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Re: urinal and duchamp / artist's book



There are some problems I have on theoretical as well as practical
level with the concept of an artist's book. I am a professional hand
bookbinder, skilfull and knowledgable when comes to different structure
of a book. I am also a designer, rarely producing in my studio two the
same bindings, very strongly emphasizing the esthetic, artistic,
intellectual and structural aspects of books that come from my studio.
Learning the trade (purposefully I avoid the term craft because of its
negative connotation) of hand bookbinding is a very long process
requireing knowledge of tools, materials, chemistry of leather, paper,
binding techniques, etc. So, once again, binding that I call an art must
have: proper, sound structure and design apealing both esthetically and
intellectualy . Strong knowledge about the technique of bookbinding
allows to experiment with the structure so it can be an integral part
of  the design.
What bothers me very often is that being by profession a bookbinder and
incorporating all mentioned above principles of a good design in my
work, by a great number of people my books will be perceived as simply
bindings. Why? When we , bookbinders have an exhibition of our work it
is simply an exhibition of bookbinding. When an artist in general
exhibits her/his work, even when pages are held together by a ring
binder the work is called an "artist's book". To be perfectly clear -
their work is often an art and carries a strong message. I feel however
that the part "book" should be dropped out.
For me the bookness that Peter wrote about is a very strong element when
it comes to bindings. When only expression is the most important factor,
why to bother with all the binding stuff? We can use the services of
commercial binderies if we need to bind some pages and leave the work of
art to the artist. But maybe being so intimidated by the term "artist's
book" we do not have in some cases the courage  simply to say that the
king is naked, that "the thing" only RESAMBLES a book. The term also
misleads artists themselves. A few times I had people comming to my
studio for a job with a resume of a "book artist". When asked whether
they can execute flexible binding or work with leather the answer was
simply "no". How for goodness sake the came up with the name of an "book
artist" for what they were doing? Their illustrations were good, some
even very good, sculptured paper forms also, but from that to a book is
a very long way that they often are not willing  and interested to take.
The knowledge of structure would teach them some humility and respect
toward a BOOK. To some of you who by now probably think that I only make
traditional square or ractangular books I have to say that you are
mistaken. My knowledge about traditional binding techniques enables me
to work on experimental yet sound structures. Even Picasso did not start
form painting cubic forms. First he studied the techniques of old
masters, and then having all the NECESSARY knowledge he started to
experiment with his own visions.
Some of you might ask why I write about those things (and probably got
tired of my English :-)), Peter just asked for our definition. Every
definition however has its practical implications that we have to be
aware of. Never before I came to Canada, country without practically any
university  or apprentice program in bookbinding and book conservation I
met so many people calling themselves "book artist". While talking to
them about their education in the field, I heard about weekend courses
here or five days course there. It is terrifying to me not because
making "artist's book" is their hobby but because they take commissions
for bindings and produce books, nice looking at the first glance, but
breaking in half when opened. It is like being an " artist " freed them
from any structure. Being an artist does not mean an absolute freedom.
Certain freedom comes  from knowledge and skill, and it is true when
itcomes to design as well as a book structure. It is a painful and long
process to grow to and even then very challenging. As Nitzche said in
"Thus Spoke Zarathustra" is not important what is one freed from but
what is he freed to. (:-)) The word "artist" sometimes covers simply
lack of skills and knowledge.
Like Jack Thompson wrote in his posting pieces of paper hanging from a
tree maybe an interesting concept but it does not make it neither art
nor bookbinding. Duchamp's urinal could be perceived as a new and
challenging  concept, but only once, and only when he did it. All other
urinals after Duchamp are and will be ONLY urinals (unless designed by
Brancusi:-)). Repeatetiveness of ideas is a mediocre and pitiful
procedure, but unfortunately  very common. By the way, who has the right
to say "I am the artist so I say it is THE ART"?
  For all this, and many other reasons, that many of you could probably
come up with, I think that a discussion about the ART OF A BOOK should
be held first before discussing "artist's book".


           KSenia Kopystynska


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