Wednesday, 29 April 2015

the thing the book the codex


You know that feeling - when you have a really really good idea and then it turns out that somebody is either doing it already or - even worse - they had had it long before you. You do, don't you? Good. It is not what this blogpost is about. This blogpost is about a curious and fascinating coincidence that is both wonderful and strange - as agent Cooper would say. You know that old saying, you wait ages for a bus and then two come along at once. This post is about two books.

I recently came across The Thing The Book, published in September 2014 by Chronicle Books in San Francisco. The book was developed by Jonn Herschend and Will Rogan, who are behind The Thing Quaterly - a remarkable assemblage of stuff in a box, conceived by a different artist each time - an enterprise influenced by Aspen's boxes of 1970s.

The Thing The Book is about book as a physical object. It contains contributions from 30 artists - sometimes visual, sometimes verbal - that address different aspects of book. For example, Ed Ruscha did the bookplate, Laurence Weiner did the thumb tab, John Baldessari wrote the epigraph. Then there are articles and visual essays and some beautiful writing, some calligraphy, a flip book, some photography, endnotes, colophon, etc. Some things I enjoyed very much (such as Lucy Pulen's Society of Things, Andrew Hultkrans The fire Time: Razing the Book,  Sarah VanDerBeek Roman Women), while others left me blank (such as Ryan Gander's (Detail from)).

The book is subtitled "Monument to the Book as Object". The authors also say, that the book is "intended to be a physical (and sometimes textual) argument" for book as thing - as their whimsical video suggests: a window support, a chopping board, a coaster. This casual everyday thinginess idea is represented in the promo video, but it is not that explicit in the pages of the book. As for the monumental part - the book is very well executed as an object: every trimming, every part, book detail had been considered visually and conceptually.

However, the most curious thing about the book is, of course, how closely it resembles our Codex: Between This and That. It not just the subject or the structure of the book, it is the content and the look and the general feel of it.* It was conceived at about the same time as ours, except that it was published a year later. You know that old saying, you wait ages for a bus and then two come along at once. This is what this is. 

This wonderful and strange coincidence laid in front of us (CI) last Friday. They have verbal essays and the visual essays! The footnotes! They have the thumb tab too! And the band! And even the yellow!

Oh, I do like The Thing The Book! I believe there is a number of things that are clever and I wish we had used them for our Codex - such as turning elements of book structure into statements/works of art (especially a book mark and a bookplate!); or having Lawrence Weiner to contribute; or printing the book in China, so to achieve this fabulous fabulous quality at a lower cost. On the other had, I have a wicked feeling that I like our Codex better. It is less cluttered, it is clear about the subject and - as a result - it is more consistent as a book. I like the range of our contributors, which covers a broader span of professionals working with books - at various levels of involvement.

However, if I did our Codex again - I would wish to add a bookplate, "printed in China" and a Weiner into it. 

You know that saying, you wait ages for a book to get published and then two come along at once. I do now. This is what this is. 

 * The similarity between then content is not that surprising, I suppose, considering that both books deal with the same subject.


Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Exhibition: The Kraszna-Krausz and First Book Awards (until 28/07/2015)

The Kraszna-Krausz and First Book Awards 2015 is a temporary exhibition in the Media Studio at London's Science Museum. I wanted to talk about it because of its creative approach to displaying books and the way it makes the content accessible.

Exhibition view featuring Lady in the Dark: Iris Barry and the Art of Film by Robert Sitton

On display are theory, coffee-table and high-end books - the exhibition style seamlessly caters for each.

The theory and coffee-table books are exhibited in two ways. Firstly, the desk-like tables have a dip built into them so the books can rest and be viewed fully. The dip ensures they don't move from their position. The books themselves are strapped to the display to keep them secure without damaging them. Secondly, above these are sealed copy of the books, so they can be seen from a distance.

Reading tables - detail featuring Stephen Shore: Survey.

The high-end books (limited editions of books, within uncommon structures or bindings) are exhibited in a slightly different way. A sealed copy is still presented, but below them is a touchscreen with page spreads, so visitors can flick through the contents.

The First Day of Good Weather by Vittorio Mortarotti

Several of the photographic books are supported by prints displayed on the gallery walls (this is a nice touch, as it gives the visitor a better idea of how the images may have been intended to be seen) and a book of postcards is exhibited next to the original postcards (so the visitor can see how faithfully the colour and size has been reproduced).

Exhibition detail featuring book and loose postcards from Mrs. Merryman's Collection.
Exhibition view featuring My Paper Chase by Harold Evans.

In addition the space is bright and well-lit, so the content can be seen at its best and the 'desks' all have chairs, so visitors can pull up a chair if they wish.

See here for more information about the prize.


Wednesday, 15 April 2015

BABE 2015 - from behind the table

Our table in BABE 2015

Firstly I would like to say how impressed I was with #BABE2015 at the Arnolfini. The amount of visitors and variety of stalls was outstanding.

I would like to talk a bit about being behind the table and the chance of interacting with the public, also more importantly for them to interact with our books. I think it ties in quite nicely to the talk that we also gave at BABE entitled: 'codex: between one hand and another. A video and talk on the relationship between the reader, the book and the hand.'

We showed a video which we have been working on, where people where asked to close their eyes and talk about how the book feels. The book as an object. A still of which is above. Listening to people talk about their experiences was fascinating, as people filled the lack of sight with memories.

What is important for me as a book artist and sitting behind the table at BABE was watching people interact with the books. Experiencing and learning about them through touch. One of my books has interleaved pages which get turned over one by one. (See the images below). Watching how people approach it, pick it up and how it reveals itself to them though movement was for me really interesting. I know it sounds a bit cliche to say it, but it made me see the work in a new way. It is so easy to get caught up in the making of it, you get lost sometimes in the simplicity of things. I often wonder if people interact with the work in a way that I intended, as often my books rely on movement to convey their meaning. If people move them differently does it still convey the same thing?

'connected space' - George Cullen

The book structure is a familiar thing but when it is presented in a slightly different way, as in my book above, or in another example in some of my colleagues Egidija's work. It is an intriguing new experience that is fun to watch and be a part of. Some of Egidija's work on the table at the weekend (see below) were beautifully fragile and light. They came as unbound, folded loose sheets. The very nature of the super thin printed Japanese papers to float and catch in the wind, transformed these pieces when picked up, into a performance. There was a lightness in them that brought out a poetic romantic quality from the book, which spoke of the femininity of the paper coupled with the strength of the book structure. Something which, only as I watched people read them did I notice. 

'those frivolous readers' -  Egidija Čiricaitė

So if you are a book artists and have never been to a fair, I strongly recommend it. Having a table at BABE was a great way to critique your own work. For me at least it has sparked some thoughts in where I would like my work to progress. We make books to be read, so let people read them!


Monday, 13 April 2015

GUEST POST: The Hand, The Eye, & The Machine - Abigail Thomas


Haptic Reading; Objectifying Words

The loss, or importance of the haptic in reading has been mentioned a great deal in the media and scholarly articles over the past few years while covering the rise of the e-book and ereading. Haptics is simply any form of interaction involving touch, and if we look at it in that way, we have always had a hand-object-eye interaction with the written word, even now with e-readers and tablets, our hands are still key to interacting with the world of the word. And so it was even when, after the industrial revolution and the dawn of a new age, inventors and thinkers started to dream up fantastic devices to propel us into an era of reading through machines.

In Florida, Admiral Bradley Fiske developed the Fiske Machine in 1926. His machine, which was put into limited production, was a hand held device that you put up to your eye in order to read. The reading material “is produced directly from typewritten manuscript by photography and is so microscopic as to be undecipherable with the naked eye”, and loaded into a rack that runs the miniature pamphlet past a magnifying lens. The operators hand would have to be used to load the rack, just as we turn pages of a book, but this mechanisation of reading embodies a drive, at this time in history, towards reading in new ways, and an objectification of written word.

Image: Fiske Machine (circa 1926)

Having recently been to the Ian Hamilton Finlay exhibition at Kettles Yard, Cambridge, I am aware of this objectification being taken up as an artform alongside the concrete poetry of the 1950's and 60's; in Haptic Poetry. And although Finlay was certainly not the first or last to use this form (Kurt Schwitters, Bob Cobbing...) his work has a presence that runs beyond sculpture into poetic objects that can be touched, even sometimes held, instigating a relational connection between the object and our own bodies.

Image: Peras/Pears, by Ian Hamilton Finlay & Richard Grasby (1981) 
(Beauty and Revolution: The Poetry and Art of Ian Hamilton Finlay, Kettles Yard, 2015)

A very current trend that pairs the body, or more specifically, the hand with reading is the smart watch. An extension of the smart phone, smart watches are worn on the body, combining smart phone technology with that used to gather data in sport and fitness gadgets. Not only can you read on it, interacting with the screen using your fingers, it can, in turn, read you.

Sony FES e-paper smart watch

Kinetics; Movement in Reading
Bob Brown, an American avant-garde writer and poet, in 1930 wrote a call for books to escape their binding, text to leave the page behind and for readers to “see words machine-wise”. He wanted reading and writing to catch up with the rest of the fast paced, future-forward thinking age he lived in and so proposed his reading machine. What he was envisaging was a futuristic form of information retrieval; a way of reading that was more optical, kinetic, and more akin to a projection of text as light beaming onto the eye, rather than the solid printed word that readers eyes had to rove slowly across a paper page to read. An electronic interpretation of his machine is available on where you can control the speed and direction of the text's scrolling movement. 

Image: Bob Brown’s Reading Machine (1930s)
(Readies for Bob Brown’s Machine, Roving Eye Press, 1931)

In 'The Text That Reads Itself', an article by Mark Sanderson in the book 'The Book is Alive!', 2013, Sanderson explores word animations, cyber poetry, and kinetic typography. In this form of reading, we the reader are led through an interactive cyber space, often pushing buttons or clicking a mouse to generate the next sequence of texts and images on the screen. Even here on the ethereal electronic page we interact with our hands to allow our eyes to follow.

Image: still from 'Story Problem', Terri Ford & Erik Loyer, 2001

We may have replaced card, paper and ink for plastic, glass and light as containers of, or platforms for the written word, but the hand and eye are still integral to the reading of that text as they ever were.


Books The Readies, Bob Brown, Roving Eye Press, 1930
Beauty and Revolution: The Poetry and Art of Ian Hamilton Finlay. Kettles Yard, 2015
'The Book is Alive!', ed. Emmanuelle Waeckerle & Richard Sawdon Smith, RGAP, 2013


Bob Brown’s Reading Machine & the Imagined Escape from the Page, Thomas, Abigail, Post-Digital Publishing Archive, 2012
Reading Machine Invented to Abolish Bulky Volumes, The Miami News, March 30, 1926 

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Libraries as a Source of Inspiration

Recently Collective Investigations have been working with the visitors of South Lambeth Library to produce an experimental video about handling books. I've also been working at Leeds College of Art library on a new book work created for the venue, as part of their Library Interventions series.

All this work in and for libraries made me question why we go back to them again and again as a creative source.

Could it be the space itself? Although each venue is different, I have been lucky enough to work in some very attractive libraries, particularly the very modern Clapham library (whose collection spirals round a central chamber, much like the Guggenheim Museum in New York) and Senate House library, part of the University of Central London (a space that is grand, but surprisingly intimate - full of wood-panelling and hidden so spaces). A friend once said that books create habitats, so perhaps even the most bland of library spaces are enlivened aesthetically by their collections? 

Clapham Library. Image source: Facebook
Guggenheim Museum. Image source: Wikipedia
Could it be their contents? Am I drawn to the books themselves? This is undoubtedly a factor. To be surrounded by an all-you-can-read supply of books is still an exciting prospect for me. All that potential! Books are always a source of inspiration, whether it's nonfiction (you'll find me in the Self Help section) or the imagination of others - one of the reasons I make books is because I've always been inspired by them. 

Senate House Library. Image source: Wikipedia
Could it be their public nature? I feel like libraries are a place of chance encounter because the visitors who use them and the staff who man them can be so diverse. I feel like I generally move in circles with people from a similar walk of life to me, however libraries can be places for conversation with those from very different backgrounds and viewpoints to my own. Also the collection in a library reflects the local community, introducing me to ideas and perspectives I would never have stumbled upon online or during the course of an ordinary day. 

Could it be their ethos? In principal public libraries are free and open - generally free of charge and accessible to all. What other environments are as egalitarian as this? Coming into a place, sitting down and reading for the afternoon, or taking a book away is a refreshing experience. When I'm between places (between home and work for example) I often find myself in coffee shops. These seem like between-spaces for me, but they come at a price (allbeit a modest one). Perhaps if there were libraries on my way that were open the same hours, I might find myself there! But then, that said, there are not a lot of libraries that could feed my caffeine addiction.