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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.

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

    The organization Ladies of Letterpress has the tongue in cheek tagline, “dedicated to the proposition that a woman’s place is in the print shop.” My involvement in the book arts community has given me the impression (no pun intended) that letterpress is indeed a woman-dominated area. I’ve decided to see if the numbers confirm that perception, and compare the number of artists’ books letterpress and offset printed by gender. My preliminary research at University of Missouri’s library does show that letterpress is more common in artists’ books by women than men. I will discuss those results and methods in greater detail in my next blog post, but the basic approach is simple – counting artists’ books in collections, dealer/retailer websites and reviews, and noting the gender of the artist and the book’s print production method. I also hope you will help me with this research, which I’ll address at the end of this post. First, a few questions.

    Why does this matter?

    Gendered presumptions could limit women’s access to, or interest in, offset printing, causing artists to miss out on large press runs, low unit cost, and photographic reproduction. After all, the Ladies of Letterpress tagline was aimed at very real and recent pushback that women artists faced in this field. Additionally, if qualities of letterpress, for example, are theorized reductively in gendered terms, we run the risk of missing those qualities in other processes or failing to notice other qualities and potentialities in letterpress. These concerns also affect the reception (criticism, scholarship, collecting, etc.) of both processes. Gender-biased reception comes, sadly, as no surprise, but a more subtle concern brings me to my next question.

    Why am I writing about this on the Book Art Theory Blog?

    I believe gendered theorizing of print production may lead critics and scholars to attribute aesthetic considerations to aspects of an artist’s book that are the result of pragmatic, economic factors. Take, for example, the association between letterpress and the oft-spoken phrase “the materiality of language.” Presumably the handling of type, the physical formation of words, make letterpress the perfect tool for exploring this concept. But the materiality of language has as much to do with the fact that written language has a visual form; that it is always also a picture. This important idea can be explored as readily through offset as letterpress, so might the appeal of letterpress lay outside aesthetics?

    No doubt any medium or process will have unique features, or a combination of features, but I hope the brief example above shows the value of considering what else may be at play (and at stake). Access to studios and residencies, publishers, training, mentorship and, of course, money all play a role. These elements of production may be especially relevant to letterpress and offset, which have made their way to book arts from the male-dominated commercial printing industry. Museums, galleries, dealers, retailers, collectors, critics and scholars also bring with them gender disparities that I believe must be examined along with purely aesthetic interpretations of an artist’s work. Other studies have examined gender in print production more broadly (like the 2013 APA “State of Letterpress Questionnaire,” created by Kseniya Thomas), and I believe an examination of letterpress and offset within artists’ books specifically will reveal instructive similarities and differences.

    Why now?

    Neither offset nor letterpress are new to the field, and of course artists all along the gender spectrum have made important contributions in both mediums. However, a look at the gendered distribution of print production more broadly is important at a time when Risograph, print on demand and other technologies are reshaping the field. It is important to understand who has access to production technologies and what systems grant that access, explicitly or through market forces. I’ve focused initially on letterpress and offset for two reasons. First, they are commercial processes that retain gender dynamics from their industrial roots. Second, offset is the new letterpress: cheap presses are plentiful as print shops scrap their offset duplicators for photocopiers. Simple computer-to-plate systems eliminate darkroom pre-press just as photopolymer brought letterpress into the digital world. These presses are powerful tools in the hands of an artist, and book arts will benefit if all artists can adopt and evolve offset the way women have letterpress.

    How can you help?

    If you make artists’ books, please take the time to fill out this anonymous survey. I’ve listed various print production methods so users can simply enter the numbers of books they have created using each. Users will also write in their gender identity. My survey encompasses all manner of print production methods. My initial analysis will focus on letterpress and offset for the reasons I’ve listed above, but I hope that myself and others will return to this data to learn more about trends in other print production methods. Feedback is welcome. My next post will discuss the challenges with my other research methods, primarily quantitative bibliography, so know that your participation is very valuable.

    Note: Thanks to India Johnson for bringing the “State of Letterpress Questionnaire” to my attention. The results can be seen here.


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


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

    In the aftermath of the Parkland, Florida shooting, artists looked for a way to make a difference in the conversation taking place across our nation. Ellen Knudson of Crooked Letter Press, Gainesville, FL and Lisa Beth Robinson of Somnambulist Tango Press, Greenville, NC organized the Enough is Enough! print portfolio collaboration to benefit Everytown for Gun Safety. The portfolio is a current example of book art as “an agent of social change,” to quote Johanna Drucker (The Century of Artists’ Books). Everytown is a movement of Americans working together to end gun violence and build safer communities. Gun violence touches every town in America. This group seeks to take common-sense steps that will save lives and make a change as everyday Americans continue plans towards a safer future.

    This series of prints works to bring the conversation to the forefront. Examples of prints that are striking and cause heartache include Jessica Peterson’s type only solution outlining a child’s early years in a timeline and how long, in contrast, the shooting took place. The timeline is heartbreaking in its minute details of motherhood, our worries, our fears, our responsibilities, all contrasting to those few seconds of a failed system. We all face risks every day with our children and her piece speaks to the profound loss when a child dies.


    A piece printed by Eileen Wallace equates dots on the page to the number of shootings in the United States each year; it also relates the cranks of the press to the number of people killed between January 1, 2013 and February 15, 2018. The visual of the dots and their relationship to the labor required to produce the print leads us to imagine the repetitive motion, almost like a ticking rhythm of a clock.


    These complex relationships of image and content are in contrast to the simplicity of other prints in the portfolio. In “HOME GROWN HATE,” Jarred Elrod presents the graphic symbol of a baby in an American flag holding a gun, which points to what we hold as a right from birth, the right to bear arms. The image of this right, placed in the hands of a babe, jars the viewer. Another strong print is by the artist Denise Bookwalter, in which she shows her two young daughters alone in space, at the bottom of which is the call for gun reform: “PROTECT OUR CHILDREN NOT GUNS.” Bookwalter, also in Florida, shared the loss of innocence for the students of Parkland on February 14, 2018. They will never be able to celebrate St. Valentine’s Day again. The pain of this date will be seared in their cultural awareness, as is 9/11 for all Americans. These images challenge our idea of who we are fighting for and how the future will be affected.


    The poetic simplicity of the prints by Mary C. Bruno, Jessica Spring, and Dan Elliott are shown below. The target, the color red, and school-lined paper are all symbols we are familiar with and point to the need for change. The colors and minimal elements of these pages and others express a powerful call, “#NOTONEMORE.” The text on the print  that begins “You must get an education” suggests a reality that is as true today as in our history. The straightforward “FUCK YOUR G*NS” with a pointed finger speaks of the frustration of nothing changing to prevent these tragedies and to the fact that g*ns are now the dirty word in our divisive culture. All of these pieces speak to the cycle we are in of accepting gun violence as a part of our modern world.


    The print by Mare Blocker with an image of Emma Gonzalez below Sister Mary Corita’s quote draws on hope in the darkness for those living through the experience of losing friends and family at the hands of a gunman. Protests and lack of action in the face of devastating loss continue to be a part of the national dialogue. A work by Andrew Huot with a map of guns in the shape of the United States with red dots representing mass shootings in the recent past and a Edna St. Vincent Millay poem points to our becoming desensitized as the number of shootings continues to grow. All of these voices honor the dead and support an organization that works to implement meaningful change.


    The creators of the idea for Enough is Enough! print portfolio created a strong call for gun control. Lisa Beth Robinson of Somnambulist Tango Press calls for “BAN THE 2ND” as a statement we should all consider. The right to bear arms was created in a very different time and place than where we are now as we shoot our fellow citizens. The work by Ellen Knudson of Crooked Letter Press shows the path that has resulted in America’s being compared to a war zone and the sad reality of the loss of the lives of innocents of all ages, from all walks of life. Both raise the question of why we are not doing more to make gun regulations a priority.


    The techniques in the print portfolio include classic letterpress with text, linoleum cut, and screen printing. The participating artists are professionals in the field of book arts: printers, binders, educators, and fine artists. This portfolio is our offering to the future of common-sense gun safety and regulation of assault and military-style weapons. The portfolio is introduced by this cogent statement: “As artists and printers, we created this print exchange to visually address the issue of gun violence, the sale of assault weapons in the United States, and the devastation and fear the problem has brought upon the citizens of this country.” All profits from the sale of the portfolio (through Vamp and Tramp) will go to Everytown for Gun Safety.

    Participating artists: Hannah Batsel; Mare Blocker — The MKimberly Press; Denise Bookwalter — Small Craft Advisory Press; Brian Borchardt & Jeffrey Morin — Seven Hills Press & Sailor Boy Press; Mary C. Bruno — Bruno Press; Dan Elliott — Pieces of Craft; Bridget Elmer — Flatbed Splendor Press; Jarred Elrod — Jet Pilot Designs; Caren Heft — Arcadian Press; Josh Hockensmith — Blue Bluer Books; Andrew Huot — Big River Bindery; Molly Kempson — Spotty Boy Press; Ellen Knudson — Crooked Letter Press; Craig Malmrose — Trade Union Press; Emily Martin — Naughty Dog Press; Penny McElroy — Five & Dime Press; Jessica Peterson — Paper Souvenir Press; Lisa Beth Robinson — Somnambulist Tango Press; Jessica Spring — Springtide Press; Ashley Taylor; Emily Tipps — High5 Press; Eileen Wallace — Mile Wide Press.


    Suzanne Powney is a book artist and letterpress printer, founder of BlackDog Letterpress in 2004. She explores themes of tactility, color, and pattern in her work. She is an Associate Professor of Art at Mississippi State University.


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

    As the coordinator of a book arts BFA program, I have recently been contemplating the possibilities for a kind of program that focuses primarily on the exploration of “the book” as it is currently situated in our post-digital world. The term “post-digital,” as I am employing it, suggests that digital technology is now so commonplace that it no longer holds the revolutionary position it once did. Consequently, a post-digital book arts program would be one in which print and digital media co-exist, no longer forced into a narrative that pits one against the other. Such a program would, necessarily, acknowledge the traditional practices of the field all the while scrutinizing the roles that they once held (or continue to hold), considering what it means to make books in an ever-shifting “now.” Such a program questions whether the “book arts” of decades past are still — and should remain — those of today. The following is a brief sketch of what some aspects of a post-digital book arts program might entail.

    Thinking about this hypothetical program provides the opportunity to consider which long-standing aspects of book arts education are still relevant and which might be de-emphasized. Doing so might allow for the inclusion of some of the activities and theories circulating within adjacent fields (design, literature, publishing, digital art, &c.) that have yet to widely break into the conversation within the greater book arts community.

    As much as feasible, I am curious to see a program which attempts to teach “the book” as a subject/framework dispassionate about specific media. Greater emphasis would be placed on exploring and developing a conscious and practical understanding of the fundamental conceptual underpinnings of the book, in particular those that can be observed across multiple media. Students would investigate how to enhance, combine, and otherwise manipulate these concepts to enact an idea in book form, seeking to answer that most elemental question: what do books do and how? Such resources as Keith Smith’s Structure of the Visual Book and Peter Mendelsund’s What We See When We Read (which represent more serviceable inclusions within a less-than-robust selection of literature) could help provide a foundation of theory for such investigations and the development of a pedagogical approach.

    No medium, material, or process would be considered implicit in the creation of a book within a post-digital program. Other than the elemental framework of concepts that manifest in books, such a program should take very little as given when drawing upon precedent established by myriad book arts practices and pedagogies. A “media agnostic” approach to book arts education would give latitude for decisions of media and material to arise from the development of concept and content rather than being assumed or assigned. This would require an active effort to avoid prescription and encourage students to explore media of interest outside of the context of a core book arts curriculum (a potential challenge for programs not affiliated with institutions that provide a broader arts curriculum). Additionally, it would be advantageous to advocate for the use of widely accessible media in order to help students maintain continuity in their studio practices after graduation without the need to adapt to losing access to processes with high economic and logistical barriers to entry.

    A post-digital book arts program would promote active engagement in the flourishing discourse and activities taking place around the field of publishing (“traditional,” “experimental,” and as “artistic practice”). Students would be asked to think with new depth about what it means to “create a public” through a work — “the kind of public that comes into being only in relation to [works] and their circulation” [1]. They would also be encouraged to develop practices that could nimbly participate in emerging spheres of activity such as “urgent publishing” [2] or “publishing as intervention” [3]. Practitioners and theorists such as Silvio Lorusso, Paul Soulellis, Eva Weinmayr, Temporary Services, and Publication Studio, among others, would provide groundwork from which students could launch new approaches.

    In this context, the weight of the concept of the edition might be lightened, making it no longer an exercise in multiplication and the attainment of technical uniformity, but embracing it as a “spatially discontinuous object” [4] shared by a public (a public which, again, is created by its circulation). Along with this, room might also be made for the version, a concept from the digital world, through which an idea can be given the time and freedom to emerge and evolve, and the hybrid or differential work [5], where content exists within a constellation of digital and analog formats with no one format being definitive.

    This is by no means an exhaustive consideration of what might be possible should a program adopt a post-digital approach to book arts. Where any of the above is already happening in current programs, I am very much interested to hear how it is being approached in the classroom through exercises and projects and articulated in pedagogical discussions. That said, aspects of this post-digital philosophy have started to be implemented within the book arts program at Montserrat College of Art [6, 7] as we examine our curriculum and our vision for the type of graduate we would like to see emerge from the program.

    References

    1.   Warner, Michael. Publics and Counterpublics: Zone Books, 2002, 66.

    2.   Soulellis, Paul. “Urgency Lab,” https://soulellis.com/teaching/urgencylab/index.html

    3.   Weinmayr, Eva. “Publishing as Intervention,” https://fk.hfk-bremen.de/eva-weinmayr-publishing-as-intervention/

    4.   Van Laar, Timothy. “Printmaking: Editions as Artworks.” The Journal of Aesthetic Education 14, no. 4 (October 1980): 99.

    5.   Perloff, Marjorie. “Digital Poetics and the Differential Text,”  http://marjorieperloff.com/essays/digital-poetics-and-the-differential-text/

    6.   Hanscom, Bill. “Approaching the Book” [Course Syllabus] http://bit.ly/2UaJMVQ

    7.   Hanscom, Bill. “Independent Book Publishing & Production” [Course Syllabus] https://bit.ly/2IzzYDr


    Bill Hanscom is an assistant professor at Montserrat College of Art where he serves as coordinator for the BFA book arts program, and a conservation technician for special collections at the Weissman Preservation Center within Harvard Library. He also has meandering and sporadic studio, writing, and research practices.


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

    Before the end of my last post, I brought up the example of an artistic (or say: creative) versus scholarly (or say: intellectual) approach to knowing and thinking through a concept. This is because I believe there is an inherent tension between these two approaches. A long time cheerleader for the research-based practice, I have always argued neither approach should be valued more than the other; that both provide the reader, viewer, et cetera, a specific pathway to knowledge. However, as I also mentioned in the last post, there are certain instances or contexts where one’s use may be more appropriate, or better serve a certain purpose. [1] 

    Context can be understood as conceptually related to frame, or the process of framing. [2] In making such an association, context understood as synonymous to frame may (at least semantically) allude to a structure. Though, as relative terms, I think this requires some tweaking. Rather than align context directly with structure, I would say: the integrity (structural; framework) of a given concept varies depending on the particular context (frame) in which it is encountered. 

    The reason I make this point is because I associate structural integrity with the previous quality of concreteness as one of foundation. The context dictates the stability of a particular concept’s foundation. This noted, I will situate context as separate from the other qualities in the list I made in Part 1. What is the context then? Or, what is/are the frame/s I am evaluating? 

    Book and publication are two frameworks, whose frames overlap. This implies a non-mutual exclusivity, and a bit of entanglement. While they do share something, there is also all of that which they do not share. It is not that a book is a type of publication, because it is published. It is a type of publication when it is published. Simply put: not all publications are books, and not all books are publications. Of course, the question is then: why does this matter? 

    I’ll return to the personal baggage I bring to the table. As of late, I have found myself growing more and more fickle with the increasingly flimsy framework of “publishing” or the “publication” as/in artistic practice. This fickleness is located within myself, and my work, which evokes this nomenclature. It has occurred to me that “publishing as artistic practice,” [3] at least stateside, as a conceptual framework, feels to have been haphazardly slapped onto the already shaky framework of book in an effort to theoretically expand the book. Yet, in this way, it’s a retrofit—and if the previous statement is taken as a given, the framework of book falls within publication and not the other way around. [4]

    This retrofit is well-intentioned (from the outset it appears laden with the potential to help define a new contemporary field!), but it has been launched out of a thing of which it already was a part, and to be more of a “catch-all” for whatever else is out there that we want to account for—or bring in to our field. Poetically, the book is increasingly unstable (nod to Aaron Cohick here), but at the end of the day, when it comes down to types, the book and a long list of other material publications (see screenshots taken from Wikipedia below for quick reference) are what they are. What is the context for publishing, for the publication, in/as artists’ books? My belief is that by bracketing things and activities that may best be understood strictly as publication arts under book arts is a considerable misstep. 

    Is there a point when we have taken too much “poetic license”— when the affective elasticity stretches to a point of simply snapping? I would argue, yes. And especially yes if that which it has stretched to, it is actually a part of? Is it really that horrible to say, this is something else and should be stated as such?  

    While art may be considered most powerful because or when it challenges established and preconceived notions, ideas, values, etc., within the context of “art practices” and writing about “art practices” the artist’s book, and now publication (which, is not a new phenomena at all!), may be looking like the end of a well-played game of Jenga. The fact is that our understanding of book arts is ultimately tethered to our understanding of the the book. This, however, cannot be applied to the publication. (See Fig. 1 below.) 

     Fig.1: elaborating on significance of types as formats within the process of contextualization

    It is a matter of destabilizing the structural integrity of the object as a concept through non-specificity (or elasticity); frame within a frame ad infinitum. We understand the history of the book, but do we fully grasp the multi-nuanced complexity of the history of the/a publication(s) in such a way to bend it? Especially if we consider the implications of my referring to a pluralized thing—“a/the publication(s)”—it alludes and points to multiple formats, or sub-types, and a multiplicity of histories. (See reference again Fig. 1, and see Fig. 2 below.) 


     Fig. 2: screenshots from Wikipedia for examples of specific types of publication

    This does not discount that some publishable formats are also, of course, direct descendants of the book, or that they too were designed to perform similar tasks and share similar qualities. But the fact is they are different, and have a specific history and materiality that should be accounted for as they become mobilized within our curricula and our practices. To distinguish between doesn’t hurt book arts, but may actually allow a/the publication(s) to offer what it has promised—perhaps even more—and actually provide the book with more robustness afforded by a critical untangling.   

    I will continue this discussion in my September blog post.

    --

    Notes:

    [1] Appropriateness should be understood as “more suitable to the given circumstances” and does not necessarily indicate a higher value.  

    [2] This is specifically in reference to: Erving Goffman, Frame Analysis (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1986). Frame analysis or frame theory is a social theory research method much utilized by communication studies. It is particularly apt to consider here, given the media involved in publication share the common purpose of communicating, and are inherently social. Further, if one of the draws of publication as an artistic framework is its quality of social performativity and engagement, it would be useful to use in more critical application. Here it is in reference, but as a more complex method, is not implemented; ‘context’ and ‘frame’ will suffice.  

    [3] See: Annette Gilbert and Hannes Bajohr, Publishing as Artistic Practice (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2016).

    [4] An example of this retrofit can be found in comparing the Clive Phillpot’s Artists Books Diagram to its 2013 revision by Kochi Kione (HalfLetterpress).   


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



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

    There is a door. The door is of worn wood, maybe oak, with a brass handle tarnished from years of turns and turnings and entries and exits. This door is much like many other doors which line a familiar hallway that so many have passed in, out, down, up, through—generally about. 

    Of note is the location of this handle on what is generally understood by the occupants to be an interior. 

    It is a doorway. 

    Of note is the relation of this handle on this door to handles on other doors facing this interior that has seen nothing but a continual growth of occupants, say luminous beings, of which are found amassing around one particular door. Or another door. 

    There, is another door. 

    There, is another doorway. A light creeps in from just below the sheet metal mounted upon its base, a metal lined with rubber stripping, which here, seems less tight, perhaps slightly ill-fitting. This light is glimmering, bouncing off another piece of material, call it a composite metal, situated on the floor just beneath the aforementioned strip said to be ill-affixed to the door above. 

    Strip parallel to strip, ill-fittings, light seeping—qualities of distinction. This secondary metal, the composite, the retrofit, defines (in some way) a here-ness or there-ness, as light crosses the gap—a threshold—between metals, between above and below, now and again, and this light juts wildly into a void of unknown expansiveness.

    There is a light crossing the threshold. 

    There are lights seeking to cross the threshold. 

    There are lights. Occupants. Beings— 

    Particles—scattered into this great unknown, that must be somewhat known for them to find themselves nestling in like lights in the sky waiting for a world to be shaped around them or to shape that world as they accumulate. Yet, part of them remain just on the other side, on the interior, perhaps penetrating more well traversed doorways, fully crossing their thresholds of brass, lead, and gold and resting in their well structured exteriors. 

    But still, for whatever reason, there is an increase in activity at this particular threshold, where we are, in the present-past, forever unable to self-actualize in an always unraveling conceptual future. We should think of this activity as an amassment of luminescence waiting to be heated, rather than water at a dam, as these two phenomena are not synonymous; they are qualitatively distinct.   

    So, my question is: what is keeping us from fully crossing this threshold? Is it a matter of articulation?

    *

    It would seem only appropriate to continue to appropriate the use of interiors (their implicit exteriors) and doorways, passageways, openings, and expansiveness, or well-traversed and well-defined, and fracturing or fractured, and light as devices to begin to, well, open the floor on a subject that I find of acute concern: contemporary artists books [versus/and/or?] publications—what they are and perhaps what they are not, and where the blurring between them actually occurs. 

    Despite how ill-defined the book may be and consequently equally ill-defined the artists book may be [1], everyone who works with these “objects” (here: this can be as much a physical thing as it can be a conceptual framework) seem to have their own understanding for what it is and how to identify it. And, the writer is no exception. In this foray, exposé, meandering—me/wanderingit may just be better to agree (best we can) that within the realm of artistic activity (or matters of aesthetic production) sometimes we simply do not have the right word (rather, terms). Further, one could suggest that to produce from, within, and outside of the multitude of disciplinary fields that funnel in and out of the artist book honestly may not require any sort of unified concreteness at all. Since, if there is something to be seen as concrete, it will simply be challenged. 

    As stated, the writer is no exception to carrying a set of predefined notions. 

    The bulk of my current research activities over the past 3 years has been concerned with (the) publication, and not exclusively as a zone of artistic activity, but by its significance in the history of and current employment in communication media. At present, this work is positioned as a matter of classification [2]. While my artistic practice is crucial to understanding the affective elasticity of any particular concept, I want to acknowledge that this artistic-forward methodology has its limits. At a certain point, some concepts necessitate the restrictions and rigor of traditional scholarship. For the purpose of this series, I will be focusing on and utilizing the artistic (in this case, poetic) method in an effort to highlight its limits so that I may better argue for the unsung potentials of specificity.   

    So, let us return to the preceding poetic foray. At the same time, keep in mind the previous poetic forays it embodies. In doing so, we can begin to draw out some similarities:

    + an understanding of a space, as constructed, deconstructed, reconstructed, imagined, etc. 

    + an understanding of a form, as mutually and non-mutually exclusive from a space, constructed, deconstructed, reconstructed, imaged, etc. 

    + an understanding of parts, as that which construct and are deconstructed through restructuring, structuring, and imagining, etc. 

    + an understanding of process, whereby parts, form, and space gain relativity through physical and/or mental handling. 

    + an understanding of activity, as a quality of process(ing), but also that which manifests beyond an initial making (or handling), and may better account for the thing-constructed’s actual lifecycle and should be thoroughly considered when…we think of understanding the context where all qualities engage. 

    I would like to instead return to the supposition that “to produce from, within, and outside of the multitude of disciplinary fields that funnel in and out of the artist’s book may not require any sort of unified concreteness at all.” In this supposition we can highlight the word concreteness as a quality of a foundation. This allows us to first: see them as relatable to one another, and second: relating to the previous qualities of something constructed (form/space) of particular parts by way of specific process that involve a certain activity manifesting in a given environment (context). The tethering of these qualities is significant. The quality of their tethering is contingent on their context. 

    Context, as we know, is everything.

    --

    Note

    [1] I encourage anyone to visit the entry for ‘book’ in the appropriate volume of the complete Oxford English Dictionary, and would also encourage one to look at ‘publish’ or ‘publication’ moving forward.

    [2] If you ask Google to define classification you’ll get: “the action or process of classifying something according to shared qualities or characteristics.” In my case, I am interested in terms as classification frameworks and the degrees of agency these frameworks afford the qualities they contain. 


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




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


    On page one, Michelle Ray’s book The Cave Protection Act of 2013  defines the cave as “[a]n empty space, void, receptacle, musty smelling and awaiting deposit of trash or carcass; hiding space for weapons, unsent love letters; glory hole; home to…animals obliged to live underground.” The book concerns the decades-burning underground anthracite coal mine fire in Centralia, PA.While a plethora of popular media have addressed the fire and relocation of most of the borough’s residents (including a This American Life podcast and a feature-length documentary), Ray’s work slips genre to engage the calamity and peculiarity of the Centralia fire via language, form, materiality, production method, and typography.

    The book’s simple structural design generates a surprisingly complex object. Four accordions of varying panel width are stacked then sewn through two opposing valleys, creating a layered V-shape in the center flanked by four pages on either side. Each page is successively wider than the next, which adds to the layered effect. The form speaks immediately to its subject; the reader peers into the curious formation of the folded depths as into a miniature cave. Holes in the pages lend additional perspective complexity and affect the movement of light and shadow through the textblock. 


    Printed on a neutral, machine-made paper, The Cave Protection Act bears some resemblance to a government document. The tiered pages allow for semicircular thumb tabs to indicate sections. Closed, it resembles a pile of papers atop an institutional desk. But the trappings of officialdom are gestures, rather than an overarching conceit—pointing to the role of governmental agencies—broadly with regards to land protection and more specifically to events in Centralia—from the beginnings of the fire in a mine-pit-turned-landfill to the declaration of eminent domain that relocated its residents.


    The layout supports two textual modes. The first part, in landscape format, presents the language of the titular “Act,” which might be described as poetic legalese. The Act is broken into numbered sections and lettered subsections. Pale green text in a larger point size floats on two pages, offering speluncean didacticisms: “The cave should pose a question, rather than an answer,” and, “There needs to be room in the cave for contemplation.”


    The second part, in portrait format, has a lyrical voice, loose poetic structure, and reduced ironic distance. The alternating orientation requires constant rotation of the book literally to consider the problem from multiple perspectives.The divisions between parts, however, are porous (like the textblock and the ground in Centralia); the intimate voice of part two seeps into the bureaucratic language of part one; for example, from section 2A, “No person shall be held liable for injuries. The older I get, the closer the acts of laughing and crying become.”

    Ray’s production methods also engage her concepts. Laser engraving leaves a trace via the removal of material, visually supporting the idea that “there is meaning and identity to be found in natural erasure” (sec. 1A). Laser cutting leaves a signature burn; in this case the laser is both an efficient tool and a reference to the fire burning underground.


    The imagery was created using 3D imaging software. Its technical acuity and fineness of detail resemble an architect’s plan. Laser-etched circles and lines radiate as abstract diagrams. Line drawings of identical houses interact—scattered and sparse, then crowded and overlapping. The forms are skeletal, non-specific representations, whose meaning changes based on their relationships to other house forms.


    Section 1C reads, “Identity starts with the home. A home will remind you of who you are, ground you in your you-ness. Place is her anchor. In the absence of a physical home, would-be dwellers begin to ask the real questions of their place.” This speaks to the impact of the underground fire on community in the literal quagmire of Centralia. Simply structured and thoughtfully designed and produced, The Cave Protection Act quietly “poses question[s], rather than…answer[s].” It doesn’t explain the origin or the science of the fire; the methods tried and money spent fighting it; nor does it retell the narrative of the political turmoil and conflict among and surrounding the community. It subtly alludes to Centralia and the strangeness of a particular environmental reality precipitated by human land use amid a broader exploration of home, community, absence, and presence.


    This blog post is adapted from a paper presented at the twelfth biennial conference of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment. 

    Photos taken by the author in the Rare Book Department of Special Collections at the University of Utah’s J. Willard Marriott Library.


    Emily Tipps is Program Manager and Assistant Librarian (Lecturer) at the Book Arts Program at the University of Utah, and the proprietor of High5 Press. 


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

    Where strictly textual books must always grapple with the challenges of conveying meaning through abstract signs, the multi-faceted artist’s book can employ the visual, tactile, and inter-mediated to engage its concepts. Artists’ books—through engagement with materials, structure, production, scale, action, text, texture, color, and image—are well positioned to participate in environmental narratives and dialogs. As (typically) sequential, book forms are ideal to render or interpret environmental change. Lin Charlston’s 2011 book Fragment by Fragment: Signs of the Peat Bog Disperse into the Wind navigates a particular instance of environmental destruction using unique visual-textual methods.


    Fragment was shown in an exhibition “in which six artists responded to a damaged peat bog in the Black Mountains of Wales.” The book acknowledges its materiality immediately: “Main book constituents: cellulose, lignin, lipids, dyes. Main peat constituents: cellulose, lignen, humic breakdown substances, lipids.” Here, Charlston effectively asserts that the book and bog are materially analogous. Notably, the book does not wait to deliver concept; this assertion appears in the front matter alongside the standard bibliographic information. 


    The bulk of Fragment is digitally printed in Peatbog, a font Charlston designed for the project.She describes the process in her artist’s statement: “I made hundreds of drawings of tiny fragments of peat. En masse, the drawings were transformed into a written language, obscure and unfathomable, reminiscent of Xu Bing's Book from the Sky.” Unlike Bing’s unreadable asemic marks, Charlston’s text is obscure but decipherable. Its legibility is challenging enough that the casual reader might give up. (It took me an hour to decipher a paragraph, so I was relieved to find the same text repeated throughout the book—the same landscape marked over time.)

    The book is bound as a pamphlet, opening into a 21” x 6” landscape format, upon which the erosion of the literal landscape of the peat bog is enacted. Two tissue end-leaves, in shades of green, overlay the first page of text. The tissue is fragile like the flora blanketing the peat bog.


    On the first spread, three lines of text in a clear roman typeface provide the ecological baseline of the peat bog narrative. These lines are printed in green and brown—representing the “coverlet of sphagnum moss, brown moss, grasses, and other specialized damp-loving flora” they describe. Below this are substrata of text, printed in black in the Peatbog font. This visual matter triples as language, micro-image (derived from drawings of peat fragments), and macro-image—an abstracted, representational cutaway of the bog.


    The second spread makes a radical visual shift: a photographic image of a landscape horizon and sky, printed in fiery orange and purple, bleeds off the edges of the page. The landscape appears charred and the atmosphere tumultuous. The saturated color, realism, and singularity of this image mark it as an important moment—the damaging fire referred to in the text, an event that precipitates a turn in narrative and ecological momentum.  



    Ten subsequent spreads depict the systematic erosion of the landscape, with “signs” migrating from the tail to the head and off the page. The strata gradually deteriorate, with the final page being nearly blank. Aesthetically, there is nothing bothersome about this dissolution; on the contrary, as an abstract image the progress is pleasing—the pages well balanced with a predictable, almost meditative pace. 

    The anxiety of the piece stems from the tension between the work’s aesthetic values and its environmental critique. The peat (the signs, the meaning) is a resource. The difficulty of decipherment implies that attentiveness, research, and patience are key components in negotiating the complex of cultural, economic, and scientific factors affecting this resource. The problem can only be understood through careful study; in the meantime, the resource—wherein lies the very potential for understanding—dwindles. 


    Though the outlook appears bleak, a reader might encounter the turning of the final page with optimism. Following a solid black end-leaf, two fringes of delicate green emerge. The tabs of the tissue paper blanketing the initial page of the book could be simply a structural necessity, but the meticulousness of the book’s design suggest something more: new growth on the scarred bog. Furthermore, the repetition of the title at the end of the text suggests the book may be read backwards, reversing the erosion.


    This blog post is adapted from a paper presented at the twelfth biennial conference of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment. 

    Photos taken by the author in the Rare Book Department of Special Collections at the University of Utah’s J. Willard Marriott Library.


    Emily Tipps is Program Manager and Assistant Librarian (Lecturer) at the Book Arts Program at the University of Utah, and the proprietor of High5 Press. 


  • 15 Dec 2018 12:00 AM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)

    Nine more thoughts on sewing books, prompted by sewing nine more books:

    1. Each punched hole is an opportunity for engagement.

    2. Because of this openness to possibility, each hole is vulnerable. 

    3. But each module of the book must allow itself to be vulnerable in order to bind together. The alternative is that each component retains its integrity and its safety, but is rendered incapable of permanently bonding with other components.

    4. 6 holes per signature and cover, 2 covers, 6 folded signatures, 48 holes. 6 folded signatures yield 24 pages each,144 pages. Numerology. No wait, that’s math.

    5. I realize that really what I am doing is sewing centers together. 

    6. Sometimes tugging snugs up the thread just so, correcting a slack hand. Sometimes tugging tears the paper, or breaks the thread, or pulls the back cover up over the last signature. 

    7. A radical educator friend, Jamie Munkatchy, taught me this binding, 15 years ago, at an informal skillshare at Booklyn. We were all sitting around the table, in the evening, early summer.  She had just learned the binding herself, probably from Christopher Wilde, not very long before she taught me. Christopher had no doubt already taught it to at least 200 people, likely more. And someone — Walter Hamady, probably — had taught Christopher maybe a dozen years before that evening. And someone else at some point had taught Walter — who would this have been? do you know? —  and so on, and on and on, and onwards back. Linking. And onwards, linking, forwards: so far, I’ve taught this binding to perhaps 50, possibly 100 people. And if some of them have taught someone… the whole lineage starts looking like this chart of cat reproduction.

    8. The last thing I do in sewing is hide where I began.

    9. All collated copies sewn, now it is time for the guillotine. Each book is stiff with folded paper before it is trimmed. Once its edges have been chopped off, the book becomes soft and yielding, opening easily anywhere.


    Emily Larned has been publishing as an artistic practice since 1993.  She is co-founder of Impractical Labor in Service of the Speculative Arts (ILSSA), and Associate Professor and Chair of Graphic Design at SASD, University of Bridgeport, in Connecticut.


  • 01 Dec 2018 12:00 AM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)

    In an earlier post, I wrote about the experience of binding a difficult edition. In my struggle, I was in a state of acute attention, but also worry and fuss. 

    Now the bookbinding task is quite different: 200 copies of a link stitch, 6 signature, 144 page, softcover binding. This is the second printing I have made of this book, which documents 40 years of Bloodroot, a feminist vegetarian restaurant and bookstore in Bridgeport, CT. Years before this, I’ve sewn six or seven hundred zines with this multi-signature binding. With some copy soon I will be binding this style for the thousandth time. Happily, there’s no worry or fuss. But there’s also much less attention.

    The task for today is paying attention. 

    In a recent post, India Johnson wrote: “intensive craft training can provide us with the ability to articulate the workings of embodied cognition. It allows us to assert, from the authority of our own experiences, that how things are made matters—that meaning does not exist separately from the means of production. This is especially relevant for book artists with a foot in [the] contemporary art world, who may need to contextualize their craft practice for an audience in that sphere.”

    As an artist, designer, printer, binder, and publisher “with a foot in [the] contemporary art world,” handwork is very important to me, a defining characteristic of my work. It is, in some way, always part of the subject: part of the content. But in this particular instance, handwork is also written into the very book I’m making. 

    In her essay “On Persistence and Feminism,” Selma Miriam, the founder of Bloodroot, writes:

    “For sustenance, for the sacred in today’s world, modern women may be able to find resources in traditional women’s work. These forms of labor use very simple technologies which require patience and a lifetime of study. In our industrialized world there are still a few places for a gatherer of wild herbs to go, and there are still basketmakers. Some women learn to be potters, some tend gardens and there has been a return to spinning and weaving. And women have always been knitters.” 

    And she also writes:

    “We want to lead our lives so that what we make of what we find on earth is magic. The way to find it is in the ritual of patiently doing, over and over, what is required of the work. Frequently a knitter is asked, “How long does it take to do that?” though that question never arises in regard to jogging, movie-going, or mall shopping.” 

    So here I am: patiently doing, over and over, what is required.

    I’m writing during an afternoon of sewing twelve copies: words tangled up in the making.

    1. 

    I stitch in and out of the present. What’s for dinner. Next summer’s plans. As with meditation, I redirect focus: back to my hands, back to this book. Unlike David Pye’s “crafstmanship of risk,” the heightened attention which I feel whenever there’s glue, a non-adhesive sewn binding has an ease and a spaciousness to it. It’s portable; I bind in lots of places that aren’t the studio. In the passenger seat on a long drive, crosslegged in my living room; on a train; at my desk at work during office hours. Now at the dining room table with the laptop open, a cup of tea, the cat sleeping on the tea towel, the late afternoon sun angling in, the day after a holiday. Often when I’m sewing I keep a notebook at hand to jot down what is loosened in my mind by my hands. Sometimes I listen to audiobooks or podcasts or the radio; other times music. This afternoon I’m sitting with the work, typing into the laptop when a thought strikes me.

    2.

    In this binding, what comes before is foundational for what comes next. The sixth signature is the first to be sewn, and it is supported by a single long stitch through the back softcover. Each signature is hooked into the signature before it, moving from the back of the book forward to the front cover. One long thread, eight times the height of the book, unites it.

    The rhythm is inside, outside, inside, outside.

    But Inside is always creeping along the gutter. And Outside is a quick dip down, then back up and in.

    A finished book has many openings, but in this phase of its development I only visit the center of each signature. 

    Due to the uncut folded sheets, most openings remain inaccessible until they are chopped free by the guillotine.

    3.

    I think of:

    The hand at the heart of craft

    Craft as spiritual practice 

    Craft as socially engaged art 

    Craft as performance 

    And these ideas resonate within as I work.

    4.

    I am reminded of the enormous linked sewn bindings of Margot Ecke, where the book becomes an impossibly serpentine object. I imagine all 400 of the books from these two printings sewn together. I search for an image of Ecke’s book, fruitlessly, online. 

    I come back to my own sewing.

    5.

    A stitching together, a binding, a fastening, a linking: 

    “Old English bindan ‘to tie up with bonds’ (literally and figuratively), also ‘to make captive; to cover with dressings and bandages’ (class III strong verb; past tense band, past participle bunden), from Proto-Germanic bindanan (source also of Old Saxon bindan, Old Norse and Old Frisian binda, Old High German binten ‘to bind,’ German binden, Gothic bindan), from PIE root bhendh- ‘to bind.’ Of books, from c. 1400. Intransitive sense of ‘stick together, cohere’ is from 1670s.”

    -Etymonline

    This search also turns up that the root of the word “religion” is also to bind: from the Latin religare.

    6.

    Small problems:

    A knot, which is more often than not the thread doubling up onto itself, and tightening.

    The tail tangling up in the sewing thread, the past wanting to be carried into the future.

    An errant hole. 

    A broken strand.

    7.

    The hands have their haptic knowing, separate from sight. If a signature is too light (a missing folio), or the thread too tight (a snag), the hands realize this is so before the eyes.

    8.

    Haptic from the Greek haptikós: touching; but also to grasp, to perceive.

    9.

    Making visible progress: 

    one signature stacking on top of another; one sewn book stacked upon another.

    10.

    This binding is as much a part of making the book as any other part, but its context, so entangled with life, becomes invisible in the finished object.

    Somehow designing the book while also cooking soup was a more focused task. Perhaps because the eyes are trained always on the screen and the mind on the work. While there may be a secondary simultaneous background activity, the act of writing or designing requires a full intellectual attention that sewing does not.

    The binding is so much a part of other things (the cat is hungry, pacing now under my nose, tail lashing) in a way that the computer work (lit screen, focus) and the Riso printing (the Riso does most of the work, but I hover over it, watching expectantly, waiting for the inevitable) never is. Is it because I am not challenged enough to be wholly absorbed by sewing, so my attention wanders? While sewing, I rarely transcend into that state of flow (so aptly described by Csikszentmihalyi) that I experience in writing or designing or printing.

    I think of the words of Thomas A. Clark (Moschatel Press) as quoted by Simon Cutts: “Self-publishing can constitute not a vanity, but a freedom. . . the means can become creative. Everything can be exact but also light, since production is a way of life, an activity rather than an occasion.”

    I sense that people who handle copies of this book notice the care and attention embedded within, including the time accrued in the binding.

    But that doesn’t mean that they see the cat, the dining room table: production as a way of life. 

    That part, the lived experience of the making, becomes invisible in most anything we make. 

    Yet to us, the makers, it is essential.

    11.

    I think of Virgina Woolf, typesetting and binding as a respite from the fatiguing intellectual labor of writing. I think of the entire practice of bookmaking / publishing as an agricultural process: active periods of sustained attention, hard labor, focus, and vigor; the celebration of the harvest (that first completed copy that nearly vibrates with exhilaration). And then: the slower, relaxed, and rather fallow-feeling periods: distributing type, sewing the three-hundred-eighty-sixth copy in the edition, shipping orders: processes necessary to sustain the work, but with rare opportunities for flow. These are activities in a state less alive: that “cotton wool” feeling of non-being Woolf describes. I try to remind myself that all of these parts are integral to the process: you can’t eliminate them and have the rest. I relax into large edition binding, enjoy it. 

    12.

    The timed lights flick on; the tea transubstantiates to wine; the unsewn stack diminishes, the sewn stack grows.

    But there’s been too much googling, too much being reminded of what is not here in front of me.

    I have loads more to sew, and to notice. 

    I’ll try again, with Part III coming soon.


    Works Cited

    Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly.  Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.

    Cutts, Simon. Some Forms of Availability, 66.

    Miriam, Selma. “On Persistence and Feminism,” Our daily lives have to be a satisfaction in themselves,107-108.

    Pye, David. The Nature and Art of Workmanship, also discussed here.

    Woolf, Virginia. Moments of Being. First found here in a New York Times review of the book.


    Emily Larned has been publishing as an artistic practice since 1993.  She is co-founder of Impractical Labor in Service of the Speculative Arts (ILSSA), and Associate Professor and Chair of Graphic Design at SASD, University of Bridgeport, in Connecticut.


  • 15 Nov 2018 12:00 AM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)

    Note: This post is in direct response to the theme of Marianne Dages’ last entry on this blog, “We’re All Water.”

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    There’s a rhythm to the blinking cursor, a nagging persistence, goading me to continue.

    Waves crash ashore, the tides ebb and flow with parallel reliability.


    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    I often turn to writers’ reflections about the writing process for language and insight into my own artistic processes. While many visual artists are able to articulate their motivations and engagements, I embrace the challenge to run a sort-of real time Find and Replace through these literary-focused pieces. Mentally shifting text  to images or words to  pictures allows the language to hold its greater definition(s): composition, draft(ing), edit(or), (pulling a) proof, (the mark-making of) mark-up, public(ation).

    This exercise is a component of my research on the fluidity between digital and analog modes of production and publishing, as a means to read, see, view, distribute, and handle this nebulous thing called book art. I approach that metaphor of fluidity rather straightforwardly in recent projects originating from digital video captures of paper in/around/through water and in exploring the concept of tidalectics and the work of its originator, poet Kamau Brathwaite. Likening the hierarchical history of landmasses to colonialism, tidalectics considers the interconnectedness of humanity through the viewpoint of oceanic understanding.


    To view the world through this Caribbean writer’s lens provides an incredible perspective shift away from a white/Eurocentric convention. A perspective shift is what engaging book art does for me - challenging a preconception in form, structure, or content about what a book is (or can be!) and how a publication does (or can!) function.

    Tidalectics co-opts the vocabularies of hydrology and oceanology; Brathwaite embraces the ocean tides as a means to provide rhythm for his poetic delivery. In an anecdote during a poetry reading, Brathwaite explains how his literary education in Barbados limited his ability to express himself. He likens the British military marching he witnessed at a parade to the narrow and unrelatable constraint of iambic pentameter. Whereas later in the same parade, he watched his aunts make their way down the route, far enough away from the military band to hear the drums beat, spinning in circles to their own rhythms. These “circles,” swirling as oceanic waters in tide pools, allow Brathwaite to create his own writing structures and systems outside of the Western canon. As opposed to the ability for a reader to follow the standard structure of poems written in iambic pentameter, Brathwaite’s must deliver the poems himself. The orations swell, undulating in volume, pacing, and melodic range.



    Screen captures made by the author from a YouTube channel, which was digitally transferred from a VHS recording evidenced by artifacts of tracking, creating visual waves across Brathwaite’s gesturing arms



    Excerpt from Dream Haiti series by Kamau Brathwaite as reproduced in the anthology, Tidalectics


    Visually, Brathwaite’s poems utilize an inventive approach to standard early word processing software which he dubbed “Sycorax video style.” Sycorax for the name he gave to his Macintosh computer, and video style as a reference to the way in which his writing input would appear, flowing as a scroll on the video computer screen display. Referring to the Brathwaite 1994 collection Dreamstories, Nicholas Laughlin explains the poems “[deploy] a variety of typefaces and styles, unconventional syntax and punctuation, and sometimes idiosyncratic spellings. ‘Sycorax video style’ cannot properly be quoted; it must be visually reproduced.”

    Of course, this notion that a work “must be visually reproduced” is familiar to visual artists, especially book artists, who struggle to accurately represent works via photographic and written documentation. Similarly, the aural experience that Brathwaite provides in his readings is an additional sensory element in which he controls how an audience experiences his work. I use Brathwaite as a case study of an artist, a poet, who demands certain parameters for his work to be understood and framed. How can the book be best represented for promotion? For publication? What if it was designed only to be a viewed on a screen? What if it is a tactile, printed, bound object alongside a digital component? What does it mean to view a physical book work on a screen? I think of the ways that I have accessed Kamau Brathwaite’s works to gain this appreciation: reproduction in print, written description, digital video, online images. These are the very ways book artists benefit from opportunities of a multimodal, fluid approach to digital publishing: sharing, distributing, and studying of book works.

    References

    Hessler, Stefanie. Tidalectics: Imagining an Oceanic Worldview Through Art and Science. London, England: TBA21-Academy. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2018.

    Kirschenbaum, Matthew G. Track Change: A Literary History of Word Processing. Cambridge, Mass: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2016.

    Laughlin, Nicholas. “Notes on Videolectics.” The Caribbean Review of Books, May 2007. http://caribbeanreviewofbooks.com/crb-archive/12-may-2007/notes-on-videolectics/.

    Cultura América Latina y el Caribe. “Kamau Brathwaite.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 30 July 2015. Web. 7 November 2018. 


    Leah Mackin is a visual artist and educator, often working collaboratively on performative publishing projects. She is the current Victor Hammer Fellow at the Wells Book Arts Center and founder of the INTERNET ART BOOK FAIR.



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