Archive | Artist Accolades

Mary Uthuppuru – Undefined Lines


As good fiction does, Mary Uthuppuru’s Undefined Lines brings a viewer into an invented atmosphere in such a way that the physical book container drops away and the reader is for a time, transported.  Unlike fiction, though, this piece brings the viewer into the present moment with no storyline other than walking on a trail. By observing simple details of a forest walk, seemingly standing right in the artist’s shoes, the overall message of this book is to be right where you are, unable to see far ahead, simply observing your immediate surroundings.  The book has simple illustrations and structure yet manages to convey its message with the lyrical and warm quality of a good fairy tale.

 Mary Uthuppuru - Undefined Lines

 

The book is housed in a drop-spine clamshell box. There is a sense of anticipation while unfolding the outer box and then the inner covers.  The box is covered with black bookcloth; the title printed in a low contrast color that allows it to disappear into the black.  This lends to the feeling of wanting to discover, to find out what’s not defined. It also gives the feeling of walking into a portal of story.

Within the box, the book cover is linen painted with green watercolor, the exact mossy green of very early spring in the woods when the snow melts.  There are paint splotches dropped across the printed title that seem as if the book were carried along on the walk and was splattered by upspray —perhaps from the author’s boots in the mud.  Delicate lines are etched into the green paint, revealing the white linen and suggesting a marshy border. When the four outer flaps of the book are laying open, it’s something like arriving in the center of the marsh.  The splatters on the paste paper flaps radiate out from the depths. The dark green end paper is heavy handmade paper, buckled as if it’s been recently wet.

 

The first page of content conveys a sense of arrival.  There is a marked tonal difference in the warm buff Rives BFK paper.  It is illustrated in a way akin to a storybook; hand drawn in pen and ink with watercolor.  This page is laid out as a vertically-opening double page spread.  Framing the whole outer edge of the spread are the mottled greens of the covers, giving it the feeling again of having been naturally altered, maybe by moss growing in through the outer edges of the book. The author has apparently stood in these cold, leafless woods, creating the delicate illustrations as a document of this walk that we are on.  Because she has drawn exactly where she stands and because the book is the very one she carried on the walk, Ms. Uthuppuru has invited us to stand here too, feeling the cold air and seeing each detail as we turn our head from side to side.  She shows you the beginning of a trail with two signposts on either side, the trail wending its way up the center of the page, winter trees and leafless shrubs standing at the top of the page as the edge of this part of the woods.  The text describes the title, Undefined Lines,  illustrating how the horizon offers no clear view and is always out of reach.

And then the walk begins as we turn page slowly after page, enjoying the simple view of the Indiana woods in what looks like an early spring day.  The second shows a fork in the trail.  The delicate lines from the cover are revealed here as the edges of the trail, the woods are still at the top of the page, beckoning us forward.  The trail is beneath our feet.  Because the book brings us along a trail, the woods always at the top of the page, the trail opening under our feet at the bottom of the page and continuing to the top without revealing the next step, there is a feeling of being pulled forward in anticipation.  At the same time, because the color and the edges of the pages are mottled green, there is a feeling of quiet and of taking one’s time.

Ms. Uthuppuru’s delicate but sure hand lends a feeling of children’s storybook but with the simple straightforward feel of a naturalist’s diary.  There are changes in the landscape, such as a tree fallen across the trail, a small stream that must be leapt, the landscape gently rolling and then flattening on either side of the page.  The changes are the ones any one of us have observed in our everyday lives and walks through our environments…the ordinary, subtle gentle twists and turns in trees, ground and shrubs.  In the case of the Indiana woods that Ms. Uthuppuru walks through and documents, there are heavy vines that twist up trees, similar to the Pennsylvania woods that I have known.  In the end, the trail comes back to the two signs where we began, the only apparent markers of time on this journey.  There is no horizon here either and we are done with our walk.

I thoroughly enjoyed this quiet walk in the woods created with a sensitive and sure hand.  It brought a sense of peace and nostalgia to this fellow forest walker.  

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Casey Gardner – Matter, Anti-Matter and So Forth

 

Casey Gardner - Matter, Antimatter and So Forth

Simply put, Casey Gardner’s Matter, Anti-Matter and So Forth is a marvelous journey through space, time, and philosophy. Seven folios of letterpress with transparent pages are nestled inside a case with illustrations of constellations; they are not the familiar ones we see in the sky, but rather based on the seven components seductively investigated in the folios: light, gravity, time, matter, infinity, constellations, and science. These heady topics are examined within each corresponding booklet; moreover, they can be stood upright and opened to mimic stars, underlining the astronomic expedition viewers within these folios. While the viewer can select any reading order almost like a version of Choose Your Own Adventure, the booklets are best in sequence. In fact, they are helpfully numbered to guide the way.

Each of the folios shares the same layout: the cover/first page is devoted to a first person story (more on that later), then within is a discursive examination of the subject. On the right interior are two transparent pages that layer gorgeously onto each other, titled “Intergalactic artifacts from the transparent universe.” If the rest of the booklets are a tasteful yet somewhat restrained use of color, these transparent pages enthrallingly explode with inky or watercolor techniques, graphic elements, and so on. Underneath these pages reveals the letterpress booklet; meanwhile, the back page/cover is dedicated to methodically “collecting data” from the previous pages and analyzing and organizing this information.

 

Now, the story: the audience reads of an explorer named Phoebe (the name slyly references a moon around Saturn), detailing her trip through the cosmos, exploring each of these seven subjects as she searches for knowledge and perhaps a purpose. Based on the writings within each folio, she finds more questions than answers as she progresses through her travels. As this voyage continues, she meets a fellow wanderer named Amos9 who joins her for part of this cosmic trip, seeking his own quest for the 10th dimension. It is impossible, as you read through each booklet, not to feel as if you are with Phoebe as she discovers and journeys through space; much of this is due to Gardner’s effectively succinct and intriguing method of writing this bit of fiction. Phoebe and Amos9’s trip includes a stop during The Big Bang, other time traveling, and being physically affected by the effects of several natural phenomena.

Wonderment and curiosity delightfully mesmerizes the viewer as they read through these philosophically dense folios. For instance, the first folio Light opens Phoebe’s expedition with “I always travel light” (this statement ends the final folio, Science) and describes a gifted telescope from her aunt. Inside, the book is a free-form, rambling evaluation of the concept of light. A sun is in the lower left corner, and instead of rays, words radiate outward, such as “Stars (repeated 13 times) compose us.” As the audience contemplates these various statements, the transparent pages add to the theoretical discussion with “fusing and radiating the visible and invisible.” The layers build, visually reviewing redshift, which refers to how we measure the distance and movement of remote celestial bodies. As they drift away, the light emitted from them is like a coiled spring being stretched out. Thus, as the galaxy or star proceeds, the light sent out shifts towards the red end of the electromagnetic spectrum. Gardner has clearly been careful in her research for these sections; anyone either unfamiliar with these concepts or a person knowledgeable about the subject could glean different but thoughtful information.

The back of Light (and the other folios too) breaks this material into three specific categories: the “mission” (i.e. Light), data, and impressions. Under this last section, frequently the item “Further inquiries” appears—in Light, she writes “I hope to understand why I came this way.” These invigorating thoughts are a way of digesting what came before, both for Phoebe and the audience. A seal depicting a mission benediction, as if formalizing this space traveler’s report, appears stamped at the end of this back cover.

One cannot help but be absorbed in pondering the stimulating questions posed within the booklets. In Gravity, the interior page has “Do we make the weight or does the weight make us?” This question is perhaps half answered under the folio’s transparent pages with “Weight is made by resisting an opposing force,” leading the viewer to consider their place in the universe, society, and their own effects as thinking human beings. The philosophical conundrum of “why is there something rather than nothing?” is mentioned as well; this question has had recent surge in popularity in works like Jim Holt’s Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story. There, Holt tracks down scientists, philosophers, and religious persons to try and answer this fundamental question of our universe; meanwhile, Gardner gets at a similar examination but in a more lyrical, visual manner. There are so many of these queries and reflections in each booklet that the audience is cheerfully captivated into spending a great deal of time mulling over each section, something Gardner has certainly intended with precise care, encouraging viewers to deeply examine each statement, illustration, and more.

Perhaps one of the most stunning segments in all the folios is the transparent pages in the final booklet, Science. A richly colorful depiction of the universe, with several galaxies illustrated in an expressive, painterly fashion is shown. There is also an arm outstretched; here, Gardner references art history with Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam, though some key differences emerge. The arm has the same iconic gesture as Adam, but upside down and female, and the fingers point deliberately upwards to the stars. This booklet’s back cover concludes with “We are all space travelers” and “This is all an experiment.” This reminds the audience of the enchanting journey they have embarked on vicariously and actively, through exploring each page and making associations and conjectures from the questions raised.

Matter, Anti-Matter and So Forth is a fantastic mishmash of art, science, and hints of popular culture, and its unique consideration of these themes is an absolutely welcome delight. The experience is akin to the astronaut’s at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey, feeling blissfully overwhelmed by the phenomena of the universe. Because there is so much packed into this piece, it is happily possible to rediscover new elements each time one revisits the work—a rewarding mission indeed.

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Two Books by Beata Wehr

 

I have in front of me two books by Beata Wehr; Blue Book About the Past and Book 83: More Stories on Time. Both are crafted from rough weave fabric and housed in fabric envelopes of the same.

Blue Book About the Past is indeed blue, the outside of the envelope treated with surface texture that is reminiscent of moon surface or dimensional relief maps, perhaps a bumpy road stained blue.  Even without knowing the title, the combination of uneven exterior, slight heft to the package as a whole and the round-cornered flap hint that the envelope might house something about time.  Its hand-hewn flap-pouch shape and simple stitching give it a feel of having been in a traveler’s backpack of a fictional long ago.

The book is also blue and roughly fashioned with irregularly-cut rectangular pages of blue-painted and stiffened linen canvas.  Although the indigo blue could be made naturally, thus lending to the idea that this is an old object, both the plastic-coated sheen to the pages and the deliberately placed and stitched objects within point to its modern-totem nature.   Because of its irregular and purely object-oriented nature lacking any description, it’s easy to imagine the book as made by someone other than Ms. Wehr and that she is presenting this as a found object.

Each facing page, including the cover acting as a first page, contain objects one might find in an alleyway or abandoned desert gas station:  bent and deeply scratched metal pieces from something mechanical, part of a key, washers and some sort of sharp thorn or quill, are roughly sewn in compositions that appear on some pages as simple landscapes.   On the first and last pages old bottle caps are placed that can be read as a sun or moon, floating above old wire forming a middle ground that can be read as a figure or landscape feature.   Other pages have the objects placed one after the other, creating a sort of language or catalog of the objects. The pages easily read as shrine-like collections, perhaps hailing a past that the maker holds as something to revere.  Every page also contains one frame of a 35 mm negative strip, sewn to the pages through the existing holes in the strips.

The simple objects included in this book, apparently found on the ground as forgotten or discarded objects, could have been lovingly collected by someone in a future devoid of these things we take for granted.  The 35 mm negative frames sit on each page as a reminder of something recorded, person or moment, that can’t actually be seen as the negatives are stitched on the dark blue background and many of the negatives are deliberately scratched or smudged.  This adds to the idea that the maker is collecting tokens of time.  The fact that the negatives contain images seems unimportant.

On the backside of each page, the stitching of the linen thread used to secure the objects to the front forms a sort of constellation map or marks that might form a code or language used to describe the contents on the facing page.   That the stitches are not perfectly spaced or disguised makes them an important part of the double page spread’s composition.  They face the objects and stand as interpretive marks or balancing design components.

Book 83.  More Stories on Time is also housed in a  fabric envelope, this one of a finer weave, natural color. The construction is as simple as an envelope can be: one side folded rather than stitched as someone would do if they were in a hurry or had few resources.  Unfinished fabric edges are left to fray more over time, only stitched as much as is necessary to hold together.  The same is true for the book within, made of the same unbleached rough cloth, treated with a stiffener that gives the book the feeling of having been through something.

As in Blue Book About the Past, Ms. Wehr has treated the cover as first page, making it eight pages total.  It is similar to the other book in that seemingly discarded and run-over metal objects or pieces of objects are stitched in place, with their placement creating a kind of language or pictures-with-meaning.  The similarity ends there for a few reasons.  One is that the final page spells the word “End” out of metal pieces and wire.  Because of this, the book has the feeling of a story told by someone familiar with the story form and who is telling her story in a new way but with old objects.

Because the only object that repeats throughout the book are old metal washers, there isn’t the feeling of precious collection here.  Each page forms its own sparse meaning, determined by each viewer’s experience.  The objects are so simple:  in one case what appears to be half the base of an iron and a small “u” shaped piece of metal float together on a single fabric page, sewn on with only eight stitches total so that they’re barely hanging on.  There isn’t a universal meaning here but plenty of meaning could be made.

Both books work with the idea of time and allow the viewer plenty of latitude to assign their own meaning.   Both combine man-made materials with natural ones or the allusion to natural materials and both allow the viewer to make meaning without any clearly defined rules.

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Cosmeceutical Collection by Alicia Bailey

Alicia Bailey - Cosmeceutical Collection 3

Acacia Ramberg on Cosmeceutical Collection
this article originally appeared as part of the The Artists’ Books Showcase – a digital exhibition meant to highlight pieces in Emory University’s  Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library collection of artists’ books.

Blog post by Alicia Bailey with production details here.

Cosmeceutical Collection: A Superficial Collection
By Acacia Ramberg

At first glance, Cosmeceutical Collection, an artist’s book by Alicia Bailey, may appear to be like any other book with its thick, pink, hard cover binding. However, one may be surprised to find that the book is not full of pages, but rather, it acts as a box that holds three miniature books in the form of makeup: eyeshadow, blush, and a tube of mascara.

Upon opening the eyeshadow case, one will find a mirror and three little blue books in the shape of eyeshadow palettes with the words Tossico, Spirito, and Bella written separately on each. Moving on to the circular, compact blush case, inside is an accordion-style story book with words on one side of the page and drawings of women’s faces on the other. The top applicator piece of the book is red and displays a drawing of a woman holding a mask. Lastly, the mascara is held in a glass tube with a picture of a woman’s before and after picture using the product surrounding the tube. Pulling the mascara brush out of the tube will unveil a brown scroll containing a story about cosmetics gone wrong.

With today’s growing media, social standards on feminine beauty have significantly increased to obtain what is considered the “ideal body.” Pictures of celebrities, models, and advertisements for different cosmetics all contribute to the standards of physical appearance, often motivating other women to look the same. Everyone from preteen girls who cake on makeup to look older to aging women who fear wrinkles use cosmetics to alter their appearance in their every day lives. From hair products to makeup, it is said that Americans spend over $30,000,000,000 on cosmetics annually (Wagner). Though these products are meant to boost physical appearances, what people do not know is the dangers and risks that come from using cosmetics. In Cosmeceutical Collection, Bailey advocates that the use of cosmetics can lead to detrimental effects through the potential dangers cosmetics can pose to one’s health. In addition, she calls attention to the superficiality of cosmetics and the deceitful effect is has on altering one’s appearance.

Alicia Bailey - Belladonna

The eyeshadow palette conveys the message about the corruption of cosmetic manufacturing and production. Belladonna, as written on the outside case, has two different connotations: deadly nightshade and beautiful woman. When this word is used to describe cosmetics, the contrast in the meanings indicates that cosmetics can oftentimes be misleading. Though makeup may build confidence and create physical beauty, there is still that connotation of “deadly nightshade,” a poison, behind the word that hints at the harmful side effects of makeup. Bailey uses Italian words as opposed to English to hide the harshness of the deeper meaning behind each word. Italian sounds rather romantic and elegant, and it adds an element of deceit to the superficiality of makeup. In this way, Bailey demonstrates how language itself is an aesthetic component of the artist’s book.

Inside the eyeshadow palette, the miniature book Tossico, translated as toxic in Italian, speaks to the definition of Belladonna and the side effects of such a poison. Bailey uses sarcasm when she ends the list of side effects with “but oh such beautiful eyes,” criticizing how despite the knowledge that cosmetics are full of harsh and dangerous chemicals, women will continue to use the makeup for the sole purpose to look pretty. The flower on the page also indicates that the poisonous plant itself is deceiving, as the plant contains pretty and harmless flowers on the outside but deadly toxins within the plant.

Importantly, the eyeshadow case contains a mirror that reflects the reader’s face. This reflective image allows the reader to consider his/her own face in context of what he/she has just read and to question his/her own actions when it comes to the use of makeup. If one tries to read the words in the mirror, he/she will find that it is completely distorted and that the same meaning is not there. In this way, the mirror and its reflection parallel the result of makeup; makeup can completely disguise one’s appearance the same way a mirror can change the looks of the object in its reflection.

The blush case is another way Bailey demonstrates this power of beauty. The woman and the mask demonstrate how makeup can transform someone into something completely different, as the mask represents the woman’s other identity. Flipping the red applicator will reveal pages with glamorous women on the right side of each page. The women’s sultry faces with defined eyebrows and dark lips signify the ideal beauty society makes up. Following the pictures are sentences that speak to how beauty is the most important thing one can possess, as beauty contains the power to seduce men and ultimately get whatever one wants. In a mocking way, Bailey presents the superficiality of how beauty can buy anythingand stresses that makeup should not be the only way one can show his/her beauty.

As the last piece of makeup, the mascara represents the problem over cosmetic safety and the lack of regulations present in society. Bailey uses a story about dangerous eyelash dye to exemplify her point that cosmetics can be dangerous to one’s health and beauty. The paper wrapped around the glass tube displays the effects of non-tested makeup through the before and after picture of a woman who used mascara. The before picture displays a woman of natural beauty while the after picture displays the same woman miserable with fingers prying her eyelids open in a vicious way. This direct display on the cover of the product is quite ironic, as the product’s purpose is to make one beautiful, but instead it has the opposite effect and blinds the user, making her not only less attractive but ultimately disabled. The font of the label Lash Lure contrasts the horrors of the image through its feminine, luxurious curves and design. It is as if Bailey is making a point that many companies are misleading in their products when they cover up the dangers of using the product with appealing designs in its appearance.

Looking at the artist’s book as a whole, Bailey presents the issues of cosmetics in such a way to get the reader to think first hand about the issues. The reader must pick up each object, which places the issue directly in the palm of his/her hand. This action is in hopes that the reader will question his/her own actions toward this issue and whether he/she should continue or change whatever he/she’s been doing. Another thing to note about the artists book is that the three trays the books sit on are of different shape, size, and depth. These differences demonstrate how people are all unique and different in their own way. However, the makeup overpowers their uniqueness to unify all of them and create the ideal image. The box also exhibits tactile texture through its rugged surface to indicate the harsh and disturbing consequence that can arise from using a certain product.

Through Cosmeceutical Collection, Bailey effectively conveys her concerns for the need of regulation on beauty products and that physical beauty is not the only form of beauty one can possess, but it is the beauty within that truly matters. The presentation of the artist’s book plays an important role in communicating this standpoint, as the visual aspect encourages participation that a textual book would not provide. With Bailey’s points in mind, maybe it is time society today should do something about bettering our products and producing more environmentally friendly and healthy cosmetics, as well as reconsider what the media is doing by portraying this superficial image of beauty.
Works Cited
Bailey, Alicia. Cosmeceutical Collection. California: Ravenpress, 2006. Print.
Wagner, Holly. The Hidden Perils of Personal Care Products. USA Today (Farmingdale).
28-29, Jan. 2000. Web. 30 Mar 2013.

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Sarah Bryant – Simulations on a Two-Dimensional Grid

Sarah Bryant - Simulations

Sarah Bryant’s Simulations on a Two-Dimensional grid begins with a great line – or actually, several.   One line – the conceptual basis for the book – graces the first page: “reveal that if conditions are met to destabilize the equilibrium, individuals cycle out of phase with their neighbors.” This is a portion of a spatial population model, which may not tell you much directly but implies everything you need to know before experiencing this intriguing and appealing book.

 

Other lines – and there are many of them – stretch horizontally and vertically across the wrapper and across the unbound pages inside, in groups of 8-10 lines drawn in orange and black. They stretch across the surfaces like so many precise warp or weft threads, knotting together somewhere off the edge but on the page presented as flat and straight. They intersect, they interact, they form small grids as they cross. If you’re fascinated by grids, as I am, the multitude of crossing lines is appealing: specific and direct, like so many telephone wires stretching across a densely peopled city.

 

Additional lines are created by folding, creasing the paper but then flattened out and waxed back into white lines of evenness. The folded lines often parallel the drawn ones, or echo their placement on another page, but occasionally these lines set off on their own, creating their own patterns. They provide a subtle texture, a creased braille, a treat for eyes and fingertips.
The lines are complemented by small holes, just larger than pinpricks. There are groups of them, clustered together as if in a pod, travelling tightly and (for the most part) uniformly. This is the closest literal reference to population, these individual perforations that have gathered together in neighborly communion. For most of the book, they elude structure of the gridlines, but the last page and back cover allow the satisfaction of holes and lines aligning together, delightfully “in phase” with each other.

 

One of the most engaging aspects of this book is the treatment of the Zerkall paper. The waxed surface is lovely to handle, weighty like an ancient map, and its translucence both reveals and obscures the pages following. The folded lines and pricked holes take on a delicate thickness due to the waxing. I found that I wanted to keep exploring Simulations, especially for the pleasure of touching the pages.

 

Beyond lines and holes, the book is without imagery. Beyond the title page, initial quote, and colophon, the book is without words. These choices allow simplicity to reign, undistracted. The book is clean, well-crafted, and evocative.

 

Ed. Note: this book was created using The Artists’ Book Ideation Deck and produced in an edition of ten copies in 2013. It measures 8.5 x 5.25 x .15 (closed). Copies are available for purchase here.

 

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Charlene Matthews – Through the Window

Charlene Matthews - Through the Window

Today I’m writing about one of Charlene Matthews books.

First here’s a bit about Charlene:
Charlene Matthews is a top-notch binderess working in Los Angeles. She is exceptionally skilled in traditional book craft; well versed in problem solving and working with the sometimes exotic materials her clientele demands. Happily for lovers of artists’ books, Charlene gives her imagination free reign when working on her own projects, creating books that are solidly built and full of a lighthearted whimsy. She summarizes these projects in this way:

I have been a voracious reader from early on . . . All this reading has put a lot of stories in my head, and I’ve digested them into pictures and maps. Subconsciously my book art creates some of those maps. I am drawn to words, a story and smell. The words fragment into graphics and photos, the story into maps, the smell into the materials I use.

Charlene Matthews - Through the Window

Her mixing up of materials is well-executed in Through the Window, a 2010 artists’ book. The book is housed in a lavender clam shell box that has a roughly cut, off center rectangular swatch of floral fabric affixed to the top cover. This swatch does not, however, offer an accurate clue as to what the book inside looks like or conveys. The swatch’s splash of color offers the only deviation from the otherwise neutral, muted tones used throughout the book.

The book’s exterior cover is elegant beyond the expectations set by the general demeanor of its box. Covers of natural (undyed) sheep vellum over boards with foil stamped title are lined with watered silk. The pages are bound using a six needle coptic sewn onto vellum straps laced onto the cover boards. The binding is exposed and Charlene has created a pattern over each strap by cross-linking the threads.

 

Charlene Matthews - Through the Window

The pages are created from nylon window mesh. This flexible, tactilely inviting  material, with its open weave and translucency, provides an appropriate stage for the unfolding of Charlene’s pictorial narrative. The narrative begins without preamble (i.e. there are no end pages nor a title page), with a collage of cut out fabric appliquéd on to nylon window screen mesh; the image of a laughing, harlequin styled face – a hole cut out in the wide open mouth’s interior. This page is followed by fifteen more; most have sewn collages of cotton and linen fabrics in muted beige and off-white tones, stitched into place with linen thread. Two of the pages are imaged entirely with thread; the white stitches creating labyrinthine marks that read as maps or aerial views.

The free floating arrangement of the fabric cut outs leave most of the screen empty, allowing glimpses of the next page (or two, or three) before the page is turned. Many pages have entire sections cut out of the collaged shapes’ interiors, allowing unimpeded view to the following page.

Another feature of this book is that the collages appear facing first one direction then, when the page is turned, face the opposite. Matthews has not just pieced her images in place on top of each screen, she has also woven parts of the fabric appliqués through to the next page. This adds a variety to the tones and textures to the nearly monochromatic palette. It takes me a minute to realize that one reason a left facing profile reads so differently than the right facing profile on the reverse of the same page is due to the screen functioning both as substrate and as collaged element.

The individual pages are edged with cotton string, oversewn with linen thread. Most of the pages’ imagery feature aspects of the human body, depicted in simplified forms – floating heads facing front and in profile, hands spread open with  fingers extended, disembodied features such as eyes, and what could be a detached foot (or nose?) floating through the pages’ spaces. Or maybe these are creatures other than human?  The pictorial elements are comfortably familiar, but not merely derivative. It is as though Matthews has invented her own set of symbols rather than adopting those already in our cultural lexicon.

Charlene Matthews - Through the Window

Charlene has, with this series of images, floating in space, yet fixed in place, presented me with a pictorial narrative; the materials open weave a perfect parallel to the openness of the narrative. The images serve as a starting point for me to devise my own story rather than inviting me to read a narrative of another’s devising.

At the outset I recognize and accept an invitation to join Charlene on a wild ride of imagination. At the end of my first romp through these pages, I recognize that future romps through these same pages will give me a chance to invent an entirely different narrative. I vacillate between being slightly envious and slightly alarmed at what Charlene sees through her own window but end this first reading pleased to have been invited along for the ride.

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Michael Sharp – Book of Leaves

Michael Sharp Book of Leaves6Michael Sharp’s Book of Leaves is a work firmly steeped in the past, exploring scientific, photographic, and ecological histories within its pages. Using cyanotype, an old photographic process that results in a rich dark blue, Sharp placed dried leaves collected around the Utah State Arboretum at the Red Butte Gardens and created photograms once the paper was exposed. Leaving behind a ghostly outline, each leaf from specific trees tells a different story and hints at a distinctive personality.

 

Upon opening the small, compact box, the viewer finds what initially appears to be a modest book entitled Utah Diversity, and above this is a symbol that appears to be a beehive or perhaps a pinecone. On the box itself in diminutive type, we learn about the history of cyanotype and its use in scientific documentation of natural objects and also in blueprints. The artist also mentions a critical feature the viewer encounters when unfolding the book: bits of the cyanotype peel or flake off. This crumbling deterioration is analogous to the subjects within the pages, the fragile dried leaves, reinforcing the relationship between the subject and the book itself.

 

 

Once opened, the viewer is informed that the images following are a “representation of the (tree) populations.” It is here that the charming piece shows its true intentions. Each leaf, as if it were a separate person, appears with its Latin name and common name. No two leave are alike, and they are paired together at times because of shared or discordant characteristics. For instance, the Cully Black Birch and the European White Birch look like siblings, with a similar shape and outline. In other cases, like the Yoshino Cherry and Blacklace Elderberry, we have a very oval leaf with tiny jagged edges (Cherry) opposite a thin-leafed, smooth-textured Elderberry, which is reminiscent of a small flower plant in shape. Some leaves, like the Fairmont Ginkgo, have an almost human-like quality. One can almost see a face in profile on either side of the leaf, or perhaps even a pair of lungs, coming from this particular outline. Much like Rorschach tests, it is hard not to try and see shapes, people, or other fanciful interpretations. The more the viewer pages through the book, the more the march of quirky personalities and mysterious histories play out before them.

 

Book of Leaves is foremost a book of memories. From the precise curation of the trees that Sharp selected to the drying and exposure of each brittle leaf, this documentation reminds the viewer of each step in the process before them. Remembering that even the paper is an artifact of a tree turned into pulp, this piece is haunted by all aspects of ghosts concerning the humble tree.

 

But perhaps the most delightful feature of this work is what it transforms into. Book of Leaves can be stood upright and unfolded like a star-shaped accordion. Suddenly, it has transformed and mimics one of the many leaves found within, creating an organic pattern based on how the audience choose to unfold the pages. Each iteration and choice creates a new work in a way, reinforcing the concept of this book being about memory and adding a unique performative element. As mentioned previously, some of the cyanotype falls away as well, slowly eroding the book as much as the process of decay in nature. Sharp’s work is meant to be gently playful yet a bit fragile, referencing the subjects and the fleeting history that lies within.

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Michelle Ray and the Sea – Part 2

Michelle Ray Three Ships 4Three Ships
published by Michelle Ray in 2012, in an edition of 35.

With Three Ships, Michelle uses a more sculptural, or display book, format than she has with previous editioned works. This sets it apart from her earlier work, and lays the foundation for her subsequent book God Created the Sea and Painted it Blue so We’d Feel Good On It . . .

The piece is housed in a double tray drop-spine box, but rather than housing a book that can be removed and examined outside of the box, the box itself is the book. The right hand tray has all four walls intact and presents an image of the sea, layered front to back with cut out, printed components. The physical layering assures that the uppermost part of the image, which is, in this case, the horizon line, is physically further away from the viewer than the immediate foreground. The image includes bright yellow silhouette forms of boats on which text appears.

Michelle Ray Three Ships

Michelle Ray Three Ships

The left hand tray, with the spine side one, has a four flap wrapper with a tab and slot closure affixed to the back of the box. Opening the envelope reveals both a 6 panel, map-folded page and a small Errata card. The folded page is printed both sides with imagery and text, and includes the colophon.

Michelle Ray Three Ships

Michelle Ray Three Ships

Three Ships exemplifies once again Michelle’s ability to convey an abundance of thought and relationship with few images and words presented on so few surfaces.

This piece was created in response to a specific text as part of the BookArtObject Edition #4. BookArtObject is an informal group of book artists that uses their blog as vehicle discussion and as an arena to make small editions of handmade artists’ books in response to various texts. The text for Edition Four comes from Sarah Bodman’s book An Exercise for Kurt Johannessen, in which 100 short story titles were provided as starting points for the participating artists.

Three Ships is the title Michelle chose to work with, giving he opportunity to explore an ongoing theme – the sea. In a continuation of her choice to present relationships from a broad range of sources, this work draws from the memory of the three life boats from Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition: Stancomb Wills, Dudley Docker and James Caird, Shackleton’s stash of rare and old Highland malt whiskey, and the safety and foolishness of that expedition. The book also explores through mnemonic devices this relationship between time, memory and seeing.

My favorite bit is the Errata card:

We suffer terribly from snow blindness. In the end, none of us could remember why we came to this place.

Michelle Ray Three Ships Errata

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Michelle Ray and the Sea – Admeasure

Michelle Ray Admeasure

I have never met Michelle Ray but well remember the first work of hers I saw – The Kashash and the Archivist; it is one I wish I owned. Abecedarian Gallery represents Michelle, giving me a chance to get to know her through the works she creates. My respect for her continuing growth and work deepens with each new project.

Michelle Ray describes herself as a left brained maker; a devotee of organizing, list-making and labels. She also clearly loves language, research, storytelling and vast open spaces. Her level of craft is high, her writing skills well-honed and her evolving conceptual development is sophisticated enough to effectively translate multiple elements into objects so that they live in a state of complex harmony. Yet these works are not cumbersome or crowded; rich though they are, with words, imagery, reference and structure, they remain elegant and almost sparse.

This week I’m focusing on three of Ray’s limited edition book works – those that reference the sea:
Admeasure, Three Ships and God Created the Sea and Painted it Blue so We’d Feel Good On It . . .

Admeasure, the earliest of the three, was published in 2011 while Ray was an MFA candidate in the Book Arts Program at the University of Alabama.

Admeasure is structurally simple (an accordion book with pamphlet stitched pages in two sections housed in a paper wrapper) produced by uncomplicated procedures (letterpress, die cut, folding and stitching). Closed it measures 8 x 3 x .25 inches.
Michelle Ray Admeasure
The soft paper cover is printed in gray ink on a sand colored paper with a line drawing of waves that are turbulent and seem to be crashing off a rocky shore. There is no land in sight, only the horizon line of the endless sea.

Charmingly, the tab/slot mechanism that holds the cover closed is printed with the words

“I had a dream that I built a small boat & set out to sea in it.”

Michelle Ray Admeasure

On opening the book, we learn that Admeasure is a nautical term and refers to the act of measuring the dimensions and capacity of a vessel for official registration. Later in the book, the silhouetted forms of a bird and boat alongside upward and downward pointing arrows, illustrate how a vessel’s height and depth impact the spaces of the sky and sea.

The accordion pages are printed front and back, in the lower third, with more images of the roiling sea; a two sail boat rocked but upright appears on the fourth (of ten) panels. This panel also serves as the first page of a pamphlet, stitched through the accordion fold. A second pamphlet is stitched into the final fold of the accordion and goes through the book cover’s spine. This allows the book to be fixed in place in the cover, but also fully extended for a different viewing experience.
Michelle Ray Admeasure

The accordion panels are printed front and back with black line work and gray blocks of color; the text varying shades of gray. The two pamphlet sections introduce various shades of orange. While startling on first encounter, the bright, warm color gives a whimsical break from the prevailing muted tones, particularly as one of the images printed in orange is that of an albatross.

Michelle Ray Admeasure

The book utilizes quotes from Bas Jan Ader, a traditional pilot’s verse and draw’s from a variety of archetypal journey (including Ray’s own time spent in small boats).

It also gives clear directives: alongside the aforementioned orange albatross the words

“Now. Hold a live Albatross in your hands. Feel how hot it is. Smell its smell (dusty).

Under a cut-out of a woman’s silhouetted profile

“Go into a darkened room. Shine a flashlight through this cutout to project a silhouette on the wall.”

Michelle Ray Admeasure

Admonishments:

“Do not begin reading this book on a Friday, for it will bring you bad luck.”

Michelle Ray Admeasure

And a gentle suggestion:

“You are now being directed to create marginalia related to your journey at sea. Feel free to use all of the empty space on this page.”

Admeasure presents elements later projects have clarified about Ray’s engagement in the world. An interest in presence vs. absence, a love of the vast landscapes of sea and sky, an appreciation for the quirky and whimsical and her work as a book artist to draw connections between traditional lore and our continuing present.

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Julie Chen – Family Tree

Julie chen family tree 1

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.

Julie Chen Family Tree07

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.

Julie Chen Family Tree03

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.

Julie Chen Family Tree04

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.

Julie Chen Family Tree05

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.

Julie Chen Family Tree09

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’

 

Julie Chen Family Tree10

 

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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