Some of the most interesting materials in FSU’s Special Collections are Artists’ Books (also known as Book Arts). These are works in which the form of the work, the art and decoration on its surfaces, and the book’s moving parts are as important as the text of the work. Artists’ Books come in many shapes and sizes, from tiny to oversized. They often play with the format of the codex — pieces of substrate (writing surfaces) linked along one side to form what we refer to as a “book” — making meaning in often profound and exciting ways.
The Artist’s Book we are highlighting today is A Repeated Misunderstanding of Nature, written and designed by Clifton Meador. Our copy is one of 25 that exist in the world. It comes in a “laser-cut birch plywood slipcase with dovetail joints,” and is broken into five volumes. Each volume has a different color schema that coordinates with the coloring of the seasonal forest scene depicted within. The volumes are accordion pleated and contain images and words only along one side; the back is blank.
Accordion pleated works give the reader freedom in how they are read. An accordion-pleated text can be turned into a typical book-ready experience by keeping the pages folded up and going one at a time. Alternately, they can be unfurled entirely, revealing the length of the work in full. A Repeated Misunderstanding of Nature has an additional complexity to its consumption, in that the text and images are facing separate directions; each volume contains a forest scene printed horizontally along the accordion folds while the text runs vertically down the long side of the bottom of the image.
The textual content is a supposed lecture by an imaginary professor, who discusses nature and our relationship to it at length. The text of the lecture is broken up into shorter phrases that sometimes jump away from the margin and “grow” into the forest scene.
The phrases take on a poetic quality, which is why it felt like the perfect choice for highlighting in our Year of Poetry blog series. While we often see poetry and prose and distinct forms, prose — especially spoken performance prose, as we might expect from a lecture — can take on a poetic quality, especially as it incorporates repetition, rhythm, and alliteration.
“The border of each image includes a text from a long, imaginary lecture by a professor who — even though he sounds convinced — is actually confused about how to understand nature: he drifts between thinking of nature as something to read and nature as an anthropomorphic presence. This work was inspired by Chinese literati landscape painting, a mode of art that used images of nature as a vocabulary rather than as representation of specific landscapes. For these literati, landscape was a metaphor for personal experience: for the confused professor in A Repeated Misunderstanding of Nature, these pictures of the autumnal forests of Maine become a book that defeats reading.” — Vamp & Tramp Booksellers Website
This beautiful work is available for you to examine in Florida State University’s Special Collections, and we invite you come see it in person! It is much bigger than can be perceived in the images here.