AB Gorham – Whipstock

Americans have been parasitically entwined with the Western landscape through oil for over a century, developing in time to its own mythology. Whipstock by AB Gorham is a curious puzzle devoted to this lore. A considered experimental piece, it lyrically examines the way oil has seeped into our land, our economy, our history, and our lives.

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Roughly the size of a CD outside its outer casing, Whipstock unfolds with booklet flaps left and right; each booklet is connected at the middle and unfolds both horizontally and vertically. Within the handsome outer case, there is a series of numbers 1-36 that snake through in rows (reading let to right, right to left), punctuated with small holes. These holes pepper the booklets at various points, almost mimicking a drill piercing through the dirt. “Oil,” or rather small blobs of brown ink, are interspersed throughout, much like a miniature spill soaking into various pages. The numbers appear again within the booklets, and they are a guide for reading Whipstock in an order, although one could easily read without that direction. Finally, the case cover contains imprints of imagery that repeats later in the book without color, appearing to be linked to drilling.

These numbers force the reader to “dig” through the work; one might start right and discover the next number is on the opposing booklet. One could also flip the pages like a traditional book, but then be flummoxed by the next number disappearing—or rather, this trail pushes the reader to alter how they have read thus far by unfolding vertically. Gorham is quite strategic in this layout, deploying a metaphor of burrowing and uncovering while engaging with the work.

And now, the content of the pages: Whipstock is a mostly linear yet stream of consciousness/poetic rendering of the history of oil production, from the geologic to more intimate human-scale concerns. Even within pages, it can be challenging to know what to read first, and each reading can be unique. Words are placed in a circular fashion, as lists, diagonal, upside down, and sometimes as shapes. They are as much words as pattern, and the reader needs to turn and move the book to really be able to read in full. Whipstock is not a passive engagement to say the least!

This language encompasses all aspects of oil, such as legalese on the vagaries of oil production detailed in #13.

AB-Gorham-Whipstock

There are two columns side by side with the right repeating the left column’s words but crossing out sections, leaving the reader to ponder the significance of this directed act of partial removal.

AB-Gorham-Whipstock

Elsewhere, the penetration of the ground is vividly described as in #19:

“weave a rope of mudstone, fetter the drill bit’s grind/denture toothed gnash & gnaw, gizzard’s work.”

AB-Gorham-Whipstock

In #29, we get a brief but incisive list of uses for oil besides heating and transportation; mundane items like nail polish, footballs, and the “ink on these pages” occur. This crucial inventory shows how interconnected we are to oil in every facet of modern life, whether we are aware or not.

AB-Gorham-Whipstock

Prior to this is entry #28, which details a pipe bursting and leaking into farmland soil; Gorham seems to be demonstrating the dependence of oil in this country is not without ecological consequences.

Continuing through the book, the destruction inherent to oil production is pursued further in #32:

“oil leaches into soil into water chemical water leaches into ground seeps into.”

Oil is everywhere, and despite its origination in the deep earth from dinosaur bodies and ancient flora, the toxic outcomes are far from natural. We see this accentuated in oil daubs such as #33, which also spreads over small grids. Are these fences? Or perhaps farms? A muted, earthy color palette of dulled greens and browns compliment the focus of land, and the shapes within these printed imagery shift between abstract and exact, much in the same way language is used throughout Whipstock.

As a climax of all this flowing rumination on oil in the West, the very instrument of removing oil from the earth is at last displayed: a brightly colored oil derrick, prominent and direct in pages #34 and #36.

AB-Gorham-Whipstock

There are wheat plants printed over sections, suggesting a relationship: rising wheat, rising derrick, with wheat superseding and overlaying the derrick, signifying its dominant importance. The interplay underlines our manipulation of the earth towards our own ends, regardless of cost. AB Gorham has created an interrogative work on the depth of human intervention in the land, leaving the readers questioning their complicity in this and just how much the oil industry’s positives outweigh some disastrous negatives.

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Macy Chadwick – Cell Memory

Rachel Fredericks

This essay originally appeared in a catalog produced by Kitty Maryatt’s Fall 2014 Core III class (all sophomores) at Scripps College for the exhibition titled CBAA Members’ Exhibition, in the Clark Humanities Museum, shown January 7 to February 17, 2015.

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Many people base their identities on the kind of thinking they use, which leads them to the kind of subjects they’re interested in. For example, someone who thinks very logically and who likes to problem-solve might see herself becoming an engineer or a scientist, and one who is more interested in picking out the beauty in words and the world in general might become a poet. Of course, there is beauty in science and logic to poetry, but not many people realize the extent to which all the disciplines really inform and support one another. Macy Chadwick addresses this disconnect in her artist book Cell Memory, which presents an ethereal, artistic version of a cell with translucent pages of poetry and pages reminiscent of actual cell parts. The book is meant not only to call to mind a cell itself, but also that of which cells are capable.

The book is only about three by four inches when closed, plus it is comprised of thin, translucent paper, so it requires delicate handling. It comes in a round, thin case made of the same kind of paper, in which it is possible to see some stringy fabric and another piece of paper with the book’s basic information on it. This establishes the book as something to be protected, or even revered. There are multiple patterns printed on the pages, all with abstract images and organic colors. The pages’ translucency allows for the images to slightly show through to surrounding pages, which lends itself to a sense of connectedness throughout the book. Usually artists get to make each page its own entity, but each page in this book necessarily affects the next. The pages are also different sizes and have differently shaped edges, which combines with the patterns to make each seem like a different part of the cell body. This literal connectedness finds a parallel in and is explained by the text itself, a poem with a few lines per page.

The poetry addresses the idea that cells can hold memories. This is not in specific, informational ways but likely in a manner similar to muscle memory, in which bodies automatically move in a certain way because of how habits have been ingrained in them. Cell memory, as Chadwick presents it, seems to include the relatively short history that might have occurred within one cell as it existed in the larger form of which it was a part, but also the possible ways the cell could exist as well. Chadwick writes of the cell’s possibilities in a few lines:

in the core/ of ourselves/ the cells remember/ Past and potential.

Since cells have the potential to participate in so many organic functions and entities, each cell and cell part resonates with a sense of etherealness, the ability to transcend the present and become a part of something significant. Of course, a side effect of this is the cell’s transformation into something significant all on its own, simply because of its potential. Chadwick certainly makes it clear that the cell is something to be appreciated, even revered. The book even comes in a thin translucent case that adds to its importance.

It is important to note that Chadwick focuses on memory instead of just potential, even though imagining that cells have memories is a much more abstract concept. She even includes the line in the core of ourselves the cells remember twice, emphasizing both the cells’ ephemeral nature and their timelessness by calling to mind their smallness and their relevance as units which form the foundations for human beings. The lines

Centrioles like tiny magnets/ tugging at all/ that cannot be recalled
further reinforce this dichotomous existence; they acknowledge that cells are not able to hold declarative information but that every part in a cell is so connected with each other and with the cell as a whole that it automatically has a sense of its history. In other words, cells’ mobility and relative transience contrasts with their role in life since life first began, so each cell might seem insignificant on its own but really reflects billions of years of history.

Johanna Drucker writes about books similar to Chadwick’s in her chapter on rare and auratic books in The Century of Artists’ Books. She brings up Barbara Fahrner’s books, which

“[extend] philosophical and poetic investigations of the book as a metaphor for the world.”

This description also adequately addresses Cell Memory, especially when she adds that Fahrner’s purpose is

“to give [the book] meaning and to give it a permanence which counteracts the transient inconsequentiality of the passage of time.”

Chadwick’s creation very surely achieves this as well, as one can see through the combination of all the elements of the book. It establishes itself as an auratic book through its translucent, small, colorful, and differently shaped pages and the inside poem’s reference to something much bigger than (but also exactly the size of) itself. It is the potential and memory that the book calls to mind, however, which really comprise the feel of the book when one views it.

Chadwick effectively brings together poetry and science in a way that artist books do so well, exploring the potential of a unit of life page by page and line by line. Again, there is a sense of connectedness created by the see-through pages and repeated imagery in the poem itself, and all elements work excellently together to achieve a general representation of both delicate transience and eternal strength.

Click here to purchase Cell Memory.

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Michael Peven – Heart Surgery

This is a re-post of a review written by Judith Hoffman that first appeared UMBRELLA Volume 29, No 2, June 2006

Open Heart Surgery by Michael Peven is the saga of the artist’s heart surgery in 2002. It is a kind of “primer” on the subject, but done in an aesthetic, finely tuned, and beautifully structured way.

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As you open the book, it becomes a metaphor of that brutal opening up of the chest, showing the progress of the chest from healthy and hairy progressively to more injured with the obvious scar against little hair and being held together with steri-strips and staples against a naked chest. Using X-rays and the angiogram, the journey goes into the heart itself and beyond. This is not an easy book, either from the point of the subject matter or the masterful construction which demands that you interact with the pages.

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The book is bound on the left and right sides and pages generally open in the middle through a series of more and more complex methods. You feel that Peven is testing you, making it difficult, and even experiencing this kind of slow-motion film that allows you to see what CSI shows you in 5 seconds. But he has thought this out and made the book challenging for him as well as for the reader/viewer.

For instance, there is a “fringe” made to the approximate scale and shape of the steristrips or undoing a metal twist tie on the image of the sternum (after seeing the patient’s in the X-ray on the previous page). The imagery is genuine, an anatomy lesson that I am sure the artist never wanted, but at least he can share it with us.

The book is a tribute to survival, to making something beautiful out of something rather traumatic and devastating, but the artist in Peven overcomes the patient in Peven and we touch and feel the skin, the wounds, the sutures and know with great simulation what he went through.

copies still available – click here to purchase

 

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Casey Gardner – Body of Inquiry

This review, by Sandra Kroupa, was first published by the College Art Association in caa.reviews on May 31, 2013 and is re-published here with their kind permission.

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Casey Gardner Body of Inquiry
Limited edition of 57 letterpress printed copies.
Berkeley: Set in Motion Press/Still Wild Books, 2011. 6 pp.

(copies still available)

“What is alive anyhow?” This is one of the simple, troubling, and eternal questions posed by Casey Gardner’s artists’ book, Body of Inquiry. Her response is anything but simple. Partly inspired by the Musée des arts et meétiers, a labyrinth of scientific instruments and investigations in Paris, Gardner creates a complex multi-layered work combining the museum, her elementary science classes, technical facts, and an anatomical model called Torso Woman with her speculations on life, science, and death. The result is truly surprising.

In the colophon Gardner states that “this book has been on my mind for quite some time.” Gardner tackles an issue no less than the fundamental one—where is the break between life and death? This is a question that has troubled us all, or will, and one that as the Curator of the Book Arts Collection at the University of Washington Libraries I have tried to bring together a “body” of work to explore. That group includes artists known for explorations in this field: Susan King, Joyce Cutler-Shaw, Maureen Cummins, and Tamar Stone, among many others.

When I first saw Body of Inquiry at the College Book Art Association annual conference in February of 2012, I did not know Gardner’s work. I was struck by the piece exhibited in a vitrine and spent an hour asking everyone if they knew the artist. Charles Hobson took on the mission and emerged from the crowd with Gardner in tow. She had another copy of the book with her, and I had the opportunity to handle it for the first time.

Like many artists’ books, Body of Inquiry has the patina of whimsy with a more difficult interior of deep probing and pain. Once the reader is seduced by form and presentation, the realization of content creeps in, changing the color of the piece. The book’s full title mimics the historical texts of old, and is too long to quote in full here, but continues in part, “scientifically capricious, yet unequivocally misleading.”

The book’s shape references an elementary school science project poster session, albeit a very sophisticated one. It is a standing triptych, letterpress printed on both sides. The “body” at the central core allows the reader to explore further and further into it, moving chest, lungs, and other parts aside to get to the central point. Gardner adds the complexity of a series of six pages and eight flaps to this body, each with text. Like many books in this field, a textual description does little to convey the work, and I suggest seeing the excellent photographs of the piece here.

Many artists’ books are the antithesis of today’s technology; they are measured and slow. These books evoke the methodical practice of their making. I am sure that Gardner’s project took years to conceive and produce—perhaps since her fourth- and fifth-grade teacher, Mr. John P. Sullivan, to whom the book is dedicated, sowed the seeds long ago. His approach of making “learning an immense fantastical tale” has not yet worn off. There are at least five passes through the press on most of the sections of the book, with as many colors plus blind embossing. This small edition of fifty-seven copies explores deep and sobering issues through wit and charm, clever text, and strange, often beautiful images. But Torso Woman is at the core of the piece in more ways than one.

Many of Gardner’s images of scientific instruments are taken from “late 19th and early 20th century laboratory catalogs,” which are combined with her own elaborate drawings. Her fantastical captions for the real devices are paired with factual text explaining her drawings. A strange historical object is labeled “an unaccountable injector” with the description: “Extract of inconceivability to mingle with churlish inner ducts of deep seated disenchantment.” Her delicate drawing of sperm that looks like wild strawberries is paired with text about the 3.2 billion letters in the coding of DNA.

The questions and speculations Gardner poses are ones that we, too, have had on our minds for a long time. We watch our early years of invulnerability and confidence shift to suspicion, uncertainty, and inevitability. Our hold on life switches from solid to unstable. The historical instrument image that Gardner calls one of the “Prisms of Infinite Reflection” is described in part as that which, “Refracts levels of reminiscence through interchangeable lenses of relief or regret.” The “Prophylactic Hand of Fate” is “a gauntlet for frictionless deflections of the stealthy hand of destiny.” The piece touches me without relying on predictable triggers: there is no story of the fifty-year-old teacher who goes to a conference and dies of a massive heart attack before goodbyes can be said; no heart-wrenching tale of the book artist without health insurance dying needlessly—just the seemingly unanswerable questions “how?” and “why?”

The puzzlement of how living things work has fascinated people for most of recorded history. For centuries that fascination has been put into books. Seeing in Bologna both the actual artifacts and the original wood blocks of Ulisse Aldrovandi, one of the founders of the modern study of natural history, gives Gardner’s book historical context for me. Aldrovandi tried to put the entirety of the living world into a series of books from 1574–1667; one can see both the compulsion and folly of such a task but also its inevitability. Although Aldrovandi died in 1605, this magnificent project continued to be published so that his vision would be carried into the future.

There are classic images of the twentieth century that seem to capture the moment between life and death: Eddie Adams’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing Nguyen Van Lem during the Vietnam War and Robert Capa’s famous photograph from the Spanish-American War, The Falling Soldier. Whether the latter is documentary or art, it still conveys that moment powerfully. We are fascinated by “last words”—especially of the famous. Gardner’s Body of Inquiry is not autobiographical in any obvious way but gives a sense of completion—a quest come to successful conclusion. Gardner, inspired by Torso Woman, set off into the unfamiliar country of the body and the cosmos. Here she found a reverence for the senses, the balance of truth and mystery and an understanding that science and poetry are part of the magical.

The best artists’ books resonate in the way a piece of music does at first hearing—offering a new sound but still familiar, making us nod in agreement, hearing our own internal voice in the sounds. Body of Inquiry is a text-rich piece, an entire jazz concert rather than just a simple song. Gardner’s book could just be “looked at” and be found charming and ambitious. If really read, in the end it leaves us sober and thoughtful but glad to be alive.

Sandra Kroupa
Curator of Book Arts and Rare Books, Special Collections, University of Washington Libraries

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Melissa Jay Craig – Manifest O

M-Craig-Manifest-O-11

Encountering Melissa Jay Craig’s book Manifest O is like coming across a tome from an ancient world: exciting, puzzling, and intriguing, a familiar form that contains distinctly unfamiliar landscapes, inhabitants and languages. Experiencing the book for the first time put me in the position of reader-archaeologist, discovering not only an elusive narrative but an underlying culture.

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Constructed from abaca and kozo, the book is large yet surprisingly light to hold. At first glance, there seem to be dozens of oversized feather-weight pages, telling what must be a long story. The cover, wrinkled and warped as if weathered over centuries, seems part tree bark, part treasure map. The pages are browns and deep yellows and occasional violets, like a bruise.

Instead of a traditional title on the spine and cover, there are tears in the paper – slits, or burns, or almost claw marks – that could indicate a title, if one could but read the language. Inside, I soon I discover the holes. These are spots where the page appears to have been worn through, as if each tiny area had been rubbed over and over again, a kind of Braille worn down to nothing. Reading like lines of text, the holes are a mysterious and unreadable script.

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The holes go on for several pages, and then – and then! – a pair of eyes appears, emerging from the surface of the page. Drawn in colored pencil, they look out at me. Are they poignant? forlorn? or merely seeing? Another few pages with holes, then a drawing of a finger, touching on a spot on the page, and then a nose: sniffing, perhaps. More holes, many lines of them. Then, a mouth. And another mouth. Many mouths, speaking, forming shapes with their lips, through and around the patterns of holes. Trying to clarify, to illuminate, trying to speak to me this hidden language. Pages of mouths. Pages of holes. And yet, try as I might, I cannot receive. I cannot understand the words. I cannot translate. I cannot – hear. What’s missing? Ears. Ah, ears. The narrative continues, with pages and pages of mouths and holes explaining and articulating, yet now that I understand, I have given up trying to comprehend.

As an object, Manifest O is beautiful: finely crafted, rich in color and texture, a sensual pleasure to handle and to look at. Yet vastly more important is the journey that Manifest O took me on, through an experiential understanding of hearing loss and of subsequent isolation. Through her insightful choice of timeless materials, to her considered use of empty and occupied space, to her careful and measured “texts,” Craig has created a transformative experience, bringing readers like me into poignant awareness of another world.

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Candace Hicks – Coincidence

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Perhaps the most recognizable and definitive of school supplies is the composition book. This ubiquitous, bound notebook with typically wide ruled pages was an easy way to take notes or jot down information in classes—at least, for those of us used to pen and paper more than computers and typing. Candace Hicks deploys this schoolbook as a visual language in Coincidence. Just a bit thicker, perhaps a bit larger than the one we are used to, this composition-style work instantly assures the viewer that what they are about to encounter is going to be a handwritten, unique experience.

Upon initial examination, the outer cover of the book is similar to the most traditional of composition books, black with white cracks. These bits of white mimic the tunnels of ant farms (another school staple). Small ants crawl around, curiously searching for something; these creatures march onwards inside, as the audience soon sees. Once opened, the inner pages of Coincidence are a simple but bold red. Nestled on the left cover are red tinted glasses, like the disposable 3D kind, though they do not recreate that three-dimensional effect per se. The lenses are solely, emphatically red; once put on, everything is strongly colored to that shade. These glasses are a portal to a secret message, which we’ll get to shortly.

Taking the glasses off again, the viewer turns the page to the beginning of the book. Here, Hicks has used what looks to be her own handwriting in black ink (replicated in printing) to discuss coincidences. Looking closely, the blue lines of the pages, are actually made of small ants moving in formation. So is the red margin line, both easy to miss without alert attentiveness. Continuing this scholastic theme, “corrections” are made to the text via red ink, the go-to correction pen, pluralizing some words and making other minor adjustments. This simple color scheme of black, red, and the faded blue emphasize and focus the audience’s attention on the text, or story, within the pages.

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Hicks reviews coincidences, or rather, a series of flukes that have clearly affected her in some way. Written almost in a stream of consciousness listing style, she starts by mentioning that these chance accidents tend to come in pairs—and then she’s off. We read about the anatomist murders in 1828 Edinburgh and how the two books she read depict the murderers in varying ways (one sympathetic, the other cruel), then to Napoleon’s wallpaper, its arsenic content, and the incorrect link to his demise. This portion of the book flows in this manner, a series of events that link together, hopping around history, literature, mythology, the everyday mundane, movies, and much more.

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In some way, it feels as though Hicks, by describing this familiar yet intangible phenomenon, is trying to be open or welcoming to the universe in order to experience these accidents. These incessant links are listed breathlessly but matter-of-factly as she recounts each paired set. At one point, she mentions apophenia, which is “the experience of seeing patterns or connections in random or meaningless data.” She reads about this in a book and then immediately hears about it on Radiolab, a radio broadcast on science in everyday life. This cheeky association shows Hicks’ humor and self-awareness as she carries on with her task, relentlessly enumerating. As if to bolster her examination of coincidences, she adds footnotes to some pages, another academic reference. Finally, as if spent, the book ends with a last correlation and no explanation or summation of what has come before.

But what about the red glasses? This is where the viewer can giddily feel as if they are reading hidden code in invisible ink—because in a way, they are. In between the pages on coincidences are foldout pages; when the viewer pulls out the page, they see a series of ants creeping in haphazard formation. With the glasses on however, the true purpose is revealed. Each foldout tells part of a story, which goes thusly: famed etymologist E. O. Wilson discovers that ants use chemicals to communicate. He figures out how to chemically respond, directing them to “follow me,” then painstakingly collected these chemicals from the ants. Using these pheromones, Wilson writes his name, and the ants line up to create the font, which the final foldout presents. This linkage between hidden messages, ants, connection, and more all underline the purpose of Hicks’ work: coincidences and making sense of fragmentation. Swirling, eager, and somewhat surreal, Coincidence is a rousing exploration of a variety of media and life in general.

Order a copy here.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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