COMPULSORY END-OF-YEAR NAVEL-GAZING // Andrea Kohashi

15 Dec 2017 12:00 AM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)

As the end of the calendar year quickly approaches, I have been participating in some self-reflection: It has been approximately two and a half years since I completed my thesis project for my MFA in Book Arts. I have not, during that time, completed any unfinished editions or endeavored on new book art projects. I have, on the other hand, created 4’ by 6’ screen prints, taken on some job printing, and constructed a couple of sculptural costumes out of milkshake straws, fabric, and foil. Recently, knee deep in straws and silver lamé, I began to question if I could still consider myself a book artist, why (or if) I was avoiding creating book art, and if it was important to continue to self-identify as a book artist or as an artist who works in book form.


Even considering the many ways “book art” can be defined, I can still say with certainty I have not made any book art in the past few years. In my day job as a librarian, I work with a collection of over 4,000 book art objects. Daily, I witness the breadth and range of contemporary book art and it’s hard not to compare my own identity, practice, and production to those whose work surrounds me. My book artist identity questioning has led me in multiple directions and I’ve consequently had conversations with many peers about the obstacles and opportunities faced in building a book artist identity. I present the questions below as common threads pulled from hours of discussion and introspection - they are expansive and meant to provoke. I imagine many book artists have considered these questions, and I’m eager to hear the opinions and thoughts of the CBAA (and beyond) community.

Are tools, equipment, and technical processes integral to the conceptual basis for your work? What happens when the tools and equipment you consider integral to your work are no longer readily available?

How have you sought and found community for book arts in your current life? Additionally, how do you seek feedback and critique on in-progress work and ideas?

How is the field of book art perceived by artists in other fields and institutions? Have you seen this perception shift over time?

How does gender identity affect your experience of the field and yourself as a book artist?

If you spent time in a formal program studying book art, what, if any, were the ways you prepared for life as a book artist after graduation?


Andrea Kohashi is a [book?] artist and librarian residing in Richmond, Virginia. She is the Teaching and Learning Librarian at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Special Collections and Archives. Kohashi received her MFA in Book Arts and MA in Library and Information Science from the University of Iowa.


Comments

  • 18 Dec 2017 11:48 AM | Richard Minsky
    Good questions.

    Q1. Tools, equipment, and technical processes are integral to the conceptual basis for my work, which integrates traditional methodologies with new technologies and materials. If the tools and equipment I need are not "readily available" I do one of three things:
    a. make, borrow or buy the tools/eqpt.;
    b. go where the tools/eqpt. are, either a book art center, private studio, or an institution that has the stuff;
    c. come up with a different process that will serve the work effectively.

    Q2. There was no community for book art(s) in 1974, so I created the Center for Book Arts. For 30 years I had a storefront studio and got feedback on in-process work from whomever walked in the door. Now, in an isolated rural town, I mostly get comments through facebook and Instagram.

    Q3 is somewhat Heisenbergian, in that seeking the answer may affect the outcome. I self-identify as a book artist, so must interpret the perception of how artists in other fields view this one, and then distinguish between a possible shift in the other artist(s)' perception(s) and my own shift in perception of someone else’s' viewpoint. Does someone in another field of art answer differently if they know they are talking to a book artist? Does asking a question change their perception of the field? Does it depend on the phrasing of the query? Is the general lack of book art criticism an indicator? That said, in the last 40 years “book art” has been widely integrated into the art curriculum, museum exhibitions, and gallery shows, and book art exhibitions are reviewed beside other artforms. https://brooklynrail.org/2017/12/artseen/The-Internal-Machine
    Q4. Gender identity hasn't affected my work, or myself as a book artist, except to the extent that mine has been fluid, which occasionally provided me with material for books and performance works. More broadly, my experience of the field is that gender identity among book artists includes every permutation on the spectrum, and that there is welcoming of all within the book art community. Does the nature of book art as a multidisciplined communication field with literary, visual and craft components attract more non-cis people than other fields?

    Q5. I didn't have a formal program--that wasn’t an option 50 years ago-- but still had to figure out how to survive as a book artist. After college I opened a storefront letterpress printshop and bookbindery in Queens. There was no field of "book art." I went door-to-door to art galleries in NYC for two years, about 400 doors, selling my book art out of a suitcase. Mostly I got blank looks. But in 1974 that resulted in an exhibition at the Zabriskie Gallery on 57th Street. That gave me enough art world credibility to start the CBA, build a community, and help establish a field.
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  • 23 Jan 2018 7:05 PM | Anneka Baird
    I spent a year between finishing my undergraduate degree and starting my MFA, and in that time I did not make anything that could properly bear up to the term "art." I could blame the lack of equipment and tools, but if I'm honest I think that was the least of the elements at work. The first issue, I think, was one of discipline: if I wanted to make something, I needed to make it, tools or no. That problem-solving in itself can be incredibly fertile ground, and perhaps a worthwhile exercise for someone whose practice is married to equipment and tools.
    Incidentally, though, I found that time spent outside of my artistic practice was actually really positive. It gave me an entirely new perspective on what I made (and wanted to make) and why. My answer to finding the discipline to return to my practice was graduate school, but with a year in the outside world under my belt I do find myself thinking about what I will be able to take with me-- searching out the skills, knowledge and resolve I will need to maintain a practice outside of the incubation chamber that is the University of Iowa Center for the Book.
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    • 06 Feb 2018 7:03 AM | Andrea Kohashi
      Hi Anneka,

      I agree problem solving can be incredibly fertile ground - interestingly I've been problem solving ways to build furniture (not printing furniture) and other elements of my life, just not book arts in particular. Perhaps this is indicative of a personal shift in practice or expression of practice, or even, desire to practice. I'm also curious to hear more about how you view discipline. I've never been someone with a need to make - I love to make, I want to make, but I never feel I need to make.

      It's interesting to hear your perspective on taking a year off between undergraduate and graduate school. I spent four years between the two, but I didn't study art in undergrad, so I wouldn't say had an "art practice" to begin with so this is the first time I've thought of myself as having an established practice (or merely a desire to produce work in a certain way with certain tools/equipment...?).

      Being in a graduate program for Book Arts was a magical time for me - beyond the tools and equipment, the people and community I found was most important and meaningful. Of the things that I haven't been able to quite figure out, maintaining a sense of community in book arts has not been one of them. It's sometimes difficult to critique projects via group video and texting, but it can be done!
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  • 31 Jan 2018 3:33 PM | Cat L.
    Recently, I was assigned to read “Gathering and Tracking” from Kyna Leski’s “The Storm of Creativity” which made me think of the “non-book arts” activities I engage in as a type of gathering and the book as the eventual frame.

    I came to book arts through printmaking and installation in an undergraduate program that was not fully equipped for book arts. Thus, my process back then for creating books was printing what I could and then folding or cutting them up. I also felt like I had to defend the book form because most of my peers and instructors were from different artistic disciplines. They often believed that the book was too restricted by craftsmanship and burdened by the familiarity of the form. Now that I’m in a specialized program for my MFA, the book form feels like a given and I feel a shift in my relationship with it because I’m not also forced to question why I like the format.
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