Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Editions of Alec Soth's Sleeping by the Mississippi

‘Gathered Leaves’ is a photography exhibition at the Media Space in London’s Science Museum featuring images by contemporary American photographer Alec Soth. The works, which represent four of the artist’s projects, are large in scale and have a documentary feel; representing marginalised people, places and aspects of modern American life. The title of the exhibition is drawn from a line in Walt Whitman’s ‘Song of Myself’; a poem which “explores the possibilities for communion between individuals”* - seen through this lens it’s hard not to feel emotional about the subject of the images, particularly the people that are caught within the frame.

It’s clear that books are important to the artist’s practice – they are included in the exhibition (in the form of traditionally bound publications, pamphlets and newspapers) and also the accompanying catalogue, which has a novel design, contains smaller publications within it. The artist has his own imprint: Little Brown Mushroom.

Catalogue Exterior. Image Source: MACK Books

Catalogue Interior featuring 4 smaller publications. Image Source: MACK Books

Of interest to me is the room devoted to the project 'Sleeping by the Mississippi' and in particular the small collection of books displayed in a vitrine at the beginning as they represent several ways of exhibiting the photographs. In the vitrine there are six books; 'From Here to There: Exhibition Notes' a guide to photos in the series, two handmade maquettes for 'Sleeping by the Mississippi' and three traditionally published editions.

Vitrine: Back View
Vitrine: Front View
The first book 'From Here to There' (2000, pictured below) contains images from the project, with descriptions - its content and utilitarian structure (spiral binding) give the suggestion that the book is purely functional - it is described as unpublished exhibition notes, so was likely made for personal use, or use by a gallery. The book is inkjet printed, giving it an unpolished, handmade quality.

Next to this is another simple, spiral-bound edition (2003) of ink-jet prints. The book includes the title of the project and there is a montage of photos on the cover. The montage gives the suggestion of narrative and hints at the idea of a journey. Could the artist be consciously using the book form as a means of exhibiting and curating the photographs (instead of just a means of documentation)?

Sleeping by the Mississippi, self-published, 2003, containing 43 ink-jet prints
Following this is a self published edition (above) in a brown, cloth-bound cover, featuring embossed gilt text and an inlaid image. The cover is simple and well-made and the inlaid photograph is evocative of the others in series. The attention to detail in this edition gives the project a sense of gravity - and the books finish makes it a very appealing object. The fact that the book is self-published (clearly at quite an expense) gives the suggestion that exhibiting the photographs in this medium was certainly a conscious decision.


Finally, included are three conventionally published hardback editions by Steidl (2004, 2004 and 2008) featuring 46 colour plates and essays by Patricia Hampl and Anne Wilkes Tucker. The first features a textured cover with an image of a faded wall where signs used to be tacked, the second a portrait and the third a grey cloth-cover with inlaid image, similar the brown, self-published edition.

The fact that the book has gone into its third edition suggests that the project is an incredibly popular one and being printed by such a prominent publisher and including essays by critics certainly gives the work legitimacy. For me these last editions are fairly conventional and therefore a little dryer - perhaps it is because they don't appear to reflect the hand of the maker in the same way as the first ones do. It makes me wonder whether this detachment makes the artwork inside less visceral? Instead of the publication being an artwork itself, it is more like a coffee-table book.

I think it is excellent to see the evolution of the books surrounded by the images on the gallery walls - it gives a suggestion of historical context and shows that an artist's work can be in a constant state of evolution. Each room within the exhibition contains vitrines with publications and each provides a different insight into the artist's practice.

The exhibition is on until 28th March 2016 the Media Space at London's Science Museum


*SparkNotes, Guide to Whitman's Poetry

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

TV on the BOOK

Recently I have become very interested in the representation of the tv screen in the book. Not only because one of our projects had led us there but I have had a couple of books pop up which have explored this. One I have read and one that I have seen, they are both very beautiful in terms of design and aesthetic. In exploring structure, time and space the book functions much the same as video does although it has a slightly random and non linear one based on the choice of the reader. 

The fist book I am going to look at is a project that we have been working on. 

reading the book as an object - collective investigations

This book originated as a film as a book. Where the film takes the structure of the book. The screen divided into two ‘pages’ recreates a visual similarity with the open spread. With this framework the film slipped nicely back into the book form. It was interesting to see the volume the film took up when this was done. A screen capture was taken every second of a three minute film. The physical weight of the film is represented in the book  

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland - and Through the Looking Glass

This book I came across quite recently and is quite a fun example of how you can portray a film within a book. The book being one that already exists in a literature sense has been adapted for film. Like our project this film adaption finds itself back in the book. Though this time it is a frame by frame analysis done in line drawings with text. These are interspersed with photos of the cast. Whats on screen is interpreted for a printed book and layered with the bookish elements of text.

Between Time and Timbuktu - Kurt Vonnegut

One of my favourite authors Kurt Vonnegut wrote a television film in 1972. The film was published as a book in the same year. The script is published along with stills and photos from the film. When I discovered this book I had a sense of pure delight. Not only because I enjoy his work but the simplicity and clarity of the design gives it a graphic novel feel. It is a great study in how image and text can work together. It is not a pure representation of what happened on the screen in the way that reading the book as an object is. It supplements the TV with the quality of the book. That of the story. Presented as a script, you can read it as a novel but it retains that immediacy of TV. It is TV slowed down, TV that goes at your own pace.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

GUEST POST: The concertina. The accordion. The oriental fold. (Erin K. Schmidt)


The concertina sets itself apart from other book structures in its distinctive form of repetitive folds which allows a versatility in presentation and viewing. The variation in physical space that a concertina book can create and occupy creates a shifting relationship between content and form. The folded pages can be held together on one end and turned like those of a codex between the covers, politely requiring very little space. When the concertina behaves like a codex it allows only a fragment of the content to be visible at any given time.

The pages of a concertina can also spill out beyond those borders of the cover, boasting the content within the book. When the pages of the concertina are extended, the contents on each side are displayed all at once allowing the viewer to engage with the contents in its entirety.

The folds allow the book to harness and capture space, to create an enclosed environment with the slightest manipulation of the page, or to fully extend and occupy as much space as possible. Shadows are created within the space, deeper and darker with the closeness of page; light and airy upon opening. These shadows are part of the play of the book and its content, and can, with subtle movement, affect the overall tone of the work.

In my book the house in the wood I have placed two concertinas within the hardcover such that the cover closes and presents itself as a codex with the spine on the left. Because of this cover, the book can readily be viewed as codex, turning the pages as such to read the text without having to hold them together at the left.

The book can also be opened wide to allow the concertinas that have been nestled within the cover to spread out and expand. When extended, the two concertinas reveal their backsides which contain multiple images of small mushrooms. Because of the folds in the concertinas, the pages can be manipulated and moved to various positions for viewing. The space that is created between the concertinas becomes an extension of the forest floor connecting the images to each other.

I chose this format of using two concertinas for house in the wood which extend in different directions to correspond with the text of the book which describes the two paths that lead the viewer away from the house and into the forest. As the paths bend and wind, the concertina folds allow the paper to be manipulated similarly.

For my book tea and water pipe, I’ve chosen to use a double concertina. The doubling of the concertina creates a physical space between the layers, as well as the space that the structure itself already occupies due to the nature of its folds and shape. When the book is open and extended the structure becomes the setting of the book, a tea house in which the narrative occurs.

I have placed the text on the interior pages such that it can only be viewed by looking through the lattice windows that have been cut into the front layer of the concertina. In this way the viewer must enter the work as a voyeur peering into the space from the outside. The outer concertina creates a physical barrier between the viewer and the text, a private lament for a departed friend, some of the thoughts so quiet the words are barely visible.

The concertina is a dynamic marriage of content and structure. The flexibility of the book requires a flexibility of content. I consider this when I choose to use the concertina structure in my work. The content must work when viewed in fragments as well as when viewed as a whole. The interplay of shadow and form should complement the content, and vice versa. The folded pages will create small, private spaces for the viewer to dwell, whether in shadow or light. It is important, within these spaces, to offer a quiet moment of intimacy that the viewer may share with the book.

More concertina books by Schmidt:

Long Blond  Hair
God Save the Queen

Erin K. Schmidt is an American artist, whose artwork is heavily influenced by notions of identity created through personal histories, memories, and perceptions. Her books focus on brief moments, punctuated by repeated imagery or text, recalling intimate events or memories. She uses private photos and writing within a variety of structures and media to evoke emotions. She earned her BFA from Michigan State University and her MA in Book Arts from University of the Arts London. She has been awarded Shefield International Artist’s Book Prize in 2014. Her work has been exhibited internationally and can be found in private and public collections including Tate Britain, London, UK; Saison Poetry Library, London, UK; University of California San Diego;  RISD.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

→ excavating phantasmagoria (after Kaunas Biennial 2015)

fantasmagoria was a form of theatre which used a modified magic lantern to project frightening images such as skeletons, demons, and ghosts onto walls, smoke, or semi-transparent screens, frequently using rear projection.

Threads: A Fantasmagoria About Distance was the main Kaunas Biennial 2015 show (finished on 31/12/2015), curated by Nicolas Bourriaud. "A damn good title!", as Agent Cooper might have said. The title draws from the concepts of phantasmagoria (19th century "almost real surreal" horror theater, from the times of pleoramas, dioramas, padoramas, myrioramas, phantom rides, panoramas, magic lanterns and peep-shows) and distance (the space between two points). The ideas of distance and phantasmagoria are not the subject of the show, however, but a metaphor for contemporary art exhibitions, according to Bourriaud.

Based on the link between science, poetry and spiritualism, Threads is an exhibition about art as a system that connects itself to a different time and/or space.  The artwork as a telegraphic device, entering into contact with something happening somewhere else, in another realm, world, place or times. (Nicolas Bourriaud)
According to the curator, “the exhibition strives both to approach the form of fantasmagoria and address the way today’s artists include the notion of distance in their works. In a globalized and digitalized world, how does art deal with transportation, with real time communication? What is the current shape of presence/absence dialectics? How do artists present absent realities?”(Virginija Vitkienė)

Threads: A Fantasmagoria About Distance unites eighteen artists working in very different media (dominated by installation artworks). The title not only unites, but also highlights each of the works' "phantasmagorical" and "connective" aspects by re-contextualising them. Highlights? In certain cases excavates, where no phantasmagoria was seemingly present beforehand.

Attila Csorgo
One of my favorite works is Attila Csorgo's gently geeky poetic contraption Clock-work (2015): a three-dimensional curve projected onto the wall casts the shadow of (the symbol for) infinity, with a second hand moving round in circles, as propelled by ticking of the mechanism at the bottom. Installation itself looks like something from the 19th century - one of the popular spectacles, that later gave birth to the film. Like the 19th century visual illusions, Csorgo's work is based on science and meticulously engineered devices. Unlike the 19th century illusion, Csorgo's work is not just a visual spectacle - it is also an analytical glance into the fragments of reality that might not be noticeable otherwise, as well as a "thread" back into the world of phantasmagorias, shadows and mechanical timekeeping.


Amalia Ulman's Stock Images of War (2015) is a video piece of poetry. A TV screen in a small room loudly recites a poem to the soudtrack of the war, supplemented by brash animation of the text. I am assuming it is original poetry - although, it could also be an accumulation of phrases from online sources. I have found no information about this arwork, beyond the fact, that it was created to supplement an exhibion (under the same title) of very delicate wire sculptures.  The video can be considered in relation to its very prominent soundtrack, visual effects and vocal poetry tradition, but in Threads: A Fantasmagoria About Distance the video is primarily a tardis into the distant horror theater of war.

Darius Ziura's autobiographical work The Monument to Utopia (2015) is a collaboration and a re-connection of three friends: Darius, Serge and Slava, who had met during military service twenty-five years ago. The work is authored by Ziura; it includes a statue made by Slava, a film about the making of the statue and two tons of books stolen in Dublin by Serge (another currious subject, which I hope to explore somewhere later). Twenty five years of separation, eight years of stealing books, two hours of film; thousands of miles between Vilnius, St Petersburg and Dublin are contained in this memorial, which collapses physical and temporal distance between the three men. Like in a theater of shadows, their ghostly presence rises from the objects and suggests undelying reality and possible authenticity.

An exhibition - like a book - is a structure, where each element is exposed to the title and appropriated by it. The title Threads: A Fantasmagoria About Distance tints every artist in the show. Some works employ obvious links to the metaphor, such as flickering light by Carsten Holler, creaking doors by Julijonas Urbonas or live webcams by Roberto Cabot. Others, however, benefit from some excavation, to regenerate unexpected semantic aspects of text/artwork that might have got burried as the work evolved.

Title is the viewing lens into phantasmagoria of the art show.