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Helen Hiebert – Cosmology

Carl Adamshick, Poet, Helen Hiebert, Maker

Isobel Morrison, © 2012

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.

Cosmology is defined as “the science of the origin and development of the universe”, pertaining to great mystery and historical depth. While Helen Hiebert’s artist book Cosmology does not attempt to tackle any astronomy, theory or particle physics, it does function as an elegant tribute to the universe and its delicate mysteries. Helen Hiebert’s creamy paper and conceptual structure coupled with Carl Adamshick’s serene poem evoke the fluidity of time and inaccessibility of memory. Hiebert’s unusual book structure and the space she creates within the book helps to inject additional meaning into the book, and differentiate it from other artist books, and ultimately it is because of this creation of space that the book is so successful.

Cosmology is, at first glance, a fairly simple book. Comprised of a one-sheet book structure, it does not seem to function as anything more than a simple artist book, with beautiful Japanese inspired handiwork and a short poem inside. Upon further handling, however, the book is elevated, its presence complicated and expanded upon by Hiebert’s ingenious use of space, as

“every intention presupposes a purpose, a utility.” (Carrión)*

Essentially, the book can be expanded to create a small ‘square’ of space within the middle of the book, allowing for the intricately cut paper frame to create what looks like a window within the book. This renders the book three-dimensional, and in doing so alters its existence as simply one of a passive work of text into an active, engaging art piece that has a dynamic capability. The three-dimensionality of the book also helps to draw attention to the beautiful paper that Hiebert has made.

The poems reference looking outside windows, into the mountain air, and because the frame pops open, it draws attention to the alternating pale blue and white pulp colors on the paper behind the frame. This creates a depth; it invites the viewer to indeed see this frame as a window: into what, you yourself can decide. Hiebert mentions on her website that the frame was inspired by

“the way light filtered through traditional shoji screens in the Ryokan (Japanese Inn) where I stayed”,

and even the background story behind the geometric composition of the frame helps to instill the frame with additional meaning. It is meant to be enjoyed as a real, physical space: you can look through the frame, you can look into the frame, and you can look past the frame, and each of these distinctions help elevate the book into the realm of a distinct, unique artist book. The structure also alters the way in which the book can be viewed. It can be held like a traditional codex, between two hands, but it can also be displayed in an upright fashion, and this helps to transform it into a more permanent structure. These are important considerations when looking at artist books because they exist unlike typical books: they are supposed to incorporate dynamic viewing and Cosmology does just this.

There is a great deal of meaning that the poetry and the structure of the book add to each other, which is another example of Hiebert’s strength of vision. Within the twelve-line poem, the motif of a ‘window’ shows up twice, and this connection ultimately helps to imbue both sections with additional meaning. Adamshick’s poetry is meaningful, and as simple and complex as you desire to make of it. The opening sentence, spread over two lines describes how

Silence is a window

open to the mountain air,

and this sentence is a perfect representation of the elegance and clarity of his poem. He guides the reader through various images, images of

. . . a transparent map

of moonlight


an ocean floor

and the lost city

where your child grew tall.

His poetry is unadorned; emotion is rendered through the sense of loss and sentimentality, nostalgia for the sake of the bittersweet sadness it brings. The materials on which it is printed on, and the pale blue and sky blue and white that the book is comprised of, helps to reinforce specific imagery: that of the ocean, of mountain air, of falling water. This relationship between the structure and the content is especially important in artist books, as without it there is a decisive lacking in the book’s

“reason to be, and to be a book.” (Drucker)*

The sweetness in Adamshick’s diction, as well as the sense of discovery and contentedness that pervades the entire poem, helps point to the same creation of space that the structure does: the explicit meaning in the map, the ocean floor, the lost city and the mountain.

Aside from those more obvious references to space, he adds an additional spatial element: one that transcends tangible, physical space and instead exists as something infinite and intangible: time. The description of

the lost city

where your child grew tall,

and line that

Memory is the water

you hear falling

on the mountain

as your hand pushes

the silence close.

both point to a loss, of time and love and noise. The poem is both exceedingly simple and complex, and it is hard to take away from the poem a particular feeling: but when coupled with the structure, colors, and framing, the poem grows into something meant to be taken less literally and more figuratively: an emotion you are encouraged to feel as opposed to an emotion you are expected to decipher.

Ultimately, Helen Hiebert creates an artist book that is both simple and complex, gentle and striking. The book creates space and references space, and the integration of these unique characteristics (that are rooted in memory) help to further the poetry by Adamshick. While Cosmology does not deal with many complicated images or scientific structures, it nevertheless references things both tangible and intangible, through both content and structure. It is an evocative book, one that makes the viewer feel an emotion that is at times unidentifiable; and this is the beauty of its final form.


*references from  The Century of Artists’ Books, Johanna Drucker
Essay: The New Art of Making Books by Ulises Carrión in
Artists’ Books, A Critical Anthology and Sourcebook, Joan Lyons

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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.


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.

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.

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 on May 31, 2013 and is re-published here with their kind permission.

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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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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