Project: Artist's books, for Sibley House

Artist’s books

Early experiments in the shape of narrative

What can a book do? What makes reading different from other æsthetic experience?

Textbooks – fiction, nonfiction, poetry – are intellectual: the mind supplies the images. Visual books – art monographs, histories, etc. – are didactic: the images serve to illustrate the text. Artist’s books are primarily sensual, concerned with manipulating the form of the book – paper, binding – and how images can play out in serial form; or as unorthodox settings for text.

The books below were part of an ongoing effort to meld those three agendas – intellectual, didactic, sensual – into objects whose words and images lived in a careful symbiosis: not existing to serve the other, but to work together to make something different than either.

The Shimmering Land, 1998

A story about the nature of modern work, and the romanticization of rural life that afflicts many city dwellers. Formally, the book was an experiment in reduction: we wanted to see what we could do by limiting ourselves to one type size, one measure, and only three possible points of composition. The photographic cæsura are composed from a found booklet of pictures, presented in its original sequence, with inscriptions from the backs of the photographs.

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Cover

The book was bound using the Frost/Ely thermal method, which allows the gutter to be exploited in full. Exterior case is laminated binders’ board covered with handmade paper; the spine is wrapped in kidskin. The completed book is about two inches thick, owing to the heft of the individual pages.

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Endsheets

The set of images we found were mostly aerial photographs taken of the American west in the late fifties. This image – shown before the title – determined the structure for the rest of the book.

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Full title

Title pages, with epigram from Robert Hass’ Human Wishes.

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Narrative

We created a simple contour illustration from the barn and outbuildings on the opening pages; the architecture of the farm seemed like memory: each building, added as needed, told the history of the farm and its owners.

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Narrative

Type hung from a line determined from the horizon of the image on the opening pages.

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Narrative

The Frost/Ely binding method opens completely flat and leaves the typographer free to cross the gutter of the book, if he or she desires. We had set ourselves very strict guidelines for typography: one size, one measure, three possible points of origin, no indents, so we had to cross over from time to time.

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Narrative

One of several cæsura, inserted during shifts in the narrative. Each one used a different photograph from the original drugstore pack, a contour drawing of one of the farm buidings, and an excerpt from the notes scrawled on the reverse of the photographs.

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Narrative

Another cæsura…

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Narrative

…and another. Masking tape also from the original bundle of photographs.

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Endsheets

Reprise of the farm contour drawing, with the book’s architecture overlaid.

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Sleep, food, laundry, 1999

A meditation on the intimacies and isolation involved in apartment living, Sleep, Food, Laundry was conceived as a closed edition of five copies, three of which were given as wedding gifts to friends from our bachelorhood. The finished book, printed by inkjet, is 56 pages long, hand-sewn and bound in a German-style paper case with accompanying slipcase (not shown).

The pages were printed using a desktop inkjet printer – an Epson Stylus 800 (frankensteined up with an exterior ink reservoir) – which, for its many shortcomings, did allow you to print two sides of a sheet in pretty close register. The newer models don’t seem to do that, which is a shame. Although this is an early example of digital printing, there was still a ton of handwork involved.

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Cover

The book is sewn on tapes and bound in a German-style paper case. Each cover in the series includes a unique inset classified listing, which now seems quaint insofar as you don’t really use the newspaper to find a place to live anymore. The paper color for the case was chosen to harmonize with the newsprint as it continued to yellow.

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Interior

We prepared a series of line illustrations of a typical steam heating system; the radiators and their connecting pipes made a visual metaphor for how people living in apartments are connected, whether they want to be or not.

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Narrative

Narrative pages using a page of the local phone book, listing the fanciful names adopted by what are often dull and monotonous places.

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Narrative

Most of the photographs in the book came from documenting our evening commute; here is also an image of our kitchen. On the street, we found some notes left by an apartment hunter and integrated them.

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Narrative, with foldout

Gratuitous foldout; one of the recipients of this book is a collector and is a self-described sucker for books with foldouts. The color form at middle right was derived, over several pages, from a pictoral representation of our local TV listings.

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Narrative

Overall color of the images is a little pinkish for our taste. This was in the days before color management worked on desktop inkjet printers, and you had to create a new workflow for every project.

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Closing

Final pages, showing a solid-color version of the heating network.

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