In 1990 we
organized Book Arts in the USA, an
exhibit which circulated through
Africa and Latin America courtesy of
the United States Information
Agency. We are in the process of putting this entire exhibit catalog online, with
photos of all 51 works, the artist's statements and photos of the
artists. Click on the picture
of the catalog cover to see what
we're up to. For those who prefer to read in French, you can click on
Below is the
introduction by the exhibit's curator. It gives an overview of what Book Art
BOOK ARTS IN THE USA
by Richard Minsky
A single copy of a book is a curious thing. Even when part
of a large edition, it is rarely considered disposable. People
have books on their shelves that they haven't looked at in years,
yet they don't throw them out or even give them away. A passing
glance at the shelf gives a reassuring feeling, a reminder of the
knowledge one has absorbed. They are old friends, these volumes,
and just seeing them reminds us not only of their stories or
facts, but of the time we spent with them.
The oldest books we have in the shape we are familiar with--
folded pages sewn through the fold--are Coptic manuscripts from
Ethiopia and Egypt. They date from about the years 100 - 400.
This change in form from the scrolls previously used required a
change in the technology of parchment production. The folded page
was written on both sides, where the scroll used only one side of
the skin. The relationship between the structure of the book and
the development of its materials continues to evolve.
In this exhibit you will see how 51 contemporary Americans are
changing the form and materials of the book to suit their personal
vision. We call this work Book Art.
In Book Art the container works with the content. The
materials are tactile and often relate to the metaphor of the
text. In some cases there is no written text. The book is then
a purely visual, totemic or iconographic work, in which the image,
structure and materials are the content. The physical presence
of a book, its feeling and smell, its weight, the process of
moving through its pages or unfolding it speak to our deepest inner
sensibilities. The very form speaks of knowledge preserved and
communicated. It represents our ability to build on complex ideas
which survive millenia beyond the cultures which created them.
Reading a visual book is not altogether different from reading
one with text. We bring to it our literacy -- not one of language
and words, but of images we have seen and digested. These can be
specific to a subculture or of almost universal familiarity.
We often think of publishing as making many copies of a book. Some
of the books in this exhibit are part of an edition, though the
edition may be only five copies or 500, but there are also many
unique bookworks. The exhibition is the act of publication. As
this exhibit circulates, thousands of people will be exposed to
these books, and thousands more will see this catalog.
Unfortunately you can't have the pleasure of holding these
books and turning their pages, and you do miss out on an important
part of the work because of that. But many of them read well
through their plastic cases and give you their message instantly.
Here you can "read" 51 books in less than an hour!
BOOK ART AND TECHNOLOGY
This is the era of satellite communication, bubble memory, and
laser videodiscs, but we are not engaged in a countertechnological
enterprise. What draws so many people to use "obsolete" tools and
processes to communicate? What makes these individuals build on
a tradition of thousands of years of handcrafted books rather than
explore mass communications through modern technology?
To start with: much of their work is on the frontier of new
technology. Certainly it is not electronic. But modern
adhesives, inks and papers developed from research in conservation
laboratories during the last 20 years have radically altered the
chemical composition of the materials available to today's
artists. The works you see in this exhibit are chemically
different from their predecessors. Scientists observed that the
paper in 15th Century books looked fresh and new, while paper from
the 1880's was brittle and crumbling. When the reasons for the
rapid decay of 19th and 20th Century books were discovered, such
as the acidic nature of wood-pulp paper, we were able to develop
deacidified paper and paperboard impregnated with chemical buffers
which neutralize the effects of air pollution. Many of the
artists represented here use these modern materials. The work of
others requires papers traditionally made of rags or cotton
fibers, and some papers are hand made as both the content and
structure of the book.
Many artists use commercial printing and photocopy technology
to produce editions of their texts and images inexpensively, to
make them available to a larger public. These Artists' Books are
primarily works of visual literature, in which the materials and
form of the book are not the subject, but are primarily the
vehicle or medium for images and ideas. Sharon Gilbert's Poison
America, printed on a photocopy machine, shows how a readily
available process can be used to communicate very directly.
Leonard Seastone, on the other hand, uses flatbed lithography
technology in Good Movies, and Ann Fessler's Water Safety is
offset printed. These three artists also use "found" or existing
texts or images as a basis for their work. Betsy Davids composed
Dreaming Aloud on a computer and incorporated scanned video
The changing form of the book and its use as a medium of
unique visual expression is a phenomenon which has developed in
America during the last twenty years. We take the means of
production in our hands; it gives us the power and freedom to
communicate our ideas. We are not dependent on approval by a
publisher. It doesn't require a lot of capital. The scale is
human. Our medium doesn't need batteries. It produces no
radiation and is portable.
Copyright © 1990, 2000 Center for Book Arts, Incorporated 1974