Project: Half-life, for Triangular Press

Triangular Press

A monograph to accompany a mid-career retrospective for a noted book artist

Barbara Tetenbaum’s primary medium is the Vandercook sp15 proofing press. Like many book artists, she uses type and old advertising cuts in her work, but she also integrates linoleum blocks, telephone wire and other printing artifacts: anything that can be made type-high is fair game. Her approach to bookmaking happens on press; she may begin with a rough idea, but improvises freely once the paper begins feeding through. The process has more in common with painting than printmaking, and the resulting pages are host to many different voices.

We hoped to borrow some of that energy in preparing a catalogue for her mid-career retrospective. Half-Life contains four parallel and over-lapping narratives: an illustrated chronology of Ms. Tetenbaum’s career; an interpretive essay, in English and German, from one of the European book arts community’s most respected critics and practitioners; multiple views of each of the 36 books in the exhibition; and an annotated catalog of advertising cuts from Ms. Tetenbaum’s working collection – all tucked comfortably, along with nine full-sized page reproductions, into 48 pages.

The book does not stand on ceremony. It contains all of the elements of a traditional catalogue, and proceeds according to chronology; but the underlying structure – while worked-out and coherent – encourages intermingling among the four narrative strands, and reveals Ms. Tetenbaum’s work in a way that is true to her spirit – serious and wry; mechanical and visceral – without aping her form.



Although the book’s interior was printed in six colors, its cover was humble, unfinished binder’s board, quarterbound in cloth, with tipped-on cover and spine labels. These Ms. Tetenbaum printed on waste sheets from her studio, so that each copy would be unique. In broad terms, the cover was meant as a deconstruction of the bookmaking process, revealing the book’s component parts and hinting at the structure within.



Introductory material

The first nine pages of Half-Life feature pages from the artist’s then-most recent title, Gymnopædia No. 4, reproduced at 1:1, to give the reader an idea of the level of texture and detail in her work. Gymnopædia No. 4 is also a ‘piece for four hands’; these pages helped to set up the four-column motif we used to organize the book’s text.



Full title

… wherein the four simultaneous narratives of the books are defined. The background is a detail of a linocut, and a motif that reoccurs in Ms. Tetenbaum’s work: mark-making as a method of keeping record.



Curator's introduction

The transition from the half-title is intentionally abrupt: from ceremonial white to a large, grainy, tradesmanlike portrait upon which the curator’s notes are set in an orderly field of flat, neutral color.



Curatorial pages

The book is composed of four simultaneous narratives. From left: an illustrated timeline of the artist’s life- and workcourse; a critical essay, in English and German, from the Leipzig artist and critic Ute Schneider; illustrations of all the books included in the exhibition; and a selection of old advertising cuts from Ms. Tetenbaum’s collection, which figure prominently in her work.



Curatorial pages

Given the large number of parts to be included within its 48 pages, the curatorial section of Half-Life was an exercise in compression. It was here that presenting the content as four concurrent threads was most useful: we couldn’t afford to be precious. Once the planning had been done, we had to get over ourselves and let the content fend for itself.

For example: images, though placed according to a set of rules, were free to intrude into neighboring areas, as necessary; and as it happened, they did. Books are shown in relative scale, and the accordian-folded work in particular would often stretch into and cover the catalogue of advertising cuts in the right column.



Curatorial pages

Entries in the advertising cuts column wrap from one page to the next – a leftover from our original production spec (digital printing on one side of a 12×18 sheet; French-folding the result). But we found that even without the physical link of a French fold, the images supported continuity and created an organic frame for the otherwise rationally-constructed page. We printed the cuts themselves in the orange-red of the European craft tradition.




Curatorial pages wrap up with technical notes regarding Ms. Tetenbaum’s process and endnotes for the essay. At right, illustrations of some of Ms. Tetenbaum’s installation work.



Custodial material

Toward the back of the books, we transitioned the underlying grid into four even columns to handle more homogenous content types.