Wednesday, 29 October 2014

considering the spine

''The spines of books on our shelves form a visual database. Continuing the cover image over the spine should remind us of the cover - and the contents of the book.' Derek Birdsall - Notes on Book Design
I have recently become very interested in the spine of a book. Both from a design point of view and an artistic one. I think it has something to do with spending the whole day in the Philosophy Library in Cambridge for the 'in the reflected sky' project. We had a list of the books we were interested in, with thier dewey decimal number and spent the day wandering along the shelves finding the books. The fist contact you would have with a book is when you grabbed its spine and pulled it out. The whole experience of the book, at least in this setting is hinged on the spine and as I sit here looking at my own bookshelves, it is a mass of coloured lines with the concentrated contents of the books all facing out. It is interesting to think of the 'face' of the book not being the cover which is rarely seen from day to day but the spine. 

I have come across an artist called Buzz Spector, who has made a body of work that is about the familiarity and relationship to your own personal library. Looking at the archive of books that you surround yourselves with. Why I thought he was interesting for this post is that his work seems to me, to be about the book spine. The spine being the point of contact.

'My work is abstract: it derives from things in nature or things in culture, but it's meant to be understood in terms of the excavation or displacement of its objects from their situations.'

In this image Spector has stacked a reconfigured books from his own library. In a way that removes all connection with content the book, it is just about its form. The way the pages fall and lie flat. The only constant being the spine, which becomes a repeated hollow linking them all together. 

In this installation 'Unpacking my library' Spector has arranged his books in order of the height of the spine, from tallest to shortest, on a single shelf in a room large enough to hold them. For me this has focused in on the spine being the centre of the book. Seeing the mass of books arranged in this way you are made aware of how important the spine is. Though this work is a personal collection of books the books themselves are presented as objects. It is the personal connection with the object itself on the shelf that is important, this point of contact. 

I want to also take a look at some design considerations when looking at the spine. The design of the spine changing the colour and look of our bookshelves. Having an interest in design it is always interesting to see what considerations the deigner has had. 

Two book projects by the deigner Derek Birdsall I find particulary interesting. For a collection of Penguin Education books Birdsall was given the task of dsigning the covers. Here he has used the width of the books to determine the size of the type on the spine. Seen together the literal weight of the book is represented by the weight of the type. Giving the spine a prominece in the whole design of the book. 'The titles were the thing, and I decided to exploit the varying spine widths typographically'

Here the spine of the book is central to the design. With the image making reference to the structure of the book and vice versa. 'I carefully placed the groom's hand to rest on the spine of the horse and the book'. It is a playful game with the anatomy driven precision of Stubs' paintings and the formal tradition of bokbinding. 

So now when you are next in a library or just gazing at your bookshelves take some time to consider the spine. Not just as a carrier of the books infomation but as that first contact you have with the book. The spines facing out on the world waiting for you to grab them. 


Refrences / Further Reading

- notes on book design, Derek Birdsal, 2004

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

frivolous female readers / body and book

This blog post is based on the research that I made for (in)discreet editions publications the discreet book of bathroom reading and those frivolous readers, which - in their own turn - were inspired by the material collected for codex: between one hand and another. 



Young Woman Reading

Young Woman Reading Jean Honoré Fragonard  (French, Grasse 1732–1806 Paris)

When collecting images of female readers one cannot escape an overwhelming amount of eroticised reading women: half-dressed or with their clothes barely holding on; women draped across beds, sofas, armchairs or frozen in a blush, contemplating the contents of their naughty read. Their hair flows. Their hands are gentle. Their skin is porcelain. Their touch is sensual: the book is a tactile object; pages are frozen in the middle of movement. There might be a glimpse of breast exposed. There might be a suggestive vessel or a protruding handle somewhere close by. Their eyes are seductively lowered towards the book held at the height of the chest.

The images come from across the centuries: charged with the intimacy of body and book.

There are Belle Epoque oil paintings, vintage postcards, prints, photos in contemporary press and online social media. Apart from a couple of sightings in Medieval imagery, eroticised women readers more prominently first appear in Renaissance. At that time majority of female portraits commissioned by men were intended as decorative possessions to be "absorbed into the overall ornamentation of ostentatious domestic environment"2. 18th century saw the birth of the novel and a further rise in reading - and new concerns, in particular, about the damaging psychological effects that reading had on female body and mind. 
Terry Castle suggests that even the solitary practice of reading was seen to harbour "dangers" that included a complex dynamics of self-involvement. She explains that once "reading became dangerous because it prompted obsessional thoughts", it became possible to diagnose the reader as the victim of hallucinatory disease. 4
The processes of reading, then were gendered - eroticised and sexualised. The active masculine reader with pen in hand mastered the text no less then his household... The early modern woman as a sexual object was figured and described as a book to be opened. Female reading was frequently eroticised and implicated in the sexual body. The book held to the breast, in the lap, or concealed under the petticoats fetishised both the text and the reader. Male suspicion, even anxiety, variously imagined female reading as a source of ungovernable pleasure, in the eighteenth century even as self-pleasuring. 3
Inaccurate though the image of the idle, frivolous female novel-reader was, the stereotype did not disappear with the close of the eighteenth century1, James Raven says. 

Neither did it disappear with the close of the centuries that followed either.

What fascinates me is that the image of a "sensual reading female" predates the "sexy librarian" by good few centuries. While both images feed off each other in contemporary depiction of books and females (see the very last three images at the very end) the latter one is linked to the erotisation of intelligence as such - the same phenomenon that gives us reading Marlon Brando or reading Gregory Peck as sex symbols (not that they need a book for that!). 
Sensual reading female does not eroticise intelligence. That is sure. She is alone, relaxed, withdrawn and observed. Could she be related to the sleeping nude? If so, what does it say about the role of the book in those image?  Female sexuality? What does it say about the idea of reading? What does it say about the idea of the book?


 Book (reading)(woman)(sensual)   

1 James Raven, Hellen Small and Naomi Tadmor (2007) “Introduction: The Practice and Representation of Reading in England,” in The Practice and Representation of Reading in England . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (p.19)
2 Pointon, Marcia (2013) Portrayal: and the Search for Identity , London: Reaktion Books Ltd. (p. 14)
3 Sharpe, Kevin and Stephen Zwicker (2003) Reading, Society and Politics in Early Modern England . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (p.15)
4 Haggerty, Geroge E. (1998) Unnatural Affections: Women and Fiction in the Later 18th Century . Indiana: Indiana University Press.




What fascinates me is that the image of a "sensual reading female" predates the "sexy librarian" by good few centuries.



Friday, 17 October 2014

in the reflected sky @ University of Cambridge

Tuesday: vinyls installed, bookmarks placed! Delighted and excited! 
Thanx to Footprint in Cambridge for cutting and installing our vinyls. Thanx to  Casimir Lewy library at University of Cambridge for being so accommodating.

in the reflected sky has been installed as part of Art_Language_Location festival. 


installation and publication

The title in the reflected sky comes from the opening lines of Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire, where the protagonist watches a waxwing fly into the window pane. He further goes on to observe the reflections that project onto outside, suggesting a hint of something beyond in the reflected sky.
in the reflected sky is an arts installation that examines perception of reality through the fluid world of reflections on the window. Window acts as a threshold between two separate worlds of the inside and the outside, that get merged onto its two-dimensional surface as a collage of skies, walls, trees and people. Pane is a magical space, a barrier and a portal into this illusionary world: images on the window look deceptively three-dimensional.
in the reflected sky consists of:
1. window vinyls, that draw on birds’ inability to recognize the phantom world of reflections and our experience of the window as an object and as a space.
2. sky bookmarks, that will punctuate Casimir Lewy Philosophy Library: they will serve as a threshold between Nabokov’s poem and academic writing.
3. a publication will be available for sale at the ALL hub in Waterstones.

Location (window)
Collective Investigations location
Raised Faculty Building
Sidgwick site

On the large picture window opposite the lawn at the Raised Faculty Building
Opening dates and times
24 hours

Location (bookmarks)
Casimir Lewy Library
Faculty of Philosophy
Raised Faculty Building
Sidgwick Avenue

The library is located on the second floor of the Raised Faculty Building. The nearest entrance for the Library is opposite Lady Mitchell Hall.
Opening dates and times
Mon – Fri 9:00 am – 6:00 pm
Sat 10:00 am – 5:00 pm

Location (publication)
Waterstones Bookshop (Top Floor)
22 Sidney Street


Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Four Reasons I'm Less Likely to Make an eBook

Is that deep reading?
I have long been interested in making eBooks, and after one mildly successful attempt at making a book for the Kindle, I keep looking for opportunities to use the medium in new artworks. I particularly like the feeling of potential and unlimited possibility (one book could hold the contents of thousands) and the idea that the format of an eBook could be unpredictable, in a way that ordinary books can't.

But recently I have read four articles that have made me less inclined to have another go.
The first article is from one of my favourite blogs, The Digital Reader. The gist is that the software you use to store/catalogue eBooks on your computer can collect all kinds of information about how you read and what books you own. There is a certain voyeuristic pleasure in seeing someone's book collection - as it can provide an insight into their character, however the idea that a company's marketing department can sum your character up in a click of a button makes me nervous.

The next is that, according to the Independent, statistics show that dedicated eReaders (such as the Kindle) are falling out favour. If a reader puts down their kindle and doesn't pick it back up, what happens to my book? If a book is on the shelf in the real world I know there is the possibility that someone will spot it and give it another go, but what if the reader's shelf is switched off?
Often eBooks are encripted with DRM (digital rights management), to tie a book to a particular reader's device. This poses a problem for libraries as it means that instead of buying books they lease them from publishers. Effectively instead of the book seeing out its natural lifespan on the shelves, it will have to be renewed after a fixed duration or a fixed number of lendings. This process seems costly to me and disingenuous. The article provides a fascinating insight into how libraries are attempting to preserve their digital assets.

The final article is a great piece by Will Self about how eBooks don't appear to show that eReaders are not conducive to deep reading. The article implies that a person who reads on an eReader does not take in as much as someone who reads a physical book.

Collectively these articles paint an interesting picture of the digital publishing landscape and make me think that if I were to make another artworks as an eBook I would have to take these elements into consideration.


Wednesday, 8 October 2014

this blog post is about you

I have been doing some research in where to place the reader, or more what is the space in which the reader is. If the book (or piece of book arts) is a space where the author/artist puts their work what is the space in which the reader puts themselves.

I will bring together two parts of my research one in the form of a short piece of text and the other a short visual essay. 

When creating a book I think it is easy to overlook the reader. To think of it merely as a receptacle in which you place your thoughts. But without the reader the book itself would not be activated, it would not be read. It would simply lie like sculpture observed but not entered. To pick up a book and hold it you enter a space, you are immediately placed in front of the book. You are there behind it as you hold the book in front of you. What happens then when you are made aware of this space through your interaction with the book?

I have been reading about the 'Fourth Wall'. Originating in theatre where the imaginary forth wall was the wall facing out to the audience. The first, second and  third walls being the sides and back of the walls on stage. This forth wall is used in some plays to its advantage. Not only as a point for what is off the stage (the audience) to look in, but what is on stage to look out and acknowledge. Actors on stage speak directly to and acknowledge the audience in a technique called 'breaking the fourth wall'. This breaking of the fourth wall is a way of acknowledging the space that the audience in is a vital part of the play. Of course this also happens in cinema:

But it is literature that I am most interested in. As this singular experience you are having with the book suddenly becomes plural one. Where a conversation has been started. For example, In Miguel de Cervantes - Don Quixote: 'Idle reader: thou mayest believe me without any oath that I would this book, as  it is the child of my brain...' and Charlotte Bronte's Jayne Eyre: 'Reader, I married him....'. You are placed somewhere by the book because it addresses you. The book is in front of you looking out. You form part of the story and part of the space in which it exists. Not only is the book about containing the story it is about you reading it. It is important that you are there.


This short visual essay forms a counterpoint to the research. Where the book addresses you, this is about people addressing books. Or at lest a mistaken snapshot into the process. They are scans of books archived by google books, though they have the edition of the archivers hands in them. It provides a fun snapshot into the time and point these books were being scanned. Held by someone, moved and interacted with. Held in places while scanned, these images place the reader there directly with the book.


Further reading:

- Dear Reader: of private and public writing an essay by  Mick Wilson:

- Video Essay: Breaking the fourth wall by Leigh Singer:

- The art of google books:

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

digitised scrolls: from the Pond at Deuchar to the Trip to London

Helen Douglas at Whitechapel Art Book fair, 2014


The Art Book Fair at Whitechapel certainly looked different from the last year: upstairs had a much happier feel, with more tables filling the space and a refreshingly (!) large number of Canadian presses. Downstairs seemed as usual - big publishers and big tables. The cafe, however, was almost gone, with it's space in-between the floors occupied by a Blurb commission Unbinding the Book [why in the cafe?), which ranged between underwhelming and truly exciting. [Anyone knows what Imprimatur is? Is it a real imprint? Or is it merely a metaphysical concept from Blurb marketing department?] On the whole - a few hits and misses later - Whitechapel Art Book Fair was an improvement from the year before. 
(My personal favorite at Whitechapel, however, remained Kader Attia's Continuum of Repair: The Light of Jacob’s Ladder: a magnificent bookwork or a piece of installation - the choice is yours. )

One of the highlights of the fair itself was Helen Douglas’ new book, produced as a result of her residency in Mexico, where she traveled under the invitation from Martha Hellion. Surreal and mesmerising continuous sequence of images blends foliage, architecture, fragments of Mexican papercuts and textile into a seamless panorama. A garden of Eden? {seductive}. The Mexican book is not dissimilar in the many ways to the other books that Helen has been producing since 2001, that feature her trademark Thumberlina's perspective to draw in the viewer through the boundary of paper into the enchanted photographic foliaged images beyond. One of those works is her scroll book The Pond at Deauchar, which was conceived and produced as a physical scroll and as a digital scroll.


Helen Douglas The Pond at Deuchar
There is a well known anecdote about how Helen Douglas wanted to produce the scroll as a digital app to accommodate The Pond at Deuchar.  Apple refused the idea, because the app did not include any more functions than scrolling the scroll (!).
Eventually the app for this artist's book was born and the pond can now be enjoyed online HERE.  It is a beautiful translation from one medium to another, that maintains the original fluidity and depth of immersion. In fact, the experience of the digital scroll excels as submersion into the work due to the level of detail that zoom option provides.

For comparison, below are a few more digitised scrolls by academic institutions. 

1. A library of digitised Asian scroll paintings at the University of Chicago.

Lake Zhiyang and the Eastern Lake 1663

There is a phenomenal incentive from the Center for the Art of East Asia at the University of Chicago - they have now uploaded online a library of digitised  Asian scroll paintings. What a resource!
The Center for the Art of East Asia initiated the Digital Scrolling Paintings Project to support the teaching of classes on East Asian painting. The temporal and spatial qualities of handscroll paintings are lost in photographs of selected sections that are reproduced in books and projected in the classroom.  Although used widely in current art education and the study of these works of art, such reproductions seriously distort the nature of handscrolls by erasing their sequential and participatory viewing process. The display of these paintings in long cases in museums also is not the way in which these paintings were made to be experienced. With the assistance of the Humanities Computer Research Department, the Center developed a prototype for digital scrolling technology as an exciting tool to simulate the viewing experience and to improve understanding of handscroll paintings.

2. Dead Sea Scrolls online by Google and Israel Museum in Jerusalem. 
Dead Sea Scrolls
In 2011 Google and Israel Museum in Jerusalem uploaded the oldest known biblical manuscripts Dead Sea Scrolls online in a high-resolution format, so they become available to all and everyone (with a reliable and fast internet connection, that is).

3. A Ripley scroll from 1477
Ripley Scroll (1477)
This Ripley scroll (1477) has been scanned-in as a very VERY hi-res very long photo and uploaded online: a delightful level of detail, that can otherwise be only enjoyed with a magnifying glass. In simple terms, it is an alchemical manuscript that shows in pictorial cryptograms the production of the philosopher's stone (the elusive ingredient that produces incorruptible gold out of lesser metals; and/or the elixir of life). A very detailed description of the scroll is on BibliOdyssey (among numerous other treasures that can be found there).

4. Georgian scrolling book Trip to London at Princeton University
Artist unknown, Trip to Town (London: William Sams, 1822). 
Box embossed: E.P. Sutton & Company; 
Sangorski & Sutcliff. GA 2005.01039
 And finally, here is this charming Georgian device Trip to London that has been digitised by Princeton University. It is a box with a twelve plate scroll that contains a story about a very unfortunate  honeymoon journey to London by a recently married Mister O'Squat and the Widow Shanks. 
Here is a POST from Booktryst (June, 2013) about the scroll, including this curious snippet of information.
It is not found in Tooley or Abbey, has no copies recorded by OCLC/KVK in institutional holdings worldwide, no copies at auction since ABPC began indexing results in 1923, no copy in the collection of the British Museum, nor is it found in the annals of our sister TV series, Divorce Court. It is an incredibly scarce item, as rare as a Taylor Swift long-term relationship.


Digital editions raise questions about... editions: what is the relationship between the digital and the material version of the book? Is it an edition in its own right? Prof. Michelle Brown spoke of digital manuscripts in the article she wrote for our Codex: Between This and That book. She suggested that digital editions should be treated as born digital editions in their own right.
The exponential increase in digital imagery available online is encouraging scholars accustomed to working on early texts in the form of printed editions to become aware of the value added and transformative experience of working directly from the primary sources, without having to travel around the world and negotiate access to materials, the rarity and fragility of which may necessitate curatorial restrictions on access to be applied – as in the case of the Beowulf manuscript itself. Manuscript curators initially anticipated that digital surrogates would lessen the demand for consultation of the original; in fact, the stimulation of interest that they provoke can often lead to even more requests to view. Scholarly scepticism is such that there is also felt to be a need to see the original for oneself, in order to test the veracity of digital versions – which indeed have their own life and should be seen as born digital e-manuscripts in their own right.
 Born digital e-scrolls in their own right, then.


The original version of this post can be found in Egidija's Notebook II.