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


I believe that it is critical for artists to continually interrogate and develop the conventions and assumptions of their medium or field, and/or how art exists in the world as a whole. This includes the conventions of the art/objects themselves, but also the conventions of how we approach our activity in the studio. So while these posts about the “emergent book” deal with technical specifics of how books get made, at the same time they also talk about the frames, conventions, and assumptions around what happens in the studio, how processes are structured, how tools are used, etc. For me, the dis-location/articulation of conventions comes through working with the material.


The emergent book is not the same thing as the collaborative/assemblage book, though it does have similarities. By assemblage books I mean the type of book that is put together from many different sources and/or artists, and that may involve elements of chance in its composition—Dieter Roth’s various books made of found newspapers, etc. are one example. In assemblage books there is something really exciting about the variety and differences articulated from page to page. But those books also usually fail to cohere in a meaningful way. Ideally the emergent book would balance the thrill of chance with thoughtful editing and revision, the kind of re-ordering that sutures a film or novel together as a time-based experience for the reader/viewer. Not strictly narrative, but a unit of coherent and felt time. 


Something to read, something that makes reading visible. Dis-location/articulation.


The binding of these “emergent books” immediately presents a technical problem. How to deal with imposition and sequence? How can you add or delete pages? A drum-leaf binding, which uses a single, joined spread as its base unit, seems like an obvious choice. It would be simple to remove or rearrange spreads as necessary. But I probably won’t use it, because I want the recto/verso and the density of a multi-signature book. I am also intrigued by the constraint of having to work ahead and behind at the same time. So for my hypothetical book: short signatures, 2 – 3 folios each, either a coptic stitch or a sewn-boards binding. Flexibility and constraint. I will probably need to figure out a workable way to split and join pages into new folios, and it has to be a process that is both efficient and that achieves a durable result. The thought of having to do something like that across an entire edition makes me want to abandon this whole idea. But that is normal.


The technical: the imposition of pages in most bindings seems to demand that the artist plans ahead, and thus it makes perfect sense to resolve the book in a mock-up form that includes the binding and imposition, and then to go about making the book. The conclusion that then becomes the frame: production separated from generation. Traditional printmaking has a similar frame—you proof until you get the print where you want it, then execute to make a perfect edition. The larger frame of both is a warning: DO NOT FAIL. 


I often go back to the essay “Artists’ Books: Production, Production, Production,” by Emily McVarish [1] because it provides a detailed narrative of how a book emerges: not an idea that seems complete and is then executed, but as a series of steps developing from a braid of process, past work, new attentions, and practice, practice, practice. The essay describes the making of the book Flicker,and what McVarish details is in many ways an ideal that I aspire to: the text is thoughtfully composed, emerging from a committed practice of writing, and the same can be said for the visual and physical book. All of the components inform each other through a series of connected loops. But the process is definitely not this “emergent book”—McVarish is still planning and then executing. So if what she describes is an ideal, yet I still (partially) reject it, then I have to keep interrogating myself: what is the desire to attempt this unplanned book? A weird laziness about mock-ups? About craft? A legitimate push into the unknown? A desire to fail? I think—I tell myself in this moment—that it is a desire to be in time in a different way, to pull that time of production into the time of generation, and in that process let go of control.


But also to exert a different kind of control, later. Or to always be in that noise state of no control/control.


[1] Emily McVarish, “Artists’ Books: Production, Production, Production,” Mimeo Mimeo 2 (Autumn 2008): 2 – 11.

Aaron Cohick is the Printer of The Press at Colorado College and the proprietor of the NewLights Press. He lives and works in Colorado Springs, CO.

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