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Artists' Book Cornucopia V
April 18 - June 7, 2014
Fifth in a series of international exhibitions of contemporary artists’ books, this year’s Cornucopia showcases 41 works by 39 artists from the United States, China, Italy and New Zealand.
The works were selected by Luise Poulton, Managing Curator of Rare Books, Special Collections, J. Willard Marriott Library, The University of Utah in Salt Lake City.
When Alicia Bailey, devoted bookmaker and owner of Abecedarian Gallery in Denver contacted me about jurying her fifth Artist’s Book Cornucopia, I was honored. When I found out that I would be the sole juror, I was unnerved. Choosing between 35 to 45 books out of a group of what turned out to be more than 140 entries was daunting, to say the least.
When I received the digital images and Excel file of production information, the word “daunted” paled in comparison to what I felt. It is a curator’s job to be discriminating. But as the curator of an 80,000 plus collection of pieces ranging from Sumerian clay tablets to 21st century artists’ books for a public university, I admit it: I want it all. I use our collection to help faculty teach, students learn and community engage. And what each person in each of these groups wants and needs is different.
By necessity, wishes the historian, everything should be archived. A sentimental, wasteful notion, many would argue. By necessity, knows the curator, we cannot have it all – a stance so authoritarian that others could call it wasteful in its own way.
For Artists’ Book Cornucopia V, I looked for diversity of format, material and subject matter. I wanted a vision of the enormity and complexity of communication that can happen in books, old and new. Old formats restructured as new forms. Old texts remade and replete with new meanings. New or unusual materials combined with expected materials to push the notion of communication: tactility heightened, strengthening the experience of the message.
The importance of the textural as well as the textual in successful books, however, poses a problem when one is judging pieces from digital images. There is, in fact, nothing like the real thing.
People still read books. Today, as I passed many students, eyes glued to their electronic screens, one student caught my eye. He was leaning on the table, in front of a paperback book. His forearms were pressed against the spread, helping to keep the book open, but also serving as a place to rest his chin. The reader was completely engrossed. He looked comfortable. He looked uninterrupted.
Some reading positions are more comfortable than others. All are subject to change, all designed to keep the reader reading. No. Wait. It is the book that is designed to keep the reader reading.
It is this aspect of bookness that I addressed in my choices for Cornucopia V: Is this designed to read? Each one of the books I chose seemed to maintain an eminent hands (or forearms) –on readability while offering up new, or at least unusual ways, of physically, actively engaging with their readability. For me, reading matters. Even when there is no text.
There was no magic format, no one material, no single text that made the difference. As a reader, albeit distant, I followed the rule of subjectivity.
Purity – mathematicians would call this mathematics – is divine. Subjectivity is for the rest of us: discursive, disruptive, sometimes dismissive – it takes into consideration (or not) time, place, interruption, return from interruption, background music, background noise, no noise.
The question becomes, what makes for a more or less subjective audit – the virtual or the real?
The messages in these books are sent through their total physicality. It is in the manipulation of that physicality that we discover the guts of the messages and how these messages are told. We manipulate the messages past multiple variations on the accordion fold or the codex in a drum-leaf binding, paper covers, wooden boards, metal, cloth, or leather.
The messages manipulate us through historical techniques or last year’s techniques – from letterpress printed to 3D printed; from calligraphy to stitchery. Each of the entries had one or more of these elements. I had to choose. But the choices could only have been subjective. And the choice might have been different, had I had the book in hand. Or not.
This is not math. Which places, perhaps, the divine in the maker’s hand. The works I chose for Artists’ Book Cornucopia V move from concept to construction, from maker to reader with a fluidity that makes subjectivity seem almost divine. Luise Poulton