Every summer the Center hosts six undergraduates for an intensive studio internship in book arts. Summer interns focus on producing editions for the Center, and on installing the summer exhibitions. We asked one of this year’s interns, Melissa Green to give us her impressions of our summer show, Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here, from her hands-on perspective.
My entry into book arts is through design. I consider myself a designer rather than a fine artist, and tend to think of my book arts work as an extension of my design work. Perhaps this is why I’ve never submitted my work to fine arts exhibitions—they seem disconnected from the design world of which I consider myself a part—but that’s also why it was exciting to get the opportunity to help install the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here exhibition here at the Center.
Unpacking the artwork was a bit like Christmas. Most of the pieces arrived in two large boxes, with each work wrapped in it’s own foam sheet and tissue paper, secured with blue painters’ tape. Each package we pulled from the shipment was roughly the same shape, but the contents were all extremely different.
|Janis Nedela Typo and Palindrome|
There was a wide range of structures from perfect bound, with the spine simply glued to hold the pages together, to sculptural pieces that some may not even identify as books at first glance. Some pieces completely avoided using materials traditionally associated with books. Janis Nedela’s Typo and Palindrome, for example, is made of laser-etched acrylic. There are no pages in the traditional sense, but rather a single solid block, representing a text block. There is no text in the piece, but simply long horizontal rectangles aligned to form wordless paragraphs.
|Lynne Avadenka’s One by One|
Other pieces look like small, ordinary books at first glance, but then unfurl into long stunning accordions. Lynne Avadenka’s One by One especially grabbed my attention, despite its muted palette of beige and brown and imagery gracing only the lowermost part of each page. It’s quiet refined presence somehow stood out from the array of other books laid out on the table.
|Amaranth Borsuk Sunt Lacrimae Rerum|
Another accordion, Sunt Lacrimae Rerum by Amaranth Borsuk, combined a traditional book structure with a more sculptural sensibility. When we unwrapped the piece, it was inside a clear acrylic cube that revealed the small accordion inside. There were letterforms cut out of each panel, but it was impossible to read the words. Instead, the effect was a systematically perforated text block with light streaming through holes. Once opened, each panel revealed a phrase cut from the paper, but not completely removed from the page—still holding on at the base of each letter. At first glance, it seemed as if all the pages bore the same phrase, but upon closer look, I noticed that each one was slightly different from the last, varying by only a single word. But by the end of the book, the text had transformed into something completely different.
|Amanda Williams Altered Book for Al-Mutanabbi Street|
Amanda Williams’ Altered Book for Al-Mutanabbi Street took yet a different approach. Instead of designing and binding a book from scratch, Williams took an existing book and altered it to make a sculptural work of art. The book opened to a spread near the middle of the text block and a large rectangle had been cut out through the most of the pages. The interior of cut out has been painted a dark brown and horizontal slats of book board were glued in to create what looked like tiny shelves.
All of these approaches, while different, came together to create one show. They each represent different interpretations of the form of the book. Somehow this seemed very different from my experience in the design world. Though I love design, I find that there is a certain amount of homogeneity. Everyone frequents the same design blogs, which all post much of the same work; many designers follow the same social media feeds and, as a result, follow a lot of the same trends. These common influences are quite easy to spot if one spends any significant amount of time looking at design work online. There are widely held ideas about the one solution that all clients need these days and anyone strays too far from that golden solution is promptly spurned on Twitter.
Perhaps this is an exaggeration, but recently I’ve begun to find the proliferation of certain design trends dull and underwhelming. It has helped to take a break and see work that is neither design nor online. I sometimes forget how many possibilities are out there and, if nothing else, Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here was a helpful reminder.