artist's book, Book Reviews, Conferences

CBAA Notes, pt. 2

In which is reported more from the CBAA conference including new scholars studying book art,  established faculty teaching book art,  the use of point of view in artists books, and some odds and ends of notes that don’t fit anywhere else.

Studying Artists’ Books

One of the exciting things about CBAA was seeing the number of students in Masters and PhD programs who are working on theses and dissertations about artists’ books. I wrote in my last post about University of Pennsylvania student Michelle Strizever’s analysis and comparison of the digital and physical encounter with an artists’ book.

Another such talk was Sarah Hulsey’s Linguistic Theory and Book Art. I first met Sarah when we were both learning how to take care of our printing presses in one of Paul Moxon’s Vandercook Maintenance classes, but in addition to being a printer, Sarah is studying linguistics at MIT. Her exploration of the applicability to linguistic concepts to analysis of artists’ books was a refreshing and promising approach. She took patterns such as recursion and using examples of several artists’ books, walked through how such terms could describe some of the factors at play in the narrative and structures of the books.

Slavicist Melissa Tedone, who is currently in the Conservation program at UT Austin, looked at three aspects of the book—architecture, art, and literature—as they played out in the various artistic movements of revolutionary Russia.

Three students from Columbia College Chicago, Brandon Graham, Karol Shewmaker, and Matthew Aron, led a discussion on the importance of high-quality writing in artist’s books. Arguing for the advantages  of going outside the field for critical theories, they explored John Gardner’s On Moral Fiction, Phillipe LeJeune’s On Autobiography, and Italo Calvino’s Six Memos for the Next Millennium which included what he considered to be the values of literature: Lightness, Quickness, Exactitude, Visibility, Multiplicity, and Consistency.

I was sorry that I only caught the tail end of Jennifer Chisnell’s discussion of the artists’ book as metafiction as that topic seemed to be one that re-occurred throughout the conference in panels and individual discussions.

Favorite Books to Teach With

A group of artist/teachers from the Bay Area have been meeting together reguarly and they created a presentation in which each discussed a book that they find particularly useful for introducing students to artists’ books. In particular they talked about sequence, flow, and word & image. This is a great topic and I’d love to hear others share their favorite teaching books.  I’ve tried to track down where there is an online version (full or in part) of the books that they discussed.

  • Macy Chadwick presented Warja Lavater’s Cendrillon, a retelling of the story of Cinderella in which each character is represented by a graphic shape.
  • Julie Chen presented Barbara Tetenbaum’s Gymnopedia no. 4 which acts like visual musical score in four parts
  • Betsy David’s presented Warren Lehrer and Dennis Bernstein’s French Fries, a typographic panoply in which each color/typeface represents a different character in a story about a day in the life of diner.
  • Alisa Golden presented Coleman Polhemus’ Crocodile Blues, a children’s book which Alisa argued shares many of the features of artists’ books
  • Michael Henninger presented David Stair’s Asperity, a book whose pages are made of sandpaper
  • Charles Hobson presented Michael Hannon and William Wiley’s Fables, a collaboration between an artist and poet which was printed by Harry Reese at his Turkey Press
  • Nance O’Banion presented Lisa Kokin’s Supreme Court: A Dream
  • Chris Rolik presented Johanna Roger’s Secrets which appears to be simply an all-white book until it comes alive under UV light.

Point of View

Susan Viguers did an interesting presentation on point of view in artists books using a variety of books to show how point of view can be played out in different ways.  She examined Valerie Carigan’s Messenger, Katie Baldwin’s Storm Prediction,  Clarissa Sligh’s Wrongly Bodied Two, Clifton Meador’s Memory Lapse, Michell Wilson’s El Proceso, and the point-of-view tour de force, Michael Snow’s Cover to Cover.

Just recently I was re-watching Dziga Vertov’s 1929 silent movie classic Man with a Movie Camera and was struck by its similarities to Cover to Cover. Both works play with the viewer’s sense of narrative continuity by disrupting the point of view and confounding who is watching and who is being watched. Vertov and Snow are both exposing the ability of their respective mediums to lull the viewer/reader into a belief in the truth of the medium.  They each exploit this strength by creating a rich, compelling visual narrative, only to then break it apart by exposing the artifice required to construct it.

Snow’s book is an completely visual journey, following a character as he walks through a door, into a room, interacting with what he finds, and then continues to follow him through the mundane journeys of a day. This seemingly seamless visual narrative is punctuated, however, by photographs which reveal the 2 photographers required to capture the various perspectives of the man’s movements. As the man enters a room, the photographer behind him capturing his back as it walks through the door, also captures the photographer on the other side who is capturing his front entering the room. As the book continues, photographs that appear to be a part of the seamless visual narrative of the man’s day turn out to be photographs being held by the man, thus revealing the artifice of this visual narrative which must, in fact, have been photographed not in one continuous stream as it appears, but in multiple ‘scenes’ shot and reshot, perhaps even over several days.

I highly recommend finding a copy of Cover to Cover at a library (a search of will tell you the nearest location) and studying it closely.  And in the meantime, you could get your hands on a copy of Man with a Movie Camera for a similar study in point-of-view and truth in image. [This all harkens back to my comments on Munari’s Photo-Reportage which approached the same theme from a different angle]

Odds and Ends

I also find myself left with cryptic notes from the conference about things to look at that I can’t remember the context in which they were discussed, but I list them here as being of possible general interest.

and a wonderful little quote:

Metaphor is something the brain does when complexity renders it unable to think straight. ~Brian Greenberg