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let’s talk artist books!

November 3, 2011

Recently I have been thinking a lot about artist books. I haven’t yet posted about my experience at the Contemporary Artists’ Books Conference last month because I have spent the last few weeks writing and re-writing the post. The sessions I attended left me with a lot to think about, mainly because I disagreed with a lot of what was being said. This surprised me. So, I have decided to incorporate my experience at CABC into this blog post.

First, I do want to say that I believe, and it seemed to be the overall opinion at CABC, that artist books are on fire right now and the idea that print is “on it’s way out” is a laughing matter. Not going to happen anytime soon regarding artist books, that’s for sure! Personally, I am a huge fan of books. I am one of those people that likes the smell of the ink and the feel of the pages turning under my fingertips. I love the physicality of the book – before even cracking it open I turn it around in my hands to view the cover and study the binding.

As an artist I primarily use photography in my image making. Within the last year I have found artist books to be the best possible way to communicate my work. I use the page turns and carefully consider my sequence and love an opportunity for a good rephrase now and then. I feel there is so much possibility with books and the best part for me is the accessibility! You don’t have to be at the right place at the right time like you do for an exhibition. You can purchase a book and return back to it again and again.

OK, on to the conference…

“Furthering the Critical Dialogue” panel with Victor Sira, Photographer/Faculty, ICP-Bard MFA Program; Larissa Leclair, Indie Photobook Library; and Krist Gruijthuijsen, Kunstverein. Moderated by Tony White, Indiana University Libraries.

One of the most memorable pieces of advice that I took away from Victor Sira‘s lecture was that the sense of touch is not always considered by artists when designing their books and it should be. Artist books are a sensory experience. I have been thinking a lot about the sense of touch. Like I have said previously, the physicality of the book is what draws me to the medium, but, am I taking advantage of the sense of touch? What makes my book feel any different than any other book? Does it feel any different? Something to consider moving forward that’s for sure!


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Ofer Wolberger’s Visitor was chosen to be the focus of this years panel because of the current DIY/self-publishing movement. Larissa Leclair presented a very thorough examination of the book. I honestly had never heard of Visitor prior to CABC and after Leclair’s presentation was eager to add it to my shopping list that weekend. There is a lot going on with this book.

Visitor is an ongoing photographic portrait project depicting the same unidentified woman in an array of poses made in the lobby of one building in midtown Manhattan. The project takes as it’s ‘found’ material the crudely made, heavily pixelated and endlessly disposable security badges that are produced when one enters an office building as a guest.

My favorite feature is that it is unbound which allows you to rediscover the images as you take the book apart. Also, the red lines in the gutter are an interesting addition. Honestly, if I had not attended Larissa’s talk I think it is fair to say I would not have appreciated the book than if I had just picked it up in a bookstore and flipped through it.

Leclair also spoke about the idea of the “new library” of which covers of books are facing out rather than the spine facing out. I snapped a couple of photos (above) of the Research Center at Visual Studies Workshop as an example. Though most of the books housed in the Research Center are shelved spine out, there is a row of shelves in the fashion of the “new library”.

Another trend that I’m glad she mentioned (because it is one I have noticed as well) is the use of video flip-throughs on websites and blogs to experience artist books. This is a great way to share your book with people. Video allows you to view the page-turns which I believe to be one of the most important elements of an artist book.

Larissa also pointed out that with this increase in self-published books there is a greater need for contemporary criticism.

Krist Gruijthuijsen followed up by asking WHY? Why are we even looking at Visitor? Why was it made? These questions can really be asked about any artist book and I ask myself this question on a regular basis. WHY? Specifically regarding Visitor it’s not hard to question the artist as witness and in this case, should the subtext have been included with the images? Something to consider.


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I was really looking forward to the keynote this year by artist Tauba Auerbach. I walked away with mixed feelings. Don’t get me wrong, her work is incredible and I loved hearing her talk about her work. What irritated me to no end was her opinion that cheaply produced books might as well just be published digitally and viewed on tablets. Granted she is entitled to her opinion and there were others in the room that agreed with her, but personally, I couldn’t disagree more. Just because a book is cheaply produced does not mean it is cheap and not worthy of the printed page. Now, I do agree with her, as Victor Sira also pointed out, that tactile physical objects persevere. Personally, I feel there is room for both types of artist books as they are both artist books. What do you think?

“The Final Appearance: Artists’ Books Get into Print” panel with Lucy Mulroney (Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University), David Senior (Museum of Modern Art Library), and Leanne Shapton (illustrator, writer and publisher, J&L Books). This session was moderated by Stephen Bury.

Lucy Mulroney, a fellow Western New Yorker, gave a talk on “Editing Andy Warhol’s Readymade Novel” and her research working with a.

Conceptually unique, hilarious, and frightening, a: A Novel is the perfect literary manifestation of Andy Warhol’s sensibility. In the late sixties, Warhol set out to turn a trade book into a piece of pop art, and the result was this astonishing account of the artists, superstars, addicts, and freaks who made up the Factory milieu. Created from audiotapes recorded in and around the Factory, a: A Novel begins with the fabulous Ondine popping several amphetamines and then follows its characters as they converse with inspired, speed-driven wit and cut swaths through the clubs, coffee shops, hospitals, and whorehouses of 1960s Manhattan.

I actually just ordered this book and I am really looking forward to reading it. The history of the production is really interesting. The transcript for the book was full or errors all of which were published in the spirit of “ready made” and the book was stylized in a way in which helped guide the readers through the narrative.

David Senior spoke about Art-Rite. No. 14 (Winter 1976-77) Artists’ Books and the artist book movement. He spoke about the use of simple materials and internet art, specifically that of David Horvitz. Right now you can pay $1 to have Horvitz think of you for one full minute. He will actually e-mail you when he starts and stops. What does this have to do with artist books? I’m not entirely sure what he meant, but all I could think about was Tauba Auerbach’s tablet comment. Like I said at the beginning of this post, CBAC left me with a lot to think about.

Having Leanne Shapton as one of this years speakers was really great timing after haven taken a workshop with Jason Fulford (the other half of J & L Books) this past summer. J & L Books is a not for profit publishing company which gives Leanne and Jason the freedom to experiment. While she was talking she passed around a few of their published books my favorite being Ok Ok Ok by Mike Slack. Too bad it’s out of print! Leanne talked about J & L Books for a while and then pointed out that you don’t have to do what you set out to do – be flexible. Great advice and something I always try to remind myself.

She also brought up that younger artists with less money tend to produce cheaper books since they do not have access to processes larger publishing organizations do. Yes, this is true, but I guess my point in response to the entire conference and the fact that “cheap books” was consistently being brought up, is that a “cheap book” isn’t necessarily being produced to save money, but that the “cheap book” could be being produced for aesthetic reasons. Isn’t that point valid? What do you think?

There is so much more to be said about the Contemporary Artists’ Books Conference this year but I touched on all of the points I wanted and this post is long enough! Yikes! Thanks for reading along and sticking out my rambling.

This weekend I will be attending the SPE Northeast Regional Conference in Syracuse, NY. The theme this year is Photographers + Publishing. Yes, more book talk! I’m really looking forward to Alec Soth’s Keynote Lecture: From Here to There, Featured Speaker: John Gossage, Honored Educator: Doug DuBois, Mary Virginia Swanson: To Be Published or Self-Publish? An Overview of Options for Artists, Andy Adams: Photo 2.0 — Online Photographic Thinking , and of course Tate Shaw: Artist publications at Visual Studies Workshop. There are some great lectures planned this year!


The first two photos above are a couple I hadn’t posted yet from my visit to the Mary Shelley Facsimile Library – truly the highlight of my visit to the The NY Art Book Fair.

Sorry for the poor quality of the photographs taken at the CBAC, I always feel using my flash is rude at these types of events! Is it just me?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 3, 2011 12:28 pm

    Megan, thanks for this post, this is really inspired stuff for me at present as I have just started my MA Photography studies!
    Keep on!

    Alan

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