Tag Archives: artists’ books

Artist Books Collection Continues to Grow

This post kicks off a month of posts celebrating American Archives Month. Yesterday, Special Collections & Archives did a Twitter Takeover of the @fsulibraries feed for #AskAnArchivist day so be sure to check out those conversations. 

This post is written by Melissa Quarles, Special Collections & Archives’ new graduate assistant. You’ll be hearing more from her over the next year but today she highlights our artists’ books.

For the past two years, Florida State University (FSU) has been steadily growing its collection of artists’ books, which are currently housed in Special Collections & Archives. These unique works blur the boundaries between art and literature, encouraging readers to question How Books Work and what they mean to each of us. Anne Evenhaugen, the head librarian at the Smithsonian’s American Art and Portrait Gallery Library, describes artists’ books as “a medium of artistic expression that uses the form or function of ‘book’ as inspiration. It is the artistic initiative seen in the illustration, choice of materials, creation process, layout and design that makes it an art object.” The difference between a regular book and an artist’s book is determined primarily by the creator’s intentional treatment and presentation of the materials.

A few earlier posts highlighted new and interesting artists’ books in our collection. The books we house encompass a wide range of genres, forms, and topics. We have several books that feature poetry, such as Indra’s Net by Bea Nettles. This beautifully marbled paper scroll features a poem by Grace Nettles (the artist’s mother) printed over a spider web design. Attached to the inside of the lid, a small silver bell rings to evoke the memories described in the text. The original poem, from a book called Corners, can be found in our collection as well.

Artists’ books are often multi-sensory experiences. Music for Teacups, a joint venture by Melissa Haviland and David Colagiovanni, is part of a larger project “investigating the destructive moment of a breaking piece of family tableware to highlight family dynamics, upbringing, inheritance, etiquette, and issues of class. ‘Music for Teacups’… rhythmically dissects the poetic moment of a falling and breaking teacup as it sounds during its last second as a complete object.” (description from Haviland’s website). The work consists of an accordion fold booklet of cut-outs shaped like teacups, as well as a 45rpm record of the accompanying music. However, since we have no playback equipment, patrons who wish to listen to the piece are directed to this sample video (from Colagiovanni’s website).

Many of our artists’ books offer political and social commentary or center on issues such as human rights. One such work is Bitter Chocolate by Julie Chen. The book itself is shaped like a large bar of chocolate, which unfolds like a Jacob’s ladder. Each panel is connected by magnets, so that they can be unfolded to reveal four different sides. The unique tactile and structural aspects of the piece are a staple feature of Chen’s work, but the content is equally compelling. Two of the sides narrate a story about the mythical Mayan chocolate goddess, “Cacao Woman.” The goddess rejoices in the widespread love of chocolate among humans, but also laments the chocolate industry’s reliance on forced child labor, abuse, and trafficking. The other two sides feature the author’s personal memories and experiences with chocolate, as well as facts about its production worldwide.

FSU students, alumni, visitors, and the general public are invited to visit Special Collections & Archives and check out our rich collection of artist books. Patrons may also wish to explore how to make their own art books. Many of our works include explanations of the printing and construction processes, and we even have books designed to elicit inspiration for budding artists. FSU also has its own publisher, the Small Craft Advisory Press. Other resources, articles, books, and artist websites are listed below.

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Artists’ Books: A Repeated Misunderstanding of Nature

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

New Acquisitions: Artists’ Books

FSU Special Collections & Archives is pleased to announce that a number of new artists’ books have been cataloged and are now available through our Research Center Reading Room.

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    A detail of one of the “cells” from Ellen Knudson’s Made Up

    Made Up by Ellen Knudson at Crooked Letter Press (2015) – According to artist Ellen Knudson, “Made Up is a non-scientific science book about the imaginary cellular composition of the human body.” Anger, Curiosity, Failure, Fear, Jealousy, Joy, Knowledge, Location, Love, The Past, Success, Talent, Trust, Work – the cells that “make up” a person – are depicted in vivid multiple block linoleum prints. The deluxe edition contains 14 unfolded prints alongside the book in a sectioned clamshell box.

  • Diagram of Wind : Architectural Book with Poem by Michael Donaghy by Barbara Tetenbaum at Triangular Press (2015) – A letterpress printing of Michael Donaghy’s poem “Glass,” featuring texts and images backed with Japanese silk tissue and set on a wave-shaped wooden platform. The varied shapes and textures create different sounds as the pages are turned.
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    Postcards and ephemera tell the story of How to Transition on Sixty-Three Cents a Day

    Soil Dwellers by Emily Van Kley at May Day Press (2015) – Inspired by insects that live beneath the soil, featuring handmade papers dyed and printed through contact with plants, sewn in a double-sided accordion format.

  • Blocks off the Block by Katya McCullough’s 2009 Block Printing Class at San Quentin State Prison – 23 linoleum cut prints created by 8 members of Katya McCullough’s 2009 Block Printing Class at San Quentin State Prison.
  • How to Transition on Sixty-Three Cents a Day by Lee Krist (2013) – Artist Lee Krist dedicates this book “to all the people, places, and institutions who helped me transition at such little cost.” It is a non-linear narrative of the artist’s transition from male to female, told through a series of letterpress postcards to the artist’s mother and pieces of ephemera stored in a film canister.

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    The familiar childhood Fortune Teller game format reveals gender biases in Indian society
  • The Fortune Teller by Malini Gupta at Ochre (art + design) (2016) – A cootie catcher fortune teller game and a japanese stab-bound book printed on waxed paper infused with incense. According to artist Malini Gupta, “Through this work I seek to investigate the deeply entrenched gender biases that plague the Indian society… The fortune teller is designed in beautiful patterns to entice the viewer to interact with it but also to camouflage the darkness it holds–the darkness of a child being sexually abused and a family choosing to ignore it.”

For a list of these and other artists’ books in FSU Special Collections, visit the Artists’ Books Research Guide.