Donna Seagerâ€™s book collection doesnâ€™t look like most peopleâ€™s. Instead of being lined up neatly on shelves, many of her books have been hacked to pieces, folded and warped like origami, transformed into chess sets, oversized flowers, menâ€™s loafers, and abstract sculptures. Theyâ€™ve all been used byÂ book artists, who approach printed books the way other sculptors might approach slabs of marble.
Seager, head of Californiaâ€™s Seager Gray Gallery, first became enamored of art made from books in 2004, after a visit to the San Francisco home of collector and book artist Charles Hobson. â€œIt gave me a â€˜museum feelingâ€™ â€” it was fine art,â€ Seager tells Hyperallergic. For the past decade, Seager has showcased such work from around the world in an annual exhibit, The Art of the Book. Ten Years of Artistsâ€™ Books, now on view at the Brooklyn Public Library, features Seagerâ€™s selected highlights from these annual exhibitions, from shredded pages shaped to resemble estuaries to â€œexcavatedâ€ comic books.
Arian Dylan, â€œOrder and Chaosâ€
In the age of Kindles and screen-reading, thereâ€™s a renewed appreciation for the tactility of printed matter. â€œThereâ€™s almost a nostalgia for the book, a longing for the book, that makes people even more attracted to it in the hands of artists,â€ Seager says. Book artists incorporate all aspects of this materiality into their work. â€œPaper is beautiful, edges are beautiful, fonts are beautiful, text is beautiful. Then thereâ€™s the content of all the stories and poems that artists can incorporate into these works,â€ Seager says.
Some artists, like Peter Ruttledge Koch, directly reference the content of a bookâ€™s text in their art. Kochâ€™s â€œThe Lost Journals of Sacajaweaâ€ is based on a poem by American Indian poet Debra Magpie Earling, specially commissioned for the project. Earling wrote a poem from the point of view of Sacajawea about the last days of the buffalo. Koch printed the text with photos from that era, bound it in a leather cover and a spine of empty bullet shells and beads. â€œThe whole feeling of it captures the point of view of an American Indian woman,â€ Seager says.
Other artists, like Arian Dillon, from Oaxaca, Mexico, ignore the meaning of the words inside a book and focus purely on its visual and textural qualities to make pieces like â€œOrder and Chaos,â€ a chess set cut from book pages.
Book arts still occupy a bit of a niche in the contemporary art world. â€œThis kind of work has always been around, but itâ€™s always more been the purview of special collections and libraries,â€ Seager says. â€œItâ€™s very difficult for book artists to get the same type of name recognition as, say, painters, because sometimes they work on a single thing for a whole year.â€ Still, since The Art of the Book debuted a decade ago, the world of book arts has grown, with more university programs offering classes and even masters programs devoted to the medium. â€œOur goal is to get this work into more contemporary art collections,â€ Seager says.
Ten Years of Artistsâ€™ BooksÂ continues at the Brooklyn Public Libraryâ€™s Central Library (10 Grand Army Plaza,Â Brooklyn, NY 11238) until January 24th, 2016.Â
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