Julie Chen – Family Tree

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Family Tree is a 2013 publication by California book artist Julie Chen, published in an addition of 50 copies. Production will begin in February; pre-production orders can be placed by contacting Abecedarian Gallery.

The publication is a set of 16 two inch cubes, housed in a drop spine box. Some surfaces are digitally presented and others laser engraved. The set presents six variations on a single image.

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The cubes rest in the box tray with adequate space above the tray edge for removal of individual cubes. Thus the cubes can easily be rearranged and rotated in a variety of configurations, either within or outside of the box tray. Six of the arrangements present variations on a single image, an image of shadows cast by tree branches on a sidewalk.

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The book arrives arranged with a photographically rendered image of the shadows and a brief text, the baseline of the text following the shapes made by the shadowy forms. The same arrangement of cubes flipped over 180° reveals a negative image of the same photograph of tree branch shadows and presents a different text.

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Two of the remaining cube sides are one or two word phrases with simplified tree shapes floating behind the words. The negative space is etched into the wood block, the positive space is raised and inked and looks like an inked wood block ready for printing. One side of each cube is inked in orange, the opposite side in turquoise.

I appreciate the sense this gives of a work in progress, as the piece as a whole, regardless of the state it is in, will always be in a state of progression from one version to the next. As with the histories the work focuses on, we always arrive somewhere in the middle of the narrative, and by re-arranging the blocks, can continuously shift the emphasis of the narrative.

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The remaining two sides are graphic representations of the shadows, printed in a palette of bright colors that are grayed down enough so that they aren’t jarring or garish.

The insides of both the top and bottom trays have visual ‘keys’ so that one can arrange the blocks in the order that presents an uninterrupted image.

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Due to the constraints of the presentation, two of the six arrangements (those with laser engraved text) are strings of four, one word phrases. While it is possible to rearrange the order, the initial arrangement has some real gems such as:

‘identity reinvented through interpretation’
‘connections emerging after dormancy’
and ‘patterns hidden beneath the narrative’


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These are but a few examples of the multiple arrangements (a set of 16 cubes has a possible trillion combinations).

The book was generated using cards drawn from the Ideation Card Deck (also available for purchase at Abecedarian Gallery) and included in the exhibition Ideation by Chance (click here to see online catalog of the exhibit) curated by Julie Chen.

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