Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Kasha Katuwe-New Artist Book

Kasha Katuwe is my newest artist book, and the first book I have editioned (outside of my Book Bombs' projects with Mary Tasillo) in a few years. For a larger image, click on the picture. The name is in Keresan, and means "White Cliffs," and is the indigenous name for Tent Rocks National Monument in New Mexico. The memory of its colors, textures, and formations was the inspiration for this book.

During this project, which has involved long quiet hours of embroidery (approximately four days of embroidery per book, in an edition of five), I've had plenty of time to think. I've always known I'm attracted to handmade paper because of it's material quality and how it can invoke nature. In the past year, I've become more and more interested in harvesting and processing plants directly, and this idea has become more and more prominent. What I realized during this project is I am most drawn to the contrast between handmade paper, representative of nature, and markmaking, evocative of the human presence. Particularly marks that can only be made by the hand of the human - drawing, hand carved woodblocks, embroidery.

I should give a shout-out here to Graham Watson of Leaf Song Studio, who is partially responsible for this book. I had challenged him to a book-off of sorts, in an edition of five, to be completed by the end of February. Neither of us quite made the deadline, but we did finish the challenge. I'll have a post about his book soon!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

PCBA Printing

In February, at the Codex fair, I had the fortune to be tabled right next to the amazing Peter and Donna Thomas. During that event, Peter invited me to collaborate with him and John Sullivan of Logos Graphics for a keepsake for the upcoming Makers' Issue of Ampersand, the journal of the Pacific Center for Book Arts. Logos Graphics is presided over by Binky, who is pictured above.

Over Skype and email, we came up with something using Peter's handmade paper and with an image by yours truly. I was a bit nervous to be part of a project by people for whom I have so much respect.

The piece was printed on John's beautiful Vandercook, pictured below.

It was also my first time using rubber ink. One of the things I appreciate most about John, besides being an amazing printer, is his ability to challenge my vocabulary. One word his introduced me to was thixotrohy. This is a word that describes how ink is thick until agitated or mixed, during which is becomes looser and easier to move. I was aware of this quality, but never the word to describe it!

Below is John placing the plate on the press bed.

John's press has a counter, which I'd never seen on a letterpress before - they are more common on offset presses. Here it is on print 199 . . .

. . . and 200! We printed more than that, but this was when I remembered to watch the numbers flip.

The prints are piling up. . .

. . . and a detail of the final result. Click on the image to see it larger.

I'm so grateful to both Peter and John for including me in this project. John mentioned that he was working on other projects for the Makers' Issue - I can't wait to see it!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Th Hare with Amber Eyes (2)

"The vitrines exist so that you can see objects, but not touch them: they frame things, suspend things, tantalize through distance.

"This is what I realize I failed to understand about vitrines. I spent the first twenty years of my life as a potter earnestly trying to get objects out of glass cases. . .They die, I'd say, held in that airlock. Vitrines were a sort of coffin. . .

"But the vitrine -- as opposed to the museum case -- is for opening. And that opening glass door and the moment of looking, then choosing, and then reaching in and then picking up is a moment of seduction, an encounter between a hand and an object that is electric." (The Hare with Amber Eyes, Pages 65-66).

Edmund de Waal is again referring to his work as a ceramic artist and his collection of netsuke (see my previous post). However, to me as a book artist, the quote above brings to mind the ongoing issue of exhibiting artist books.

Most artist books, to be experienced fully, need to be handled. Or, as I prefer to say, activated. However, most curators and librarians fear this handling. They don't want to cause damage to the book -- an understandable concern.

Another fear is that when exhibiting outside of the glass case, even if touching is not permitted, that artist books will disappear. Most tend to be smaller in size and easily pocketed -- I once was in an exhibition where five of my zines were literally right next to a guard's desk, but sitting out unrestrained, and all of them disappeared.

But the quote above has made me reconsider the purpose of the case or vitrine. The experience de Waal describes is limited mostly to librarians and private collectors, but it is something to which I can relate. I have been the viewer pressed up against the glass, twisting and turning my body to peak at all angles of an artist book. This has been frustrating, but maybe this frustration is a good thing. It is how artist books beckon to viewers, through their words, hidden and revealed, their tactility, the feel of ink on paper, the paper itself.

In grad school, my friend and colleague Amanda D'Amico and I discussed how we felt collections that displayed artist books should have "handling times," a point during the exhibition of the artist books in which the curator or librarian would come out of their office and open a case, select a book, and present it to any viewers to happened to be there. I am now re-imagining this idea, picturing the hands of a curator slowly turning pages, the narrative seduction as each page is revealed, the sound of turning pages taking on a very different eloquence than it ever had before.

Perhaps we as book artists should consider these ideas. The case or vitrine is not to protect the book, it is instead, to tantalize the viewer.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Hare with Amber Eyes (1)

Recently, I was loaned a copy of The Hare with Amber Eyes, by Edmund de Waal. It is an account of a collection of netsuke the author inherits from his uncle, which leads him to research his family history and how the collection has traveled through his family's intersections with history. As an artist, I found it a thought provoking narrative.

In the prologue, the author introduces how he first encountered the netsuke while in Japan. However, I was most intrigued in this chapter by his mention of time spent at Nihon Mingeikan, the Japanese Folk Museum: "The museum is a reconstructed farmhouse in a suburb, which houses the collection of Japanese and Korean folk crafts of Yanagi Soetsu. Yanagi, a philosopher, art historian, and poet, had evolved a theory of why some objects -- pots, baskets, cloth made by unknown craftsmen -- were so beautiful. In his view, they expressed unconscious beauty because they had been made in such numbers that the craftsmen had been liberated from his ego." (Page 3).

This philosophy de Waal describes is called mingei. I had first come across this idea visiting the Mingei Museum in San Diego, where it was defined as "art of the people" or "folk craft." However, this description - the idea of its functionality, mass production, and anonymous origins, is something that I find beautifully poetic. It brings me back to my undergraduate wheelthrowing class with David Wright, watching him throw a pitcher with such practiced motions while he discussed something completely different, such as his pet rabbits.

Most descriptions of mingei do not mention papermaking, but with its history as a craft, I believe there could be philosophical correlations. Craft is many ways is a word for antiquated technology, and papermaking fits that definition perfectly. I think of the anonymous papermaking farmers of Japan, growing their crops during the summer, making paper over the winter months. Each region of Japan was known for its own special paper, some for printing money, some for covering windows, some for calligraphy, some even, I imagine, for toilet paper.

It is this anonymous legacy that I am contemplating. As an artist working in a craft tradition, my inheritance is not that of a medium like painting, where the names of significant painters for the past several centuries are known, written about, and included in the art history cannon. Instead, it is a history of hands, understanding the motions that have been made for centuries to shape plant matter in particular fashions. It is a history of water, how purities and impurities have colored and cleansed fibers in their processing. It is a history housed in libraries, in collections of incunabula, illuminated manuscripts and early printed books, in printed matter such as broadsides and pamphlets, in drawings of artists where it serves as a substrate. It is, in short, a history of the intersection of nature and technology.