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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 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.


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

    At the time of this posting, I am in the process of overseeing and mounting an exhibition opening September 30 in Philadelphia’s majestic and rather cavernous City Hall, for the Philadelphia Center for the Book, with essential contribution, of course, from the other board members of PCB [1]. This exhibition, displaying work by 56 members of PCB, is titled Variations on the Artist Book. The proposal sent to the office that administers Art in City Hall had an educational focus, that of defining the artist book for people who are familiar with books, but have no concept of an artist book. Personal experience lies behind that idea, one I believe shared by many who will read this post: when I identify myself to people as a book artist, they invariably have absolutely no idea what I am talking about. (The most common assumption they make is that I am an illustrator.) The exhibition space is a hall near the mayor’s office, so most of the audience will be people passing through for purposes other than looking at art. The pieces to be exhibited are the result of a call, resulting in 150 submissions, and what we are focusing on thus is dependent on what happened to come to us. The works are displayed in five large locked cases (72”h x 94”w x 30”d).  The text in the books can be pointed to, looked at, but rarely absorbed. And the issue of narrative or, more broadly, sequence as relates to image as well as text — central to my interest in the artist book — must, necessarily, be ignored.

    Nonetheless, the exhibition attempts to present the complex amalgam of image making, structure, text, and materials that go into an artist book. The idea was that each exhibition case would focus on a particular aspect of the artist book. That goal immediately offered problems. As a result of the submissions we received and in the service of exposing people to art that is centered in some way on the book, the exhibition that has emerged broadens the idea of the artist book. That said, I was struck by the extent to which the pieces reflected one of Johanna Drucker’s central dictums in defining such books, one that resonates with me: that there is a “dialogue” among the work’s “elements,” that the book is not a container but a medium. [2] 

    One complication, of course, is working out five different focuses, one for each case. I gave up the idea of their being neatly parallel. The pieces inevitably fit under more than one idea; some could go as well into any of the groupings. Short texts in each case will point to what the viewer is invited to focus on. Cases 4 and 5 will also have brief descriptions of the various processes mentioned (e.g., letterpress, linoleum cut, screen printing, etc.). 

    This is what I have come up with:

    Case 1: The focus is on bindings and kinds of structures, e.g., concertina, codex, pop-up, flag, flexagon, tunnel book, boxes. 


    Dee Collins  Sunset                                                             Madelyn Garrett  Sekhmet’s Casket

    Case 2: The focus is on sculptural pieces and/or structures that have metaphoric or symbolic connotations, e.g., a piano hinge to mimic a compact, a clock case as the container/cover, a structure that evokes nesting, cranes as origami pages (the last two referring to the books imaged below).

    Paulette Rosen  Nesting Boxes                                           Eriko Takahashi  Peace Crane (03.11.2011)

    Case 3: Here the focus is on text and image. The case includes wordless books, books in which the text exists primarily or totally as image, in which texts insists on being read as well as being seen, in which imagery is the context for the text, and so forth.


    Roberta Lavadour  Relative Memory IV                   Sara Moose-Torres  Changeling

    Case 4: The focus is on the process of making. This covers printmaking and other processes, including papermaking, eco printing (see the left image below), pulp painting, letterpress, drawing, non-silver photography. But it also includes process separate from specific media: the process of creating an altered book, or (see the right image below) a process that entails cutting lines from letters written by the artist’s mother, collaging them onto panels, then painting and binding them into a book that can be displayed in various ways. 


    Mary Elizabeth Nelson  Mirror Image                   Karen Viola  Just a Few Lines 

    Case 5. The focus here is on materials, the materials used in processes, e.g., linoleum, type, and plates, and also materials present in the final work, e.g. acrylic, graphite, handmade paper, found objects, plexiglass, stamps, organic material. Below, on the left, the pages are cheese; on the right, the embroidered thread that forms the text is the artist’s hair.


    Ben Denzer  20 Slices                                                                     Sun Young Kang  Hair (머리카락)

    I realize, with regret, that the text that introduces the viewer to the focus of each case will rarely be read. The visual is much more important and I am interested in seeing what visually emerges when the works are mounted. My hope is that the selection for each case will direct the viewer to the idea(s) behind it. Perhaps an exhibition which, rather than having a pre-determined focus, is based on an open call and mounted in an unfamiliar display space for an unfamiliar audience will actually result in some discoveries. 

    [1] Kara Petraglia (president), Amanda D’Amico, Karen Lightner, Alina Josan, and Marianne Dages.

    [2] See, among other places: Johanna Drucker, “Critical Issues / Exemplary Works,” The Bonefolder: an e-journal for the bookbinder and book artist,” vol. 1, no. 2 (Spring 2005): 4.


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

    Anyone who has spent time in a letterpress shop can attest to the introspective pull such a space can wield. The shop is a place where time easily blurs, where microcosmic tasks seam together into an intense but sustainable concentration. As with any meditative practice, there can of course be days of frustration, of extreme dissonance between the printer and the equipment, of never being able to shut off the mind’s chatter, of incessant bodily fumbles. But if it is one of those golden days of printing, enough goes right that you can fall into the dance of it—the act and art of creating a print quieting all else. 

    In the Harry Smith Print Shop at Naropa University, I regularly witness a pedagogical enactment of this dance. Naropa is a Buddhist-inspired school whose curriculum is rooted in incorporating contemplative practices and insights within classroom content. The goal is to provide students with a depth of wisdom and transpersonal growth in addition to an academic education. Contemplative credit hours are required for all students via classes on traditional Eastern arts, including meditation, yoga, contemplative poetics, qi gong, and ikebana. Having students already attuned to contemplative approaches helps heighten the experiential thoughtfulness that seems to naturally arise in print shop settings.

    Regardless of the students’ skill levels, it is fascinating to track the moment when a specific, calm focus overtakes the shop. The initial lack of confidence—usually manifested as asking questions before each movement they dare to make—eventually softens into something less anxious. It is not that the students suddenly know what they are doing. Rather, a hinge occurs where you can witness them yielding to the learning process. The voices in the room fall silent, replaced by the sounds of careful fingers placing type into a composing stick. Questions transform from preemptive and cautionary to retrospective. Even if still relatively novice printers, a sense of self-trust and self-confidence begins to take shape in the students. There is a palpable movement from words as they are spoken (floating, invisible, impossible to capture) to words as they exist concretely (physical things that can literally be grasped between their fingers). Even a noticeable shift in breath may happen. The bodies occupying this shared space fall into a rhythm of breathing not dissimilar to the pranayama limb of yoga. It is a breath of intention, of attention, and it quite often arrives inadvertently, organic but simultaneous among the students. Not that our shop becomes monastic per say; we are still proponents of the power that loud music and unabashed humor have in the realm of creation. But there is a quietude that manifests surprisingly, considering we are in a room filled with loud, heavy, mechanical objects.   

    Admittedly, there are some variables at work that create an atmosphere ripe for these kinds of reactions. As I previously mentioned, these are students already used to contemplative modalities and pedagogy in the classroom. Additionally, most of them are studying writing within the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, meaning there is a predisposition to considering and working with language in experimental or theoretical ways. However, I do not think any of what I’ve witnessed in my students is unique to Naropa. Many physical actions, including athletics, performing arts, and manual tasks, can be catalysts for enhanced or deepened mental concentration. I imagine printers from across history and cultures would identify with the phenomena I describe here—just using a different vocabulary for it.     

    Within the context of Naropa, I have long been a champion for letterpress classes counting toward contemplative credit requirements. I frequently joke that the shop is a place of embodied poetics within the Kerouac School, as on any given day there is a collection of writers building, shaping, holding language. There is also a deeper intellectual experience accessed by transcending through the (sometimes quite repetitive) physical actions of printing, and because of this, I consider the print shop to be one of the best editorial tools a writer can have. The focus, consideration, and sheer amount of time given to hand-setting a piece will do wonders for truly understanding potency and economy of language. Every punctuation choice must be intentional and important, a deliberate act of dropping the comma or em dash into the stick. When page layout becomes a somatic endeavor, as when locking up a forme in the press, the abstract notion of the page as a field for composition evolves into a tangible concept. The act of printing is a meditation on both the materiality and the meaning of content. It is an evolving practice of sitting in these spaces alongside the words being conjured. 

    I sometimes wonder what it would look like to bring attention to the contemplative nature of letterpress to the forefront. If we printers approached our art as a consciously meditative act, how would that affect the ideas of what letterpress printing communicates to the world? Would our relationship to our materials and equipment shift in any way? Or would it be a case of retroactive language, of a vernacular at last available to what and who we’ve always been—heads down, eyes sharp, carefully feeding a sheet of paper toward the possibilities contained within its blankness?


    Jade Lascelles (she/her/hers) is a poet, editor, and letterpress printer who harbors dreams of someday being a rock n’ roll drummer. Her work has been featured in numerous journals and the anthologies Precipice: Writing at the Edge and Women of Resistance: Poems for a New Feminism. In addition to an editorial career, she manages the Harry Smith Print Shop at Naropa University.



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