Books in boxes

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“13X,” the show of artists’ books at the Print Center, is worth a visit, in spite of the frustration of having to look at everything as static objects in glass cases.

The show, organized by Print Center Curator Jacqueline van Rhyn and the University of the Arts Book Art Department, comes from Germany, and with Jorg Immendorf about to show at Moore College, it seems like all the more reason to see this show, for some cultural comparison and contrast.

By way of comparison, I’m thinking here of Grimm Brother’s Frau Trude designed by Susanne Nickel (shown left), with its Germanic kitschy figures undercut by the watery colors, plastic-looking pages and spiral binding.

I was stunned by some of the obsessive craftsmanship of some of the pieces, like the book with parts shaped like fans with constellation maps that folded and fit in elegant boxes (shown at top, Karin Innerling’s Sterntagebucher, Star Diaries). I wondered why the Japanese-ness of the whole product, but thanks to a language barrier, I felt I couldn’t pass judgment on that. But I could pass judgment on how the beautiful craftsmanship was overwhelmed by the second layer of control–the vitrine.

Having the book titles in translation, was helpful. But I remained puzzled by some of the books and how they worked, like Unica T’s Stadt Land Fluss, City State River (shown). I yearned to know what was in the envelope, and why Scrabble tiles and pictograms were on the cover of something with a geography name. I felt sure that if I could get inside the case and then get inside the book, all would reveal itself, language barrier or no language barrier.

Books are meant for the hand to hold. They require the turning of the elements, the process of moving through the leaves or other parts, to experience the changing views and stories through time.

Print Center Curator Jacqueline Van Rhyn said that displaying artists’ books is always a problem because the Print Center lacks the staff to supervise proper handling of the books. She was apologetic, but clear. The books needed protection. Who can argue with that?

The only book that overcame its box was the most unruly book of all.

Uwe Warnke’s Entwerter/Oder No. 75, Julilaumsausgabe, Devalued/Or Vol. 75, The Anniversary Edition (text by various authors)(shown) was enough of a departure from traditional binding to require a wobbly, upright display of a couple of its pages, which were covered with stitchery, Sumi brush work and grafitti-like cartooning.

Somehow this book became a sculpture that escaped its glass box and turned its own messy pages.

The range of materials and approaches were a nice surprise, and some of the books are for sale in the Print Center’s shop.

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