What is language? What is a book? What is the act of reading? The Russian Futurists opened Pandora’s box with such questions and unleashed a cascade of avant-garde imaginings hitherto uncaptured on the page. To break apart the derivative nature of words and to provide a universal poetic language based on emotive sound and symbol were just a few of their aims. The artist’s book became a home of ideas abstracted into symbols. The reader’s job was not to passively absorb, but to cast out the shadows and cobwebs of the language that had been passed down to him or her and transcend above the words.
One of the foremost thinkers in the group known as the Russian Futurists was Ilia Zdanevich, self- called Iliazd. Iliazd is best remembered for his artist’s book collaborations with Modernist giants such as Picasso, Ernst, Matisse, Giacometti, and Dada’s Tristan Tzara. However, his less lauded and perhaps more far-reaching legacy is that he was one of the first to experiment with typesetting as a medium for affecting expression. In Iliazd’s books and images, words and characters became players and props; the page became a place for visual movement where text danced or a score for a sound-scape where letters became half-notes and clefs .
This month at the Center for Book Arts, our 2012 Faculty Fellow, renowned book artist Kitty Maryatt will be teaching a Master Class in Expressive Hand Typesetting. The class will explore, in depth, the works of Iliazd and other avant-garde artists, then students will collaborate to develop and print their own text. In the process we’ll discover the possibilities and limitations of hand-set letterpress typography, sans computer. The class runs October 27th through 28th, 10am to 4pm. That’s next weekend, so register now!
-Francesca Austin- Ochoa
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