Why Didn’t They?

The Center for Book Arts is pleased to present the work of Elena Berriolo in its Featured Artist Project Elena Berriolo: Why Didn’t They?, on view from October 2 to December 12, 2015. In conjunction, a performance by the artist, Feed Me the Line, will take place December 4, 6:30pm at the Center. The performance combines sewing machine and poetry and is a collaboration with poet Steve Dalachinsky. 

Why Didn’t They? highlights Elena Berriolo’s work of the last three years, encompassing books, performance and photomontage. Continuing her investigation into the possibilities of the line traced by the sewing machine, Berriolo presents 12 unique 16-page books made with thread, watercolor, and ink on paper that address a variety of themes, including a speculative rewriting of art history from a feminist point of view, the interweaving of poetry and visual art, and a direct engagement with nature. Each book will be displayed on a music stand and will be able to be handled by visitors. Also on view will be photomontages that take a humorous and critical look at art history. 

Three separate series of unique books are included in the exhibition. In Transcriptions from Canonical Male Artists (including Lucio Fontana, Henri Matisse, Ellsworth Kelly), Berriolo asks the question: Why didn’t they (these male artists) think of using the sewing machine? Berriolo points out that, in contrast to conventional art tools such as the pencil or paintbrush, the sewing machine creates a “true three-dimensional line with a top and a bottom that in a book, by turning the page can be moved through space.” If innovative artists such as Matisse, Fontana, or Piero Manzoni failed to think of using the sewing machine, it was because they associated it with woman’s work. Berriolo first raised this issue in her 2012 Brooklyn Rail article “Why Didn’t Lucio Fontana Use My Sewing Machine?” and explores it in more depth in her newly published manifesto Why Didn’t They? (Milanville Editions, 2015). 

In the series From/With Poetry, Berriolo interweaves her sewn line with lines of poetry (by Catullus, Apollinaire and Emily Dickinson), liberating word and image in a kind of visual dance. In the series From/With Nature, the artist incorporates different natural elements into her process. For the book My Grass Brush, she draws with a brush made from fresh grass, acknowledging that the cotton of her sewing machine thread is also made out of grass. In I am a Beetle, she imprints with leaves that have been attacked by Japanese beetles, connecting the perforations made by the insects with the holes made by her sewing machine needle. 

Related events:

Feed me the line
A performance with sewing machine and poetry in collaboration with Steve Delachinsky
Friday, December 4th, 6:30 pm

A book as a Bridge
An impromptu performance with sewing machine in the subway.


Series Transcriptions from Canonical Male Artists

  • Another Fontana 2012
  • Matisse’s Jazz 2013
  • Ellsworth Kelly ‘s Line Form and Color 2013
  • Domenico Gnoli 2013

Series from and with poetry

  • Apollinaire’s J’Aime L’Art D’Aujourdoui 2013
  • Emily Dickinson’s But Are Not all Facts Dreams… 2014
  • Catullus’s Cui Dono Lepidum… 2012

Nature Series

  • Morning I am a Beetle 2014
  • My Thorny Brush 2014
  • My Thorny Rose Brush 2015
  • My Old Brushes 2015
  • My Grass Brush 2014
  • My Old Fern Brush 2015

Unique books; each 16 pages with thread, ink, and watercolor on paper; 8 ó x 11x 1/4 in. closed

Elena Berriolo is a New York based artist who has exhibited internationally. Since 2009, she has made a commitment of working exclusively in the book format and performing while producing books. Her work is in a number of public collections, including the Rare Book Collection of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

Support for the Center for Book Arts’ visual arts programming is provided, in part, by the New York State Council on the Arts, with the support of Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, and by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.

Exhibition Views

spread with red leaf prints
Morning I am a Beetle (2014) Elena Berriolo
spread with two red, frog-like eyes
Catullus's Cui Dono Lepidum… (2012) Elena Berriolo
yellow left page, right page with black square and yellow check mark
Another Fontana (2012) Elena Berriolo
watercolor copy of Matisse's book Jazz, yellow figure on blue background
Matisse's Jazz (2013) Elena Berriolo
pink and white spread with fine black lines
Domenico Gnoli (2013) Elena Berriolo
various abstract shapes touch on a white spread
Emily Dickinson's But Are Not all Facts Dreams... (2014) Elena Berriolo
map of manhattan with stitching over the blue subway line
A Book as a Bridge performance map (2015) Elena Berriolo
Why Didn't They (opening reception 2015) Center for Book Arts
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