Friday, September 26, 2008

Book arts / book artists

over the past few years I have been exposed to, and become fans of "book artists". Tom Phillips really set the tone for this type of work with his groundbreaking book A Humument. His book came twenty some years after concrete poets began to reconfigure the page and the words on the page, and to reconsider the "canvas" that a book is in its physical nature. Phillips was responding to the experiments of William Burroughs and his "cut-up" techniques, taking them into a completely different visual direction.

I have never held in my hands a sculpted book by Stella Waitzkin, but I admire what she did - using the book as an object. In my own work I have created what I call a 'Liquid Library' which consists of books that have been altered or spray-painted, or sunk to the bottom of a fish tank. I have been working on the notion of "book as object: text as other". The concept that what we accept as "a book" need not be the only definition of that constitutes "a book".

Back in 2001, when the artist Katy Jean was discussing what I might do with the physical dimensions of my as of yet unpublished chapbook Spontaneous Chili one of the ideas was to put the table of contents in the center of the book in the form of a menu. The theme of a menu, rather, the presentation of the book as a form of a menu still hasn't been fully realized but it was an idea that lead in part to the cover image, and to the lay-out of the book in meal category listings, etc.

In 2003, Katy Jean came up with the idea of using vellum for the cover to our 'the Eternal NOW!' poetry series anthology and incorporating the image into the cover and end-pages so that the complete cover was two layers deep and could be changed by flipping open the cover.

But here I stop short to say that these steps were quite small compared to the work of Alisa Goldman and countless others who are doing much more in the way of appearance and presentation of a book. The Canadian artist Michael Snow has also done something remarkable, in my humble opinion, with his book Cover to Cover.

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