Artists' Books


The most impressive aspect of artist books come from the fact that they are artifacts that can involve the audience into the world of the author by offering intimate experiences. Artists This idea is done by manipulateing various aspects of books, such as like the binding, the material used for pages, cover pages etc. This medium took off in the 1960s and 70s when artists began to use this book form as a way to engage inpromote their activism. Since then sixties and seventies, book artists have been interested in experimentation with every possible form of production technology: xerox, laser, quickprint, letterpress, and offset, as relatively low-cost production possibilities to create their books. One major artist book that shows off these different qualities is the Xerox Artist book of 1968. This saw a myriad of major artists coming together to create a book that had different sets of styles. For example, () decided to create a piece of work that featured a million tiny dots across a page, while Sol lDe Witt decided to create different types of panels that incorporated lines being displayed in whereas ways. This project was revolutionary because it promoted a new exhibition of art styling with its unorthodox medium. While technology has been able to help the widespread distribution for activism purposes, artists' books have also evolved to offer more intimate experiences.This idea is done by manipulating various aspects of books like the binding, the material used for pages, cover pages etc. Deconstructing the elements that are normally used to create commercial books has allowed for artists to create their own immersive world. 

At first, when looking at the historical examples that I was able to find online, I wasn’t able to understand why the artists’ book was so special. Many of the first examples I looked at resembled picture books or served as tools for activism. However, when I got access to the Frick Fine Arts collection I was able to understand the range of manipulation that could be done to books in order to make them into art pieces. The first book I saw that caught my eye was titled as Matchbox. The uniqueness of this project came from the fact that it did not resemble a commercial book, but instead it was a box that featured a variety of matches with descriptions of memories close to the author. This was the first creation that helped me understand that the characteristics of a book stretched beyond the conventional hardcover textbooks I had become so used to. Matchbox played a large role in influencing the pieces of art I chose to write about throughout the semester as I purposefully looked for artists' books in the catalog that were or looked handcrafted. Overall, this experience provided me with an opportunity to look at the unique mediums used by artists to tell their unique experience. 

Spice Series by Islam Aly 

In Spice Series, artist Islam Aly uses organic materials directly in the pages themselves and adds the dimension of scent to create rich multi-sensory experience for the viewers.Spice Series takes an interesting twist on displaying the flavors and aromas that are close to the artist’s heart. The neutral organic colors resemble the mild colors that are found where spices are grown. The pages are a light brown and are made from flax seeds. The material used for the cover page of the book is a rustic brown that looks a little worn down. This cover material is also used for the binding of the papers. Unlike commercial books found in stores, this piece of art bears its exoskeleton as the viewer is able to see the brown paper that binds the pages together. When looking at the book from the side, you can see the sharp triangular edges created by the binding. The hand stitching of the binding adds to the raw appearance as the reader is able to appreciate the artists’ commitment to manually connecting her pages together. Overall, the lack of machine usage for the binding allows for the dynamic and novel movement of the pages when reading through the book. Observing the book from above emphasizes the lack of a solid rectangular shaped cover. The edges of every page have a distinct character as there are frayed edges present that are not cleanly cut.By not creating a solid outline of a square, Islam is further straying away from the crisp presentations created by commercial book producers who tailor their pages to be identical to each other. This disruption of the edges cannot be replicated for mass production. 

The spices are incorporated into the book in a very interesting manner as they are shielded despite being the main topic of the book.The viewer is only able to see the faint silhouette of the spices as the seeds appear to be embedded between two sheets that form a sealed pocket, forming a thin veil. However, this veil doesn’t prevent the audience from guessing the spices. For example, I was able to see that some pages featured small cumin seeds concentrated in one area, while others focused on bigger cloves spaced out over the page. Not only were there different mixes of the spices, much of the spices were randomly scattered on the page.The chaos of the different spices and their layouts on each page is mirrored by the way nature tends to spread its spices.Overall the fluctuations of the texture indicates, to me, that Aly wanted to display the spices in a way that resembles how nature is able to manipulate and create unique textures through forces like wind, water etc. Flax paper is the material used to make each codex. The earthy tone of the paper matches well with the color used for the binding of the book. Aly creates an object that is devoid of mass-produced qualities through the use of natural elements and surprising textures. 

Islam displays here the subject matter -- spices --  in the way they would be found in nature. Initially the placement of the spices within  the pages seemed as if they were scattered around as in  dirt. However, the book is made to look like an accordion folder, which is typically associated with organization. This conflicts with the haphazard placement of the spices throughout the book. As a result, the pages look like they're being placed in a file for future reference; almost like recipes being stored for later. I believe it is possible to regard each page as a potential recipe with a different variety of spices to become its own unique dish. Perhaps these spices are used to recreate the distinct smell of a place that is memorable for the artist. Smells, unlike pages, do not have a defined space and can offer an intimate experience for the reader  who is brought into these worlds by the author in ways that extend beyond three-dimensional experience. Memories of the author -- and perhaps the reader -- are brought about by using the sense of smell. 

The reason I was drawn to writing about this piece was due to the secrecy that came with the digital experience.Due to the pandemic and the university’s operating status,  I only had access to this book through a digital video. I was not able to smell the spices and felt that I was missing out on a full sensory experience of this book. I also was not able to participate in the tactile part of touching the books to see if there were more clues for me to find out what the spices were. As a result, the secrecy in which the seeds were presented was further amplified by the digital screen. My inability to experience this artwork completely pushed me towards the idea that there were very few opportunities to properly display olfaction art as the message would not be communicated properly with the screen barrier.

Stones in the Mist

Stones in the mist by (Sze Chit Wong) created Stones in the Mist to document his travels to London. The simplistic nature of Stones in the Mist is not only present in the feel of the book but also by the structure of the book. Stones in the Mist is a flimsy and lightweight book that looks like it took very little effort to put together. Each page follows the central theme of having a centre of darkness that is contained by the emptiness of the page. This center of darkness represents the main subject matter; the stones. The only part of the book that does not look hand drawn is the title of the cover which is written in with a shiny metal to clearly distinguish itself from the other pages. 

Additionally, the audience is able to get a preview for the drawing on the first page on the cover page itself. There is a faint silhouette of the stone that is presented by flipping to the interior of the first page. The silhouette instantly becomes filled out and there is greater detail that is added to the rock form. This artist’s book incorporates the use of varying degrees of indexicality through the use of incorporating a level of monochrome to capture the object’s indexicality and exhaustive detail. For example,the edges of the rocks become extremely dark and the texture added through various dots being placed in lighter areas. This is a theme that will continue throughout the book as the viewer is teased with an outline of the image and gets the full picture once they flip. The coffee-colored background of the paper contrasts with the stone by highlighting the lighter parts of the subject in a more effective way than just white paper. Another interesting feature of the book is how it is not binded together at all. Rather papers are folded in a “hot-dog” manner and are placed inside each other. This creates an illusion of cohesiveness and binding that is not really present in the piece as the pages could be rearranged.

 Some sense of uniformity is generated with the monochrome and mist can shroud a particular image in general mirrors a scene in London city. Layering and monochrome create unity after each rock has an individual moment. It's almost as if each rock means a different moment in his travels. The audience doesn’t specifically know where each rock was found and drawn, this is a detail that the author has only. By not revealing the entire details of his trip, the author resembles his medium of monochrome layering as there are some details given but they are mostly veiled to the audience.

There is an illusion with graphite and the mechanical aspect of the book. Due to the book looking so personal and half-hardly put together, I began to think that I was looking at an object that was made with primitive materials such as charcoal and graphite. This caused me to interpret the book in a manner that was not accurate. I believed that the charcoal to create the stones made sense because the author was using natural objects to create their objects. However, this interpretation was not accurate as there was a risograph used to create this design. The risograph does a good job of disguising the machine manufacturing of the book. It is able to create the effect of a hand-drawn object by creating ridges that do not hold the perfection of photography. If the artist had simply printed out pictures of the stones they saw, it would not have been as mystic.

Overall, Stones in the Mist uses creates different illusions to reflect the authors memories. The layering effect that was discuessed earlier plays a key role in the process of looking at the future and reflecting on the past. When the reader is presented with Stones in the Mist they are able to see the faint shadow that surrounds the first stone. The shadow the reader sees is the other stones being centered on top of each. As you flip through the pages, you being to accumlate mist behind you as well. For example, in the picture shown despite the stone being the main focus of the page you can see the three stones you flipped by to get to your current page.The shadow effect created resembles a faint memory. What did I see a few moments ago? Even though the reader is looking at new stones, the shadow effect makes the reader reflect on previous memories. By the time the audience is done reading the book the collective shadow that is recreated at the end. This symbolizes the journey that the author takes the reader through by looking at every rock as a moment in the present and then reflecting on it later. In the Stones in the mist, the artist uses a form of storytelling that is extremely static but still presents the events the artist went through with the use of layering. 

Artists' Books