Archive | Artist Accolades

Aimee Lee – Peculiar & Commonplace

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The word commonplace originates from Greek tópos koinós which means

‘a theme or argument of general application’.

Commonplace books (or commonplaces) were a widely used method for compiling knowledge, usually by writing information. In this original sense, commonplace books were collections of knowledge transcribed into books by one creator, typically following an individual’s particular interests and were significant in early modern Europe. By the seventeenth century commonplacing was formally taught to college students.  In 1706 Enlightenment philosopher John Lock wrote A New Method of Making Commonplace-Books, in which specific advice on how to arrange material by subject and category is offered, along with the admonition that such books are not chronological and introspective as journals are, nor are they travelogues. Commonplacing remained standard practice as a popular study technique into the early twentieth century.

During this Age of Information, recording by writing on paper is a diminishing practice; consequently commonplace books can be viewed as charming relics of the past, and serve as fodder for contemporary projects, particularly to those interested in the book form.

Aimee Lee’s Peculiar and Commonplace book, published in 2018 in a limited and variable edition of ten copies is such an example.

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Lee’s book is soft-cover, the size approximating that of letter-size paper. Tonally muted, the book spine is of a lighter colored paper that extends onto the cover, structurally mimicking a quarter-bound book and visually mimicking the left-hand column of the loose-leaf paper familiar to those educated in pre-computer environments. That both the title and author’s name present as hand-written provide further clues to the book’s general theme.

The text block consists of a two signatures, nestled side by side and sewn onto a full-width sheet that tucks into and is affixed to the handmade paper cover. The handmade pages are lightweight and fluffy and vary in tone, texture and opacity. The text is a mix of pre-published quotes with attributions and narratives written in both memoir and instructional styles, in both first and third person, from a variety of unattributed sources.

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Illustrated throughout with both hand-drawing instructional sketches and physical samples from the making of a paper dress, the richness of Peculiar and Commonplace is furthered with the turning of every page.

An introductory page presents a quote by Kazim Ali and another by Barry Lopez that refer to the act of recording our own histories. This is followed by a Table of Contents (which may or may not be a break from the commonplace tradition). This table of contents provides an early clue that the book may well transcend the commonplace genre.

Early on is a tactile, enticing spread, filled with tipped-in samples of materials alongside sketches of the tools needed for the project at hand. This mixing of drawn sketches, with materials and digitally set text continues throughout the book, the pairings of quote with insert not always obvious or easy to digest.

In the copy I have at hand (#4) a page from Chapter III, Section F: Despair has quotes referencing emotional pain, including a snippet from a Marine corp fighter pilot, with a tip-in of paper-tape stitched to a lighter weight sheet, in khaki and green tones, the shape resembling a draped flag (a flag of surrender?). Another page with quotes referencing how we live with others is accompanied by a three segment panel, each panel a different color, nearly balanced, but not quite.

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Then comes the spread with a completed paper dress accompanied by a very specific instruction:

Take everything you’ve learned, seen, gathered, watched, abandoned, caused, adored, cultivated and trashed. Handle everything repeatedly. Rearrange. Let the table be knocked over and the wind to blow as it pleases.
Then start again.

The final page includes a text from Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street:

You must remember to come back. For the the ones who cannot leave as easily as you.”

This quote is accompanied by a sketch of a spiral bound notebook, the left side blank, the right side lined. It is unclear whether the lines represent writing, or the pre-printed lines often found in spiral-bound notebooks.

From the colophon I learn that the all of the text block’s papers were handmade by Lee from mulberry from various countries; the cover paper made by Jang Seong-woo in Gapyeong, Korea.

This all results in a remarkable book that uses both multiple production methods and hand-work brilliantly. I am pleased to read that Aimee Lee agrees. On her blog post is the following statement:

This is the first time, maybe ever, that I’ve felt 100% great about a book that I’ve made. It’s because I have the right tools (experience, technical skills, confidence) in the right combination.

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Sarah Hulsey – The Space of Poetics

The Space of Poetics by Sarah Hulsey

Circuits are pathways, connectors, and occasionally maps. In Sarah Hulsey’s The Space of Poetics, they function as conduits to convey memory. Hulsey constructs a dialogue with architectural theory, specifically Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space, visually complicating his exploration on how solitude can provoke moments of creativity and thought.

The viewer is first presented with Hulsey’s clean, minimal design that expresses her themes. Laid out in a traditional book format, the outer cover is a series of muted grays and blacks. Inside, she alternates between text (always on the left) and mylar and woodcut print (always on the right). The writing is a brief excerpt from Bachelard’s influential work, broken into pieces with numbers advancing upwards underneath each word; the total count of this snippet of text is 101 words. For the right side, the woodcut is an unchanging blueprint of an architectural space, taken from one of the Sanborn Map Company’s Insurance Maps of Philadelphia from 1916. The shapes denote rooms that are closed in and unconnected. The woodcut uses dark blue-green ink, and while it possesses color, it is still quite restrained. Overlaid on these woodcut prints are single transparent mylar sheets with circuitry diagrams printed on every page, shifting with each succeeding piece. They pictorially organize the numbers from the opposing page by depicting solid and dashed lines showing how the “energy” flows through the spaces. The numbers almost always correspond with solid lines and flow to others. Hulsey’s one exception is 61, which signifies the word “henceforth” in the text piece. That number’s placement is utterly disconnected from the circuit diagrams—perhaps because, as a piece of language, its function seems superfluous to the rest of the spare yet evocative language of this passage.

These outlined circuit changes communicate how language works; in a way, Hulsey’s technique could reference and resurrect sentence diagramming. This bygone art was a method of understanding language to see how each word works within a particular piece of writing. By suggesting these relationships through electricity, Hulsey is able to break Bachelard’s writing from simply grammar and prose to liken it to charged movement. After all, electrical impulses appear as energy in powering our homes and brains. Regarding her circuit design, they are a mix between solid and dashed cables lines; the solid lines could represent a main connection, while the dashed could be an alternate one. There are also junctions (cables connectors) that are mostly black and white circles, except for some pages that show yellow and red dots. Certain junctions remain from one page to the next, perhaps hinting at how, as we progress through the text and through solitude, creativity erupts from some areas, disappears, and reappears growing in other directions. Hulsey uses the visual language of electricity to hint at other forms of currents, such as neural synapses, which leads to memory. In The Space of Poetics, the currents are a map of neural movement.

Examining the Bachelard quote, the text is brief but significant; he discusses how some spaces of isolation allow for flashes of inspiration. The lack of change of the architectural map over the course of the book emphasizes the electrical mapping transformations, indicating a development of creativity in these spaces of solitude. Removed from distraction and human connections, this moment of being alone gives an opportunity for a person to think beyond the everyday. Rather than be distressed by loneliness, our brains bring charges of inspiration in these quiet places. Even after we have left, this experience clings to us, a means of transporting this insight beyond the walls of our reflective place. Bachelard ends this observation with an acknowledgment that even if there is a loss of this space of seclusion, the memories will linger and keep its meaning alive, though only in our minds.

Hulsey’s elaboration on Bachelard feels collaborative as she represents this source material and relates it, visually, to her own art-making and experience. She explores language through various means and discerns how to grapple with solitude and translate that subsequent inspiration. The diagrams and blueprints of a generic place are all languages of their own, however mysterious or just beyond precise understanding. She deftly ties the relationship of memory to these other languages, prompting the viewer to also reflect on their own moments of quiet and possible intersections with these spaces being fertile for creative growth. Hulsey’s careful designs reinforce this feeling of seclusion and peace. While these empty spaces may seem lonely, their lack of stimuli leaves us to our imaginations, lighting up like circuits into brain pathways that will lead to something more in the future. Through enlarging her source material’s world by mapping and dissecting the language, she has created a work that spans science, theory, memory, and especially art.

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Woody Leslie – Parsely

“I should have known that caterpillars are not sated easily—in my pre-Skittles Phase, Eric Carle taught me that caterpillars are very hungry.” 

From this footnote on page twenty-eight of Woody Leslie’s Parsely, one could guess the book is about words, storytelling, memory…and caterpillars. Specifically, it chronicles how the artist became transfixed by these creatures as they ravaged a plant he was supposed to be tending for his neighbors, who were out of town. This simple story is fraught with anxiety. The narrator struggles with his conflicting impulses and the plant interjects to voice its fear and indignation. Together they give their account like a bickering couple. All the while the caterpillars munch away onomatopoetically.

Parsely is driven by the written word, which accounts for its visual content as well as the narrative text(s). Its creative use of footnotes, page numbers and other features of book design epitomize the field of ergodic literature. Named for the Greek for ‘work’ and ‘path’, ergodic literature requires nonpassive effort from the reader. Extra effort may not sound like something one wants from a book, but Parsely draws the reader in with a humorous and relatable narrative. Leslie delivers this anecdote with such great intimacy and interiority, one could almost miss the book’s success as a veritable treatise on books and linguistics.

Parsely’s physical structure is a simple codex, a double-pamphlet binding in a paper cover, but its format enables the complex play of the text’s various elements. The main narrative, told in past tense from Leslie’s perspective, is set relatively large on the book’s rectos. Disrupting this space are interjections from the perspective of the parsley, which distort the temporal space of the book. The banter between Leslie and the parsley brings the book into the present. The sense of presentness is heightened by the chains of word associations that spontaneously grow from the main text as the storyline progresses. What begin as a few words branching off the story eventually form an intricate web of shared ideas and surprising connections.

Across the gutter, the versos remain more rigid. A vocabulary section of real and invented words is positioned above a section of footnotes, which expands to accommodate new threads in the increasingly meandering narrative. As text expands wildly and takes over the space of the recto pages, these other elements of the book evolve more slowly. Leslie seems to outline a hierarchy, wherein certain aspects of book design or different kinds of content hold out longer against the linguistic entropy. Whereas the narrative, rooted in the subjectivity of memory and dialogue, begins to splinter immediately, elements like the repeated header ‘Vocabulary’ change slowly and subtly.

The format shines through in part because of the book’s restrained design. The color palette is limited. A pleasant bright green fills oversized quotation marks, which act almost like cartoon word bubbles to organize the dialogue on the page. A single red ‘W’ identifies the narrator, and the rest of the text is black. The typefaces are legible and understated. The primary narrative is set in Perpetua, which engages classic book typography and feels somehow leaf-like with its distinctive cut terminals. The many smaller words deviating from this text are set in Gill Sans, a suitable choice for such small sizes and a good pair with Perpetua, also designed by Eric Gill. Parsely appears less designed than it is. The vocabulary and footnote sections have the neutrality we attribute to authorities like the dictionary, as though such things aren’t designed or could not appear differently. On the other end of the spectrum, and the web of tangents and word associations appear wholly organic, spreading like a fungus or raindrops finding their way downhill. Between these extremes, Leslie’s use of quotation marks is a bold exception. The face and color of these marks do help indicate who is speaking and in what order, but they are also an expressive celebration of typographic form, rotating and overlapping to create odd yet familiar new shapes.

Parsely demonstrates the powerful influence the book form can exert on the pacing of a narrative. It’s codex form and restrained cover design do not betray the variety within its pages. At the narrative’s climax, a page could take easily five or ten times longer to read than an earlier page. Combined with the text’s uneven entropy, the unusual pacing makes the reader keenly aware of time passing, which heightens the drama of the caterpillars and parsley. The unpredictable leaps from one page to the next create an uneasy sense for readers who are used to the experience of finishing a novel, thumbing through the final pages and wondering whether there is still time for a happy resolution. Parsely plays with this tension between the clearly finite codex form and the difficulty of predicting exactly how and when the plot will resolve.

The uncertainty of the resolution is strongest when the book guides the reader backwards by recycling a footnote in a new context. These footnotes are the exception, but they show that the book could continue even once the plot is finished, rendering useless that familiar feedback of pages counting down in one’s right hand. The footnotes are arguably the most poetic aspect of the book, rarely linking an idea with the most obvious word, but instead taking the reader on a circuitous path through the narrator’s memories and associations. This movement among ideas, from one word to another, is the heart of the book. Sometimes the link is clear—a pun, a near rhyme, a common phrase—but elsewhere the reader follows a train of thought entirely contingent upon the artist’s own history.

These idiosyncrasies, which make sense given the personal style of narration, expand exponentially when they stray further from the original plot. For instance, when the footnotes spawn more footnotes, decoupled from the main narrative, but integral to the work’s meaning. Parsley reveals that the book is a generative form, not merely a container for text. Even the page numbers interject to support or otherwise engage the text, and give the reader insight into the narrator’s world.

This glimpse into Leslie’s mind feels authentic. As narrator, he alludes to an early interest in etymology, and it is easy to believe given the book’s particular brand of etymological humor. There is also an obsessive quality that seems hard to fake. Beyond the sheer quantity of words (and there are a lot), the connections between them would only be made by someone who views language as terrain for play. The reader may get in on the joke, but with the sense that it was a joke for the artist, and would happily have been made were there no other readers. Yet, the artist did decide to share the book, and the muchness is balanced with careful editing. There are many words, but none are superfluous. This meticulous attention paid to harnessing the book’s text paradoxically lends further authenticity to its celebration of language.

Parsely is philology in the literal meaning: a love of words. There is no single theory of linguistics being promoted, and there is nothing didactic about the book. The narrative is not just an excuse to make a book about language. If anything, the book seems envious of orality, marveling that dialogue seems so direct and effective, but is so slippery and tenuous. The linguistic investigations are practiced rather than theorized. They focus on the way language is actually used rather than the precise meanings of words.

Leslie doesn’t discuss whether neologism is really the feature that separates human language from animal communication, he simply coins new words that the reader will no doubt understand. Likewise, he demonstrates how the small shift from bat to cat to rat, etc. conveys a whole new concept in the reader’s mind without a discussion of “rigid designators” or other philosophical baggage. A psychoanalytic angle emerges organically among the word associations and parallel trains of thought when, for example, a particular digression reveals the narrator’s inner conflict over the caterpillars.

These explorations will be of interest to many readers, but the book’s focus on dialogue and everyday language is what stands out. Like good observational comedy, Parsely points out little inconsistencies that speak volumes about social interactions. Euphemisms are a great way to shirk responsibility. Space is understood, seemingly, in spite of prepositions rather than because of them. Communication in general seems so sloppy that social norms dictate one must not hold another to too great a standard of accuracy. A couple is rarely just two, a week is not always seven days, and most people would not insist on either of these points. In Parsely, language is revealed in all its strangeness, and it is left to the reader to wonder why it is the way it is. One message is clear, though: the artists’ book is a potent and enjoyable form for reading and writing narratives.

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Jaime Lynn Shafer – Old Geiger Grade

It’s hard to say whether Old Geiger Grade, created by Jaime Lynn Shafer at Black Rock Press, is primarily sculptural or narrative. The letterpress-printed book is a straightforward codex, but its drum-leaf binding cleverly accommodates pages which have been excavated and built up to form a dimensional topographic map. It is among these geological features that the printed narrative resides, tracing a journey along the titular road – a stagecoach route to the famed Comstock Lode in Virginia City, (present day) Nevada. The project was created for the Black Rock Press Redfield Fellowship, which aims to link the press with other institutions at the University of Nevada, in this case the W.M. Keck Earth Science & Mineral Engineering Museum. As the colophon explains, parts of the Old Geiger Grade have morphed into modern roads and can still be traveled, part of the enduring legacy of mining in Nevada.

This historical emphasis is only a springboard; Old Geiger Grade is more contemplative than educational. To set the scene, Shafer leads the reader into the 1860s Wild West through the book’s outer elements. Upon extracting the book from its slipcase, the reader finds it folded into a paper wrap. Printed on the wrap’s inside front is a list of “Stagecoach Rules”. Presented without comment, the rules could be taken directly from some historical document, but they have a quaint charm that feels almost too good to be true. Regardless, the rules form an imposing block of text on the front flap, physically barring the reader from entry into the book. From the ominous prohibition against discussing “stagecoach robberies and Indian uprisings” to lighter guidelines about gentlemanly behavior, the rules raise the stakes for the narrative inside. The reader is introduced to the Nineteenth Century with all of its implications for race and gender, not to mention a looming specter of danger.

The descriptive narrative within the book is subtle, especially in contrast to the list of rules. Two categories of text share the page: an account of nine stagecoach passengers, and some names of places along their route. The narrator and other passengers are left mostly to the reader’s imagination, a task which is aided by the characters (gentlemen, ladies, outlaws, and so forth) outlined in the preceding rules. The stagecoach is a liminal space, better suited to reflection than a conventional story arc. The reader never learns whether the travelers arrive to Virginia City and strike it rich, but instead shares in the hardships of the road and measures time as much through the rhythms and pains of the body as through their progress across the map (which fittingly provides no compass or legend).

The story’s understated style helps highlight the book’s most striking feature – the topographic layers, some hand-cut from the pages, and others built up with laser-cut shapes of paper. The choice of Rives BFK paper not only has an evocative desert color, but also an almost sandy texture and enough dimension to maximize the effect of the topography. The doubled sheets of the drum-leaf binding feel almost like a board book, but more sophisticated thanks to the printmaking paper (and, of course, the concept and content). Not all of the topographic elevations are rendered sculpturally; some are printed in a gold with enough impression to qualify as dimensional in their own right. These printed lines form a cohesive visual vocabulary with the edges and shadows of the cut paper pieces, and also integrate these landscape elements with the road itself, which is printed in a darker golden brown. This small color change is all that distinguishes the route from the land it traverses.

The marks that are built in relief, rather than printed, are planned carefully to activate the book temporally and spatially. The cut away elements allow the reader to glimpse the future and past, in turn. On the recto, the negative space reveals some future part of the trail. This preview is narrowly framed, adding to the sense of suspense.

“Our shotgun stands guard… without him, our lives would be in grave danger”.

Will the turn of the page reveal danger or some other surprise? Once a page is turned, the same space, now on the verso, sustains an earlier thread of the story, recontextualized. For instance, a description of the cramped conditions and hard wooden benches persists through three turns of the page, stretching out the narrator’s discomfort for the reader to experience. Like this temporal play, the negative and positive relief enacts in space the textual descriptions of the desert landscape. Read in scale to the printed map, a few millimeters on the page represent the “treacherous and frightening” terrain in a direct, tactile way. The extra attention these pages require from the reader seems to be its own form of navigation along a demanding road, though admittedly lower risk.

All of this succeeds because of the remarkable planning and craftsmanship that went into production. Where two layers of page are built up to form a cliff, a perfectly placed two-page hole is aligned to fit together just so, but with organic shapes and fluid placement, these relationships never feel forced. Though the reader knows that each additive form must be met with an equal subtractive counterpart for the book to close, the novelty of this sculptural mark-making never wears out. The minimalism of the blank paper, with its subtle cast shadows and delicate scorching from the laser cutter is beautiful in a way that complements, but also transcends, the book’s narrative and setting.

This beauty, freed from the utility of a proper map or atlas, is akin to highway driving through the Southwest; history is visible, tangible, in the layers of sedimentary rock, but open more to imagination than interpretation. Silver mining is a similar act of time travel. As people traverse mountains, or dig for silver, their struggles play out against the immense backdrop of geological time. The uncertain fate of the characters, now deceased for generations, against this indifferent landscape which remains today gives Old Geiger Grade a sublime edge that resonates beneath its beauty.

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Pamela Olson – Circular Logic

Circular Logic draws from company circulars from the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad (CB&Q) archive at the Newberry Library in Chicago. Specifically, the book presents an account of terminated employees and the reasons they were fired. Olson makes a number of choices that reinforce the book’s relationship with the archive that inspired it, which ultimately positions the book as commentary on the concept of the archive as well as the particular content. Even the book’s housing in a trifold portfolio straddles the vocabulary of books arts and conversation. The paper has the look and feel of aged newsprint, and the typography and imagery have their roots in the 19th century. Additionally, a number of indexical elements point to the railroad, including a rail map that also serves to unify the book and its cloth covered portfolio enclosure.

Circular Logic is a pocket sized codex. The cover is letterpress printed with a CB&Q Railroad map on heavy cover stock and the text block is attached only to the back cover. This allows the viewer to open the book completely flat and also to appreciate that the link stitch sewing was done across tapes printed with the same map as the cover. The next surprise is that each recto folds out to create a three page spread. The initial spread shows an employee’s name on the verso and their job title on the recto. The second action, unfolding the right hand page, reveals a portrait of the employee in what is now the center of a three page spread with the reason they were fired on the far right.

Through this structure, the reader is anachronistically implicated in the employee’s termination. Hidden behind the folded page, the employee is in limbo like Schrodinger’s cat, both alive and dead, simultaneously employed and terminated. Only when the reader turns the page to view the portrait is the employee fired. The temporal confusion recalls Barthe’s observation that in film (but also artists’ books which are sequential), images operate in the future perfect tense; they simultaneously have-been and are-yet-to-be. However, unlike in film, the reader of Circular Logic determines when the yet-to-be is enacted. Perhaps knowing that the subject is already deceased lessens the burden of firing them. The result is a sort of game theory, driven by the reader’s curiosity and a sense of schadenfreude, which is strengthened by the comically quaint rationale for many of the terminations.

The book’s three-page spreads, each with a portrait in the center, resemble an altar or the kind of hinged triptych photo frames reserved for the nicest family photos. Either reference lends the book a quality of intimacy and remembrance. Formally, the three page spread also creates enough white space to balance the weight of the subject’s silhouette. The left and right pages have no more than a couple words, printed in small type, against stark expanses of white space. What these spreads lack in narrative, they make up for in spacial composition.

The minimal text, quoted directly from the company circulars, thus seems all the more matter of fact and impersonal. The type is set in Bulmer, which makes sense historically; perhaps it is the exact face used in the original circulars. The typography, in terms of size and typeface, certainly adds to the bureaucratic sensibility. As a narrative text, Circular Logic is unusual, introducing each character at the same plot point: their immanent termination. The characters exist parallel to one another, tragic figures connected only through their misfortune, destined not to interact. Even their names have been altered, which heightens the bureaucratic aesthetic. The reader is challenged to sympathize with subjects whose identities are obfuscated at every turn.

The flat silhouettes divulge mostly hair style and head shape and do little to lessen this challenge. The portraits are printed from photopolymer plates exposed using hand cut rubylith stencils. The images are derived from anonymous photographs from the same era, and the image making process also seems to recall the paper silhouette portraits that proliferated around the turn of the nineteenth century. Combined with the altered names, the anonymity of the silhouettes reinforces the idea that the subjects’ identities are being withheld to protect them, whether out of compassion or bureaucratic best practices. Behind either rationale is a tinge of comic absurdity given the book’s obscure subjects, small edition size, and artistic intent.

Given the historically appropriate typography and imagery, it is from the design decisions and details surrounding the imagery that the book’s artistic license emerges. The silhouettes are printed in brown, matching the title and inside text as well as the cloth cover on the book’s enclosure. Each silhouette is situated in a rectangular frame, the same on each spread, which is printed in the same golden yellow as the route map on the cover and spine. The yellow frames are surrounded by a brown ornamental border; a simple pattern of hatch marks. This pattern is a ubiquitous letterpress border, but in this context it reads perfectly as a railroad track. The presentation of each portrait unifies each spread with one another and with the book as a whole.

This unifying function is one way Circular Logic interrogates the concept of the archive as well as the specific content of the CQ&B Railroad. The reader receives an orderly presentation of certain data, which looks and feels like an archive but may have little in common with its actual source. As Olson explained at a recent panel discussion in Chicago, Circular Logic grew out of her own time working with the CQ&B archive at the Newberry Library. The book is not a simple representation of the original archive, but is the product of reading, editing, and reproduction, which are all creative acts. Decisions like withholding the subject’s real names and obscuring their identities, the book both uphold certain scholarly conventions (even to an absurd degree), and simultaneously question the archive as a source of truth and objectivity. Olson activates the archive and then invites her readers to do the same.

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Ellen Knudson – American Breeding Standards


American Breeding Standards is a substantial volume housed in a colorful slipcase. The cloth is printed, and a line drawing of a horse wraps around the paste paper sides of the case. A window features prominently in the front, displaying a human mouth printed on the matching chemise. Removing the chemise, another window appears, opening to reveal an intricately folded popup of a human mouth in stunning color. Opening the book, the title page announces the sources of the text: American Horses and Horse Breeding, 1895, and Canine breeding standards of the German Shepherd, 2012. This text intermingles with Knudson’s original text and illustrations.


On the subject of illustrations, American Breeding Standards is full of beautiful, clean, vibrant illustrations.
These are letterpress printed from photopolymer, although many feel like linoleum cuts. The vividness of the color and the quality of ink coverage is remarkable, to say nothing of the quality of line. The playful and charismatic images, combined with the friendly typographical style and design throughout, give the book an affable, lighthearted personality that contrasts with the overarching commentary on standards.


Proceeding through the book one encounters lists of word association. These begin innocently enough, (e.g.
spray/tan, hair/extension), but soon turn into lists of euphemisms and their connotations: (honest/rude, intense/bossy, intelligent/nerdy). The word association lists accomplish a great deal of conceptual work in equating standards to a mental framework, or even a mental illness. Something engrained in us as consumerists; something to be diagnosed. Other pages contain paragraph excerpts from the previously mentioned Breeding Standards books, often with their subject blanked out. This recontextualizes texts such as “The Architecture of Perfection”, referring them to humans. “The Architecture of Perfection” is an excerpt describing the ideal legs and feet of horses. In its blanked out state the excerpt acts in the book as a commentary on gender issues. The suggestion that women are treated like animals has an interesting relationship to the word association lists of horrible, unnatural things humans do to be beautiful: (nose/job, stomach/staple, anorexia/nervosa, high/heels). The excerpts work brilliantly with Knudson’s original text and images, and by blanking out the subjects she has made the appropriated text almost indistinguishable from her additions. The matter-of-fact tone and assumed dominance and casual discussion of breeding stock exhibited in these excerpts from animal breeding standards carries over as a primary attribute of sexism.


The first foldout in the book, “Human Female Standard”, depicts the standard of beauty in our culture, defining the standard for each anatomical part. The next foldout depicts a normal stomach, a gastrectomy, a gastric sleeve, and a gastric by-pass— helpful suggestions on how to attain the physical standard. The section of the book on real love features a foldout of the “Human Heart Standard”, listing positives, (tea in the afternoons, holding hands), under the title, “Diastolic”, and negatives, (Envy, The future and the past), under “Systolic”. These foldouts function beautifully, making good use of the additional space and highlighting the book’s design.


American Breeding Standards is several books in one. It is so rich with detail and so carefully designed and
printed that each pass through the book reveals something new. Hand-set lead type in translucent colors is
hiding in the corners, like the words “So silently”, which nearly eluded me on the spread dealing with Disposition. This book is as creative and full of personality as it is critical. Unlike many books that deal with such heavy subject matter, American Breeding Standards is easily accessible and intimate, and avoids preaching or feeling aggressively opinionated. It feels like sitting down with Ellen Knudson and engaging in a lively, well-spirited conversation; her sense of humor and personality are presented here in spades, and her opinions are clear and well-spoken. Each choice in the book feels careful and intentional, from the materials used to the placement of each illustration, line of text, foldout, and addition, and of course the style of the binding, which reveals the normally hidden workings of the spine of the structure.

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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.

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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.


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.


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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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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Candace Hicks – Coincidence

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.

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.

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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