JAB38 | Fall 2015
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JAB38: The New Century of Artists’ Books
The N.Y. Art Book Fair took place this year from September 17–20 at PS1, MoMA in Long Island City. Johanna Drucker and I shared a table in celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the publishing of her book The Century of Artists’ Books (Granary 1995) and my founding of JAB in 1994. During the fair, Tate Shaw, Director of the Visual Studies Workshop, and Johanna presented topics to be considered in the new century of artists’ books from her own perspective as well as those submitted by people who had responded to her request for topics earlier in the summer (see below). I gave a brief summary of JAB’s two-pronged approach to culture creation–educational and creative—and an overview of its DIY essence.
The NYABF overflowed with massive amounts of publication arts—including artists’ books, zines, scholarly books about art, journals, prints, photo books, etc. There were more than 300 exhibitors and 30,000 visitors. One of the best parts of the fair is to see old friends—people who know each other’s work and are creatively involved in publication arts. People who, by the way, understand the salient fact of books—that they are small, easily transportable objects that carry a lot of information. Unfortunately this obvious aspect of books is not generally understood by most art school faculty who, as I recently observed during a crit, expect that book arts MFA students construct installations for their thesis projects, and demand repeatedly that the work be bigger, or red, among other irrelevancies.
► JAB39 (spring 2016) will be a peek at what’s going on with book arts in Australia. Subscribe now so you don't miss out!!
JAB38 Table of Contents
- From the Editor: Colophon—The New Century of Artists’ Books
by Brad Freeman
- The Fibrous Text
by Anne Royston
- Productive Consumption: Reading Book Arts
by Heather Murray
- How I Challenge the Canons With My Four German Ghost Dissenters
by Pete Kennedy
- Stranger In Town
by Jamie Weaver
- Interview with Michael Kasper
by Woody Leslie
- BOOKS RECEIVED
reviewed by Mary Clare Butler & Woody Leslie
- Elemental Letters
by Johanna Drucker
- Artist Pages
by Mary Claire Butler
- Artist Book Brisbane Event—Photo Impressions
by Brad Freeman
- Catacuzino Primary School
Photographs by Jamie Weaver
- Artists’ Books:
Cayuga Nation: People of the Great Swamp, by Jenna Rodriguez
saga, by Scottatuks
on./the/page at the back of the book by Buzz Spector
- The New Century of Artists’ Books: Responses to the Request for Topics
Collected by Johanna Drucker
- Lyn Ashby
1. Artists of the book must often avail themselves of the opportunity to show books in “normal” galleries. But the environment of most galleries (even when offered as space to show books) generally encourages the more spectacular, visual, wall-friendly interpretations of what a book is or does. Reading (in the more intimate page-turning sense) is rarely encouraged by the actual gallery space or gallery owners. Sadly, this skews the kind of books that get made towards the spectacular. Perhaps part of this problem is the conflation of three, four or five different practices that all get called “book arts.”
2. Public collections in some countries have become the main collectors of artists’ books and thus the main patron of the practice. Because of this senior librarians often find themselves deciding what books are purchased and what are not. Through no fault of their own most of these librarians have had little or no training in the specifics or the subtleties of this art practice, and are often overly persuaded by novelty qualities. This too can lead to the skewering of what is encouraged (purchased) and discouraged (neglected).
- Susan Bee
It would be great to have a new chapter on digital book forms added to the book. How is the artists’ book going to change in the era of internet? Will the content change? Is digital access to artists’ books online a boon or a curse?
- Jennifer Camp
I think it would be interesting to include a chapter on “book-like objects” or artists who are using books in a sculptural way (we talked about this a bit in class). This could perhaps include installation art or films. Obviously, these practices wouldn’t be included as part of the canon of artists’ books, but I think they would still be interesting for comparative purposes (and also for thinking about how artists are engaging and challenging “the book” on multiple levels and through media beyond the book itself).
- Carolee Campbell
The marriage of the artists’ book and the finely printed book.
- Aaron Coulton
I would like to see a chapter on artists’ books and institutional influence. I’m a big fan of Mark McGurl’s The Program Era,which makes the case that the advent of MFA programs is the most significant shift in literary development since high modernism—and I’d be interested in a study of what MFA programs, centers, and university patronage mean for artists’ books.
- Clifton Meador
In-depth histories of artists’ book publication activities from non-English speaking countries.
- Nicolas Nace
I think dealing with 1) techniques and politics of appropriation in the artists’ book and 2) the increasingly critical-theoretical dimension of the work such books are doing. So with respect to 1), I think a minor theme about appropriation was there all along in your 1995 book [JD’s The Century of Artists’ Books], and this practice, along with our thinking about it, appears only to have developed since then. So it seems especially useful to explore the different appropriative purposes to which the artists’ book has been put. This will give an opportunity to show the intersection with conceptual writing and to explain the differences. Although, when the “Information as Material” books begin to imitate physical features of the books from which their texts were taken, we begin to see that this is no simple matter to distinguish conceptual writing from conceptual artists’ books. I think the graphic language of reproducibility that we saw in Tzara might be the start of a very long-view discussion of this.
As for 2), I think there’s an interesting difference in scale between Ed Ruscha’s cataloguing of gasoline stations and, say, Erica Van Horn’s envelope interiors, but putting these works into a lineage shows that Van Horn goes one step further into a more controlled and explicit critical-educational mode by labeling the security pattern after a well-known artist’s technique. In what we saw, I felt an increasing number of works that seem to say, “Take another look at this undervalued thing right in front of you—whether an image of a book from The Simpsons, or a dismantled notebook computer. It’s more interesting than it needs to be and can be yet more interesting to think about within another narrative, one to which the book format gives access, if only by disrupting the customary narrative in which we found it.” The works that focus on social issues now feel a little different than they did, more self-conscious, less confident in their choice of format. I think there’s a kind of work that plays into, and with, the ways artists’ books function in social life cradled in foam before an audience—of buyers or students—who are being taught their value. I think that poetry has of necessity become more “academic,” but it struck me that the artists’ book, too, has begun to assert its value in this way, and has perhaps likewise defined itself in relation to the objectives of criticism, theory, and pedagogy. Or maybe academic criticism has become more and more centered on being nifty or clever ever since the 1990s. Whichever tradition is the one moving, I guess I just mean to point out that they now seem remarkably close.
- Joel Minor
As for a new chapter, I would say the most unavoidable theme would be on e-Artist Books, so to speak. Maybe multi-media books, to make it a bit broader?
- Karla Nielsen
As for an updated chapter about criticism, one vein of criticism that I most want to see about artist books would put artist books into comparative analyses with other types of publication (especially as the publishing industry reorganizes around e-books). Maybe that’s out there, or maybe that’s not what you meant about what would appear in such a chapter, but that’s what I’d like to see!
- Molly Schwartzburg
Artists’ books and mainstream publishing. I am thinking of the arguably huge impact that 1990s projects like Griffin and Sabine, Nest magazine, and McSweeney’s have had on commercial publishing and the use of technologies, materials, and formats like die cutting, objects, boxes, and so on, which used to be mostly limited to the children’s book market. Where is the line between artists’ books and commercial products? What do we call books that fall in the second category? They aren’t just plain books–they are something else.
Digital technology and artist’s books–is there anything really good out there? I know I’ve seen a lot of examples online and at fairs of books with LED lights embedded in them, disks and other digital media included, and books that are accompanied by online media. But I don’t feel like I have a grasp of a trajectory, of who is doing really good work, of who, if anyone, is documenting this stuff or collecting it seriously.
Crafting and artists’ books. A lot of what book artists and book sculptors do is easy to mimic, and the phenomenon of pinterest and etsy book arts is, I think, really fascinating as a phenomenon. For instance, “altered book” is now a term that pretty much any crafter or scrapbooker who shops at [art supply stores] JoAnn’s or Michael’s knows. That’s a huge change from even ten years ago. What impact does this have on critical judgment/critical vocabulary for artists’ books? Will this help artists’ books be taken more seriously because there is a larger body of work to judge?
- Donna Westerman
I would like to see a section on books where the image is foremost. Portfolios, stories through images, artwork in book format.
- Phil Zimmerman
I am a bit obsessed with the conundrum today of the labor/production cost/selling price equation of artists’ books production. Despite the promise of digital printing and POD publishing, the reality is depressing. It makes most artists sell their books at break-even rates (if lucky), or at a loss, or at a labor rate of far less than minimum wage. The NYABF is a great example where almost no one sells anything at more than about $50 (and mostly for $25), yet that is close to what most books cost to manufacture (and forget about the time in creating the book). How can we ever break out of this? Become artworld famous or die so that the books become collectible?
Below, JAB38 Special Envelope Insert of Artists' Books by Jenna Rodriguez, Buzz Spector, and Scott McCarney & skuta
► Print Production Fellows Mary Clare Butler and Woody Leslie designed the cover of JAB38, and Butler printed it as a tritone on the Heidelberg GTO here at the Center for Book, Paper, & Print, Columbia College Chicago. Springing forth from our Alumni Residency Program, the artists’ book Cayuga Nation: Now & Then was printed by Jenna Rodriguez (previous PPF)—and inserted along with Buzz Spector’s on./the/page at the back of the book and Scott McCarney and skùta’s saga in the envelope on the inside back cover of this JAB. Spector spent a week with us as one of our summer resident artists and designed his book during that time. The paper throughout is Mohawk Superfine. Butler’s artist pages (36–37) are duotone tests for her upcoming thesis project. Ruby Figueroa and Isaac Fosl-van Wyke, also Print Production Fellows and graduate students in the MFA program, printed the text block while I supervised. Thanks as always to our intrepid webmaster Kathi Beste, and her Sunshine Band.
Special Features: Click for Larger Images
Brad Freeman, Artist Books Brisbane Event: Photo Impressions
Jamie Weaver, Stranger in Town
► JAB (The Journal of Artists’ Books) is indexed in The H.W. Wilson Company, Art Abstracts, CSA’s ARTbibliographies Modern, and in Bibliography of the History of Art.