Bookworms were missing from the show “Odd Volumes” which recently closed at the Yale Gallery of Art, but pheasant feathers, bees, barley grass and fungi were flourishing in this fascinating exhibit. Allan Chasanoff, Yale ’61, donated his large collection of book arts to the Gallery, of which this show is a small sampling. Book arts are flourishing and regular readers know how fascinating I find them.
This totem of browning books greeted visitors to the 4th floor gallery. In the words of the curator referring to the juxtaposition of the huge presence of digital information and the role of the physical book, “book art addresses this tension, requiring that books be read not only as texts, but also in terms of form as aesthetic objects.”
This art may be as precise and three dimensional as this laser-cut illustrated encyclopedia whose fascinating content is revealed as one looks deeper into the cut pages. Notice how the index tabs on the right form a textural staircase. The Volume Library by Brian Dettmer.
Does “Who’s Who in America” even exist anymore? Hanging Index by Scott McCartney is formed from a found volume from the 1980’s that has literally been opened up by cutting each page in exacting fashion so it cascades down almost to the floor.
It hangs from a chain which allows it to rotate just enough to see the back, where it is clear that every last page has been cut in this manner. It hangs just above the floor like an old fashioned crinoline. Is this another storage nightmare? Perhaps there is stand inside that it could sit on. I wouldn’t want to be the one who either tore or crumpled one of these precisely cut pages.
This kind sculptural cutting is only limited by the imagination. A close inspection shows how the pages open up and out but still exist bound into the book. The two forms are entirely different. Top, Livre Decoupe, by Michel Mangard. Cut, stapled with a swirl of the gold edges of the pages. Bottom, New Age Encyclopedia Index, again by Scott McCartney. These cut pages spill out like information ruffles and peeking over the top of the book, one can see the voids left by the forms. He must have oodles of patience.
Documentation by Tara O’Brien is a book formed from buckram and leather with plexiglass pages filled with sprouting barley grass seed in soil. How, I wonder, is this conserved or even stored? Is it planted only when it goes on display? Did the artist give a life-time seed supply?
Striking, massive volumes of found encyclopedias have been altered and burned to create the hulking shape of Books of Knowledge:Standing Up against the Elements, by Doug Beube. Because of the associations with burned books, this has a particularly elegiac significance.