 1993. She is an Associate Professor of Graphic Design at the University of Connecticut, Storrs. Emily is currently working on a book with feminist activist K.D. Codish, former director of the “non-traditional” New Haven Police Academy.

  • 15 Jun 2023 12:00 AM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)

    In The Century of Artist’s Books, Johanna Drucker describes a mode of self-reflexivity specific to the artist’s book as an auratic quality which returns the reader’s attention to the physical form of the book object. Where readers might usually enter a mental state in which the object disappears and the text exists purely as its meaningful information, an attention to the construction in this way creates an energizing space in which the material and the imaginal are not opposed to each other and, in fact, vibrate, spark, bounce off, and connect in multiplying, generative, and surprising ways. In considering the concept of an editor’s/maker’s intent, I find it more direct to think about my own approaches in crafting such an object. 

    In founding the small press Carrion Bloom Books in 2019, my partner Jace Brittain and I wanted to publish innovative writing which could burst from its codex container and realize the kind of energizing qualities Drucker describes. We were aware of some remarkable writing (and had a sense that there must be much more) that wasn’t being published, and we thought that the form of artist’s books might help such works take a shape which would realize the thorny, grotesque, sparking potentials that made those texts innovative and challenging in the first place. Beyond showing or containing a text, we wanted to find forms which could shape and be shaped by their content. 

    Our edition of Hannah V. Warren’s Southern Gothic Corpse Machine, like many of our publications so far uses an exposed longstitch binding. Warren’s chapbook is constructed of three signatures of 16 pages (4 folded sheets) each. Three signatures being slender for the longstitch, a form whose visible threads already seem to provoke a desire for carefulness and preservation, there is a preciousness to these objects which is productively challenged by Warren’s perverse and visionary poetry. During its production, I made decisions about the makeup of a book already tuned in its text toward filamentous algae, roadkilled armadillos, and moldering monstrosity. Choices about paper, thread, and design which echoed and answered the book’s radical qualities: collisions of disintegration, vibrancy, vitality, atrophy, preciousness and perversion. A reader, approaching the form with apparently fragile intent, in this case is turning the first pages of Warren’s text in exactly the right mood.  

    During the production of each of the books Carrion Bloom has published, we’ve committed to adding at least one physical element which is totally new to us as bookmakers. With leia penina wilson’s call the necromancer, we experimented with allowing the lead type to leave a deep impression which we later rubbed with white charcoal. The result evokes something spectacular, confounding, and elusive in wilson’s work, an unstable sigil and not-quite frottage which rubs off a little on its reader. Our chalky fingerprints appear literally on many of those covers, and these marks appeal to us as visible evidence of an object which felt closely collaborative. And, the visibility of this process models formal self-reflexivity.

    In the case of our newest book, dossier for the postverbal/ by Carleen Tibbetts, we used a fading split fountain print on the cover in an attempt to capture some aspect of Tibbetts’ cosmic grappling with concepts of ephemeral data and deceptive language. Tibbetts’ poem describes “a darkable network ruined in such intervals,” spaces where language won’t cohere in symbol and images disintegrate, and we thought that such transcendent and extravagant writing deserved a form that might offer continuing collaborative engagement with those ideas.  

    I believe that readers respond deeply and meaningfully to such engagement. And there are many projects forthcoming from a diversity of exciting presses that advance new ways to read across translation, challenge conceptions of the page, and give complex attention to structural form. I continue to feel profoundly emboldened and energized by the books and projects being produced by Ugly Duckling Presse, Inside the Castle,, and so many more. These ecstatic book objects range widely from pamphlets to perfect bound volumes to digital artifacts, and it’s truly inspiring to be working and creating as a part of this community.

    Rachel Zavecz is a book artist and writer living in Salt Lake City. She co-edits the small press Carrion Bloom Books with fellow writer Jace Brittain. She received her MFA in Poetry from the University of Notre Dame, and is a PhD candidate in Fiction at the University of Utah.

    Post moderated by Emily Tipps.

  • 01 Jun 2023 12:00 AM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)

    I recently attended an event in the community room of a new urban apartment building. The room featured sleek contemporary furniture and was decorated in soothing, muted colors (think sage, pumpkin, sand). Various items adorned pale wood shelving and end tables: minimalist vases, useless wicker spheres, and monochrome stacks of books. In the context of this innocuous, semi-public space, the books were decidedly not a library intended for use, but rather a design decision. 

    As a reader, writer, and book maker, I’m interested in public and private symbology, use, and perception of physical books, so I forayed into the internet wormhole of book-based design. I found my way quickly (via home goods giant Wayfair) to Booth and Williams, whose catch phrase is “design by the book.” Online, Booth’s customers can search for “ColorStaks” and “BookWalls.” Books are grouped for sale according to the hues of their covers or wrapped individually in colored paper to suit designers’ palettes. 

    Selections from Booth and Williams’s Color by the Foot offerings

    One description reads, “Take your design to a new level with the Modern Beach Book Wall . . . Seventy-five authentic modern hardback books in crisp shades of off-white. All books are published 1980-present and include a variety of literary works, period novels and topical texts with light overall wear. Books total approximately 7.5 linear feet. . . . Actual titles will vary from those pictured but will remain the same color pattern. Book titles could be repeated after three linear feet.”

    Sample context for Booth and Williams’s Modern Beach Book Wall

    In the above description, reference to content is cursory and general, couched among physical descriptors. But Booth and Williams does offer a few themed sets; customers can purchase a “Vintage Curated British Library” or “Mini Christmas in July Book Set.” But no one is expected to read these books. Rather, the themed sets emit a slightly more genred ambient aesthetic (cozy study or seasonal spirit, maybe) by virtue of their general subject matter and appearance. These options are just different shades of the iconography of the book.

    Booth and Williams’s Vintage Curated British Library

    So why use books for interior design? A book is an important cultural signifier that conveys a message without the need for anyone to open it and read. First, the book signifies literacy—and tangentially knowledge, education, intelligence, and even wisdom. The book also implies privilege; book owners must have the wealth to purchase them, the space to store them, and the leisure time to read them. While these assumptions may not be strictly true in 2023, they are contained in the legacy of meaning physical books carry. Perhaps also the totemic presence of books offers relief from increasingly digital lives.

    Books embody many of the material qualities interior designers exploit like texture, color, and shape. Their modularity opens them to multitudes of arrangement. Composed of organic materials like cloth, paper, and leather, books can lend warmth and comfort to a space. With all these factors combined, it is not difficult to see how books occupy this niche. 

    I’m unsettled by these books chosen only for their covers. Their raison d'être feels tenuous. What happens when crisp shades of off-white go out of style? Yet the unread shelf of books is nothing new (War and Peace, Moby Dick). My personal bookshelves house plenty of books I haven’t gotten to yet, and I do enjoy the atmosphere they create in my space simply by existing. So what’s the difference? My unread books are hopeful; I aim one day to read them. The titles reflect my past experiences, enduring interests, and future ideals. They are recommendations from friends and mentors and have come to the sanctuary of my collection one-by-one. Read and unread, they are also the chaotic and contradictory amalgam of all their contents. 

    The commercialization of curated book sets for interior design raises a bevy of question that are worth asking in the age of books’ changing position and which I’ve barely touched on here. Next time you see a color-coordinated stack of random books in a waiting room or real estate open house, you might ask: Where do these books come from? Who is putting these sets together and wrapping them in paper? Who is buying them and where are they displayed? What are the historical precursors to this practice? Are we printing too many books? How do these displays stack up (pun intended) against those repurposed for art, or used for insulation, or ground into cat litter? And what else are we doing with books, aside from reading them?


    Emily Tipps is Associate Librarian, Instructor, and Program Manager at the University of Utah’s Book Arts Program, and the owner/operator of High5 Press.


  • 15 May 2023 12:00 AM | Virginia Green (Administrator)

    Recién estuve en CDMX. Mientras ahí pude ver varias cosas que he anhelado ver por mucho tiempo, incluso el Azteca/Mexica Piedra del sol y la Coatlicue monumental, Cabezas colosales Olmecas, el Castillo de Chapultepec, y murales de los tres grandes del muralismo mexicano, Orozco, Siquieros, y Rivera, el campus de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), y el Ballet Folklórico de México en el Palacio de Bellas Artes. Fue impresionante ver y considerar toda la historia posible que comparten y contienen estos restos y espectáculos en esta ciudad que presenta una cultura cosmopolita y tan universal como única. 

    Hay una frase en un libro religioso que leí que dijo que todo lo que estaba escrito en tal libro representaba solo una pequeña medida de todo el conocimiento concerniente a ellos, para que sus descendientes sepan algo que tiene que ver con sus antepasados. De todo lo que sabemos del pasado, ni una centésima parte entendemos de todo lo que ocurrió en culturas y pueblos anteriores. Así es como me sentí al contemplar lo que sabemos y no sabemos de la historia de México que está escrito, y ausente, de sus libros. 

    Poster for Trayectorias paralelas / Parallel trajectories. Artist's books and artisan and independent publishers at the National Library of Mexico. The exhibition is open to the public from February 24 to May 26, 2023.[1] 

    Mientras ahí, como detallé en la entrada del blog anterior, pude visitar una exhibición de libros de arte en la biblioteca nacional en el campus de UNAM. Luego presenté una lista de editoriales que encontré ahí. Para continuar, quisiera hablar de algunos detalles que pude encontrar en esta exhibición. 

    Una cosa interesante que surge de hablar del género de libro de arte en castellano/español es que el término artist book tiene dos equivalentes en castellano, el uno libro de arte y el otro libro de artista. En castellano no hay necesidad de debate sobre dónde poner el apostrofe en su ortografía porque la pregunta no se trata de quien hizo el libro, sino de cantidad y género en la gramática castellana/española. 

    Octavio Paz. Marcel Duchamp O El Castillo de la Pureza (Marcel Duchamp Or The Castle of Purity). 1968. 

    Unas obras sorprendentes que incluyeron en la exhibición fueron: Un libro del autor mexicano Octavio Paz (1914 – 1998) que se trata de la obra de Marcel Duchamp (1887 - 1968) de 1968. Estoy esperando poder acceder a una copia para aprender más de ella. 

    Octavio Paz y Vicente Rojo. Discos Visuales (Visual Discs). 1968. 

    Vicente Serrano y Vicente Rojo. Prosa del Popocatépetl (Popocatépetl Prose) 2003. 

    Otras sorpresas fueron dos libros creados por colaboración entre el pintor español-mexicano Vicente Rojo (1932 – 2021) con Octavio Paz de 1968 y con el poeta mexicano Vicente Serrano (n. 1949) de 2003. 

    Por supuesto, con tan solo estar ahí un puñado de días no pude profundizar mucho en el asunto de la historia de estas obras. Eso entendido, quisiera relatar algunas cosas que me resultaron fascinantes de esta exhibición.


    Las obras de esta exhibición incluyen un amplio rango de fechas, desde 1792 hasta 2023, con la mayoría creada desde 2016, la mayoría de las cuales eran de 2022. Por si acaso Uds. no supieran, la primera imprenta europeo en las américas estuvo fundada en la Ciudad de México en 1539. También, hay una historia aún más larga antes de eso, que incluye la creación conocida, y desconocida, de códices creados por las culturas anteriores al encuentro europeo con las culturas de México y la América Central. Esta larga historia de la elaboración de libros en las Américas representa una necesidad paralela al desarrollo histórico de la información portátil por todo el mundo. 


    A pesar de que la exhibición está en la capital nacional de México, hay obras de todo el país y hasta de artistas de libro de otros países, como Venezuela, quienes ya viven en México. 

    Cuestiones estéticas

    En los textos presentados en los 4 afiches grandes en las paredes de la exhibición los organizadores de esta muestra hablan de los libros de artista como “extensión … de la memoria.” Hablan de cómo el libro, por medio del arte nuevo de hacer libros, ahora incluye “experimentar con otras estructuras que producen distintas modalidades de lectura: cajas, biombos, pop-ups, carruseles.” Incluso habla del uso de “diversas prácticas artísticas, como la pintura, el grabado, la fotografía, la escultura” y de “alejarse de las lógicas de producción y distribución comerciales, con lo que se abre nuevos caminos.” También habla de “editoriales artesanales e independientes” y la gran “variedad de formas, materiales, formatos y estructuras que el objeto libro ha tenido tanto en el presente como a lo largo de su historia.” Esta exhibición presenta “ejemplares históricos” y “el resto de la historia del libro” [2] en diálogo paralelo. Estas cuestiones clásicas de la producción y teoría de los libros de arte son de gran importancia no solo en México sino por todo el mundo. Todavía tenemos que reconocer que la producción del libro de artista y su interpretación y reinterpretación es una práctica tan universal como la de leer, desear saber y aprender. No hay fronteras ni límites en tal búsqueda. 


    Giovine, et al. “Presentación (Presentation).” afiche de la exposición Trayectorias Paralelas, 2023. 

    Giovine, et al. “Editoriales artesanales e independientes (Artisan and Independent Publishers).” afiche de la exposición Trayectorias Paralelas, 2023. 

    Giovine, et al. “Libros de artista del MUAC (Artist Books at the University Museum of Contemporary Art).” afiche de la exposición Trayectorias Paralelas, 2023. 

    Giovine, et al. “Horizontes infinitos para la creatividad (Infinite Horizons of Creativity).” afiche de la exposición Trayectorias Paralelas, 2023.

    Recently I was in Mexico City. While I was there, I saw many things that I had desired to see for a long time, including the Aztec Sun Stone and the Monumental Cuatlicue, Olmec monumental heads, the Chapultepec Castle, murals done by the three great Mexican muralists, Orozco, Siquieros, y Rivera, the campus of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), and the Mexican Folk Ballet in the Palace of Fine Arts. It was impressive to see and contemplate all the history shared and embodied by these artifacts, art works, and spectacles contained in this cosmopolitan cultural center that is as universal as it is unique. 

    There is a phrase in a religious book that I read that says that everything that was written in that book represents only a small measure of all the knowledge concerning the culture that made the book, so that their descendants would know something that has to do with their ancestors. Of all that is known of the past, we cannot understand even a hundredth part of everything that happened among any previous culture and its people. That is how I felt contemplating what we know and don’t know about the history of Mexico that is both contained, and absent, from its books. 

    While I was there, as I described in the previous blog post, I was able to visit an artist book exhibit at the national library on the campus of UNAM. I then included a list of publishers that I found there. To continue, I would like to talk about some details that stood out to me from that exhibition. 

    One interesting thing that arises from talking about the artist book genre in Spanish is that the term artist book has a primary equivalent in Spanish, libro de artista (artist book). In Spanish there is no need for a debate about where to put an apostrophe in spelling the term because the question is not one about who made the book, but about quantity and gender in Spanish grammar. 

    Some surprising works that were included in this exhibition were: A book by the Mexican author Octavio Paz (1914 - 1998) that is about the work of Marcel Duchamp (1887 - 1968) from 1968. I am currently waiting to get access to a copy to learn more about it. 

    Some other surprises were two books created in collaboration by the Spanish-Mexican painter Vicente Rojo (1932 - 2021) with Octavio Paz from 1968 and another work by Rojo with the Mexican poet Vicente Serrano (b. 1949) from 2003. 

    Of course, because I was only there a handful of days I did not have time for any deep research into the history of these works. That said, I would like to share some other things that I found fascinating about this exhibition.


    The works in this exhibition include a broad range of dates, from 1792 until 2023, with the majority of them created since 2016, the majority of which were from 2022. Just in case you did not know, the first European printing press in the Americas was established in Mexico City in 1539. There is also an even longer history before that, that includes the creation of known, and unknown, codices created by the pre-contact cultures of Mexico and Central America. This long history of book creation in the Americas presents a parallel historic need for the development of portable information all over the globe. 


    Despite the fact that the exhibition is in the national capital of Mexico, there are works from all over the country and even book artists from other countries, like Venezuela, who now live in Mexico. 

    Aesthetic Questions

    In the texts presented on the 4 large posters on the walls of the exhibition, the organizers of the show talk about artist books as an “extension … of memory.” They talk about how the book, through the new art of making books, now includes “experimenting with other structures that produce different reading modalities: boxes, screens, pop-ups, carousels.” They even talk about the use of “various artistic practices, such as painting, engraving, photography, sculpture” and “Moving away from the logic of commercial production and distribution, thus opening up new paths.” They also address “artisanal and independent publishers” and the great “variety of shapes, materials, formats, and structures that the book object has had both in the present and throughout its history.” This exhibition presents “historical works” and “the rest of the history of the book” [2] as parallel dialogues. These classic questions of the production and theory of artist books are of great importance, not only in Mexico but throughout the world. We still have to recognize that the creation of the artist book and its interpretation, and reinterpretation, is as universal a practice as reading, seeking knowledge, and learning. There are no borders or limits in such a quest. 


    Obras citadas/Works cited:

    [1] Exposición: “Trayectorias paralelas. Libros de artista y de editoriales artesanales e independientes en la Biblioteca Nacional de México.”Accessed May 9, 2023.

    [2] Giovine, María Andrea, Alejandra Hurtado, Cuauhtémoc Padilla, Martha Romero, y Laura Elisa Viscaíno. “Presentacion.” afiche de la exposición Trayectorias paralelas. Libros de artista y de editoriales artesanales e independientes en la Biblioteca Nacional de México, 2023. 

    Peter Tanner is an Associate Instructor in Spanish at the University of Utah and Editor of Openings: Studies in Book Art. He has a Ph.D. in Latin American literature, an MA in Latin American Art History, and a BFA in Painting and Printmaking. His research focuses on artist books from Latin America. 

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