Finally got around to making a project out of this book. Granted, it’s a modest attempt, but that’s the fun thing about making books– you can put them together from junk paper lying around the house. The cover of this one is an old sheet of watercolor paper that someone used to clean rubber stamps.
Uh oh, Esther Smith has another book, too. Look out, wallet.
There are a healthy number of institutions devoted to preserving and teaching book arts; many major cities in the United States have them, by way of example (Philadelphia, San Francisco, New York, Minneapolis, oh, there’s tons more).
I bring this up because I am curious about this craft, in the context of print media’s often forecasted demise. I came across an interesting debate about this topic, which I highly recommend to those in the Luddosphere. The article discusses whether written words will ultimately have a useful and longer life on paper or in pixels: should all text be “searchable, discoverable, linkable, part of the conversation,” or is it true that the unedited, unprofessional digi-screeds of the masses (cough cough) are by definition etherial and destined for deletion?
I find this subject fascinating. Do you? It seems that book arts are more popular than ever before, as evidenced by the endless institutions devoted to the craft. I wonder if this bears any reactionary relation to the fact that the digital age seems hell-bent on removing tactile experience from all forms of media.
Changing the subject somewhat: Brian Dettmer, book artist
Probably a subject for a separate post: the typewriter is not the only 20th century icon of literature being eviscerated for museum display. Brian Dettmer creates sculptures (called “book autopsies” in the case of books) from all manner of fading communications media: records, tapes, books, maps. Of such media, he is quoted as saying “their intended role has decreased or deceased and they often exist simply as symbols of the ideas they represent rather than true conveyers of content.”
I have two reactions to this kind of increasingly popular transmogrification of media into symbol. My less sophisticated reaction: it’s grisly and some could argue disrespectful, like Bodies: the exhibition. It implies that language is entirely separate from the forms that carry and create it, and the latter has no lasting value save for irony.
A more nuanced reaction might be this: I love technology, and the fact that it makes possible the sharing of ideas like these with like-minded people. I don’t want to go back to pre-digital times. But I’d like to think digital communication can be used in the service of good: to preserve, cherish, and even further the use and enjoyment of iconic, fascinating, and useful creations like books and typewriters. Centers for book arts, like those I mentioned above, are exactly the kinds of places where the benefits of technology and tradition can intersect for the public good.
Center for the preservation and perserverence of the typewriter, anyone? Any venture capitalists out there with me?
Update: Brian Dettmer’s work is currently on display in Chicago, at the Packer Schopf gallery. The page I just linked to has an interesting analysis of “object-based media” in the digital age, and the meaning behind Dettmer’s work:
Books age like humans: they become discolored and stiff, and eventually their pages crumble into dust. Dettmer’s tactile book-sculptures are metaphors for the decline of natural, physical media in the face of the digital, which escapes the laws of nature through lacking any single physical form. At the same time, the sheer volume and solidity of these paper peaks and valleys suggest a sense of stability and soundness that digital information necessarily lacks. We see in Dettmer’s books the simultaneous vulnerability and resilience of material forms.
I do think this is a compelling topic to explore in art, but I can’t say I take any aesthetic pleasure in the destruction of books and typewriters to make a statement. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I universally denigrate the work of artists like Dettmer, however. I just wonder if there is a different way that art could explore this issue. Thoughts?