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[BKARTS] Book or Sculpture?
So my question is: what defines a book as opposed to a sculpture? Lisa
I have a set of books in a book arts show that are called "The Censor's
Library." Each piece in the library is a trade book encased in a solid wrap
of high shrinkage hemp and abaca. The book inside is from the American
Library Association's list of books banned in America. It is a sculpture,
but also fits in the book arts world. And you can't turn pages or read
anything; you can't even tell if I am telling you the truth about the nature
of the books I have encased. It is a comment on contemporary life, in book
On this list-serv we have discussed the question of what makes a book a book
in many different ways, most exhaustively when Johanna Drucker published her
ideas in the Bonefolder. I appreciate lots of different opinions and have
my own, articulated at first by my friend Elena Siff: "It is a book if you
say it is a book."
I am a populist. If you want to call something a book, go for it. Because
I want to include you if you want to be included, for any reason whatsoever.
But it only gets interesting after that: why? What makes it booky? What do
you want us to think when you include it in the field of book things?
I feel the same about people calling themselves book artists. You are if
you say you are. I'll let you in - but all the interesting questions come
after that. Where is your work? Does it interest you? Me? Is it good?
What do you want to do next? I extend the same openness to people who want
to call themselves homeschoolers, or artists, or whatever. Relax, you are
in. Now, what do you want me to know or see, about you or your work?
Many years ago I curated Judith Hoffburg's collection of artists' books; it
was 2,500 pieces by the time UCLA took it and put me out of a job. Every
day brought treasures in the mail and from her travels. There were things I
knew right away were books: they looked like what I had grown up with.
These I could put together by subject because their form was the same. But
what about a clear vinyl pillow with alphabet noodles rattling around inside
it? What category of book arts did that fit in? It was a comment on
bookness, with the letters constantly re-arranging themselves; and the
artist had sent it to Judith, so they meant it to be thought of in book
terms. Trying to categorize this piece is when I began to expand my
In Judith's collection there were a number of items that were book
sculptures: pieces of wood shaped like books, Styrofoam carved like a book,
things that were probably similar in kind if not in size to the granite book
John Cutrone mentions. To me, this was one big happy family, cement book
shapes included. You look at such a form and experience it differently than
a book you hold in your hand and turn the pages as you read them. But the
idea of making a book solid was a comment on what a book is and isn't, just
like my books in their paper sarcophagi. I like that. I like everyone
together because then I make connections I would never make if someone else
does the editing. And while I appreciate the editing that is essential to
shows, catalogues, etc, in the whole big field of book art I appreciate more
not less. Inclusion and variety; fuzzy definitions. I like to make up my own
mind what a book is.
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