29 October 2011

Reflections on Black Books

Seven of the Black Books are in the library exhibition. Two have appeared on the blog already - Field Potential and Here And There - and the others will appear whenever I don't have a "fresh" book du jour...

Meanwhile I'm putting the books on my website, including this raison d'etre:

"The Black Books have three main components - the clamshell box, the diptych format, and what is inside. The box is of varying size and weight, but always black, with the title debossed into the cover. The diptych format, intrinsic to the codex book format, is fundamental to my concept - that the two sides are related to each other in ways that must be imagined. The "reader" opens the book to see them in a flat space; when the book is closed, the "pages" face each other. The contents of the book are visual and haptic - the books must be handled to be seen. Readers must dare to open the black box; having read the title while doing so, and viewed the contents, they can conjecture what continues to happen in that dark space when they have closed the book and put it back on the shelf."

So ... handling is very necessary - just knowing the title isn't much help. Yet the black boxes aren't very inviting to pick up. And when books are in an exhibition, there is ambiguity about whether they should or can be picked up.

Some of the boxes are a bit difficult to open, largely because of my inexperience in making them. I hope the description of the "Handling Collection", which highlights this difficulty, will help people overcome that little problem - they should tug just a little harder, rather than putting the book down because they don't want to damage it. (A little wear and tear is part of the life of a book.)

Handling "art" is such a no-no ... handling books is part of how we operate the mechanism that is a physical book. You have to open the cover, turn the pages...

Not all of the books  fulfill my original intention. I had an idea of "conjectural books" containing objects/materials rather than words. So on viewing - laid flat on a table, say - they would be a diptych format and the two panels would tell a certain story. Then, when they were closed, the contents would be in a different relation, and the viewer would have to conjecture what was happening in the darkness inside the upright box.

Here And There, for instance, is more about manipulation and displacement of space, and Release is a trivial fait accompli (but I just had to make it...) Lucky, too, is a finite story - one with a sting in its tail - if you win in pulling the wishbone, you get to choose one but then lose out on the other.

Those closest to my "conjectural" idea are Caress and Field Potential; even in those there are things that could be changed - the silvery stuff in Caress could be more explicitly sandpaper (or something different) and it could have worn areas; I'd like to use a real mirror in Field Potential, one with the backing coming off in places, but then how could the "gap" for the "spark" be created.

Most of all I'd like to do a book with a light that goes on when you close it -- and then, unknown to the viewer, shuts itself off (to save batteries, right?).

The photo at the top is the book in the vitrine - it would be great to have it as a handling book - all that tape spilling out when you opened it! - but stuffing the tape back in would be a nightmare. It's called Unheard and is better displayed in the exhibition - spot the difference -

28 October 2011

Book du jour - Black Book "Caress"

Scroll down quickly to see the "movie" ...

"As if a phantom caress'd me / I thought I was not alone" (Walt Whitman)

Gilded sandpaper, steel wool, velvet in clamshell box.

"Overdue" exhibition

The bulk of the show is in the library entrance area, with more work scattered in the stacks -
Chris's video "In Explanation of the Book" is showing on the monitor, and his QR code book in the vitrine directs you to his website -
Karen's work includes "Haptophobia" - glass slides with a text about fear of touching -
The glint of gold is the spine of one of Janet's 46 "Page 46" books -
She tried to shelve each book in its subject area -
On page 46 of each book, she has added a relevant quote from her extensive collection of quotes -
Carolina's "Forest Library" is mainly in the special collections cabinets at the far end of the library -
It's part of her LivingBooks project -
My shelf of Black Books still has room for more. "Field Potential" is standing open (momentarily) - it's big, and heavy, and doesn't fit on the little shelf, yet all it contains is a notebook, a reflective surface, and a little wire -
Late addition - Janet's "nest of words" -
 My "Unheard" (knitted audio tape) is on the shelf above.

The show guide is printed on A4 and folded, for people to take away with them. In the finished version, blue dots in the relevant areas of the map guide people to the non-obvious parts of the display.

Here's what we each said about ourselves -

“The walls of books around him, dense with the past, formed a kind of insulation against the present world and its disasters.” – Ross MacDonald
 Karen Apps is exploring our emotional relationship with the book and how aspects of this originate in early infancy.
website: karenapps.weebly.com

In our DNA, contained in the structure of each of our 46 chromosomes,the history of humanity is written. Through the creation of the zygote and ultimately the exchange of DNA, this germinal point of communication and commonality contains hope and light in a darkening world.
    In 46 books, on page 46 of each book, Janet Bradley has stamped quotes from various ages and sages. The imperfect print represents imperfect voices emanating from the heart. The intention is that their words will resonate with the poetic light that exists within all of us.
    The books are inserted into the stacks, 46 books along from the ends, and can be identified by their gold spines.
website:  janetmarieart.co.uk

Inside Margaret Cooter’s black boxes lurk secret lives – stories that happen in the dark, enacted by objects and materials whose interaction must be imagined rather than read. The books themselves may be reluctant to open ... take care, you can only guess what you might find.
website: margaretcooter.co.uk

Carolina Diaz’s LivingBooks project is an ongoing investigation into the phenomenon of life, through the medium of artist’s books.
    It involves the intervention of books with plants and seeds, intervention of nature with book objects, and the re-interpretation of organic form through book structures.
    Cabinets of curiosities, irrational taxonomies, herbarium, apothecary, forest as library, library as forest …

Chris Gibson shows you a book in the same way the police might show a photofit image.  It asks for recognition.
    We all have a relationship with books.  A book might release a flare, illuminating an unknown landscape, another could reveal a deep pool with hidden treasures in the depths.
    Of course, a book might just be a utilitarian bundle of pages ...
website: christophergibson.co.uk

And, for completeness, the handout that sits beside my shelf of Black Books, giving a few more words to help people think about each -

“As if a phantom caress’d me / I thought I was not alone” – Walt Whitman

The term “field potential,” used in physics and neurophysiology, refers to the difference in electrical charge across a gap. When the book is closed, do electrons jump the gap and make a current flow? Do creative sparks fly?

“And where you are is where you are not … here and there does not matter / We must be still and still moving ”  – TS Eliot, Four Quartets

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity” – Seneca

“If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash” – Leonard Cohen

“Every other enjoyment malice may destroy” – Samuel Johnson

 “Whisper words of wisdom, let it be” – The Beatles

Vote for books

"Vote for the most beautiful book"

... on the basis of the cover, one illustration, and a blurb with considerable name-dropping. These books are "classics" put out by the Folio Society and it's blatantly an advertisement for them, sponsored by the Guardian.

But ... it gives a bit of media attention to "nice books" and gets people looking more closely at them, and reminds us of what books can be ... and of some we've always meant to read.

The titles (choose your favourite) are:
Lord of the Flies
To Kill a Mockingbird
Midnight's Children
Great Expectations
On the Road
Metamorphosis and other Kafka stories
The Name of the Rose
The Picture of Dorian Gray
The Last of the Mohicans
The Mill on the Floss

26 October 2011

Work in progess

Making a few more Black Books for the exhibition at Camberwell college library. This was the scene on Sunday (note the start of a long list! still so much to be done....) and today the show was installed.  It's been keeping me very busy, along with a few demanding things that are happening at college this week.

Only a few weeks ago I had no idea of how to make a clamshell box, and now I've made many, in board and in that corrugated plastic stuff used for real estate agents' signs - that was for the box that needed to be "surprisingly light". The plastic stuff is sort of ok - at least the glue sticks to it - but the corners of the trays need to be strongly glued, carefully weighted, and left to dry.

Even after a lot of practice, wrapping bookcloth round the edges of the tray takes 15 minutes. That practice has also got me into cleaner habits - the last few didn't have stray blobs of glue on the black cloth.

If you do get glue on the cloth, use water to remove it - provided it's water-soluble glue/paste of course - and instead of rubbing just the spot, extend the water over the entire cover, so there isn't a watermark.

One of the covers I was "restoring" this way this morning was a cover with lettering - and to my surprise, wetting the lettering removed the shiny bits where the bone folder was used to define it. Which might be useful in some instances - but meant, in this case, that I had to go round all the lettering with the bone folder again to get the shininess back! Otherwise the letters weren't legible... and the title is important.

24 October 2011

Book du jour - debossed lettering

The lettering I'm using on the cover of the Black Books is time-consuming and fiddly - but I'm really enjoying doing it.

The font, Gill Sans Ultra Bold, needs a bit of extra spacing between the letters. I'm using it at 72pt - printing it out and then transferring to the piece of board that's cut for the front cover (careful positioning is essential). First time I tried this, I glued on the paper and cut round the letters; this time I used carbon paper to trace the letters. You don't actually need to trace much - dots can be joined later, as long as you remember what goes with what -
Cutting is with a scalpel - don't cut all the way through the board, then use the tip of the scalpel to lift a corner (or two) of the letter and peel it out. If the cutting has been fairly even, the letter will come out easily. Check that the letters are removed to roughly the same depth.
Once the cover is glued on (with a paste mixture rather than straight pva - that would dry too fast), you can find the letters and use your finger to define them as much as possible -- then take your bone folder and simply run it round the edges of the debossed letters. "Simply" - hah! You carefully and slowly do this, using gentle pressure, feeling for the edges and going right into the corners. A slip of the tip will leave a shiny skid-mark. Inside the letters, the tip has left a shiny line - I'd rather it didn't, but it does help the letters to stand out and be read.
For tracing the next cover, I used an awl to mark the corners, then joined the dots with the scalpel. Fortunately nothing went wrong, no letters were accidently joined to others... The curvy bits are best done with carbon paper. Perhaps there are fonts that are all angles - I haven't searched for them.
The light shines through the cut-back areas - this is a way of checking for an even depth.
I've been cutting the letters quite deep - would a fairly shallow cut  make for a good-enough effect?

An advantage of using this technique is that it helps keep the book titles short - I'm aiming to make them even shorter - perhaps as short as "in", "at", "over" - prepositions can be so abstract and open to interpretation.... This ties in with the "small words" textile pieces I've been making.

Moan on Monday - care and attention

The label says it's a powder-coated metal colander - but this item sure looks like a pack of three (cloth) teatowels to me. Nor did it have a price anywhere - you now have to take items to the barcode reader to find out what they cost. In this case, you might end up paying for a colander rather than teatowels, who knows?

I couldn't be bothered to wait and wait for a salesperson to (a) appear or (b) be available. Buyer, beware!

And to think John Lewis once prided itself on its service to customers.

Art I like - Kiyomi Iwata

Kiyomi Iwata transforms materials, making fabric suggest so much more.
 She says: "In my work, I explore the boundaries of East and West through absence and presence, void and volume. The silk vessels I create are both transparent and translucent which hold mystries. They have been transforming into a new sculptural form, one more akin to the human body, another container with its own mysteries."
As well as silk, she works in metal
and kibiso

22 October 2011

Book du jour - Black Books

Field potential is a term from physics and neurophysiology; it refers to the difference in electrical charge across a gap.

The book opens (with some difficulty) to reveal a shiny surface with something metallic piercing it -
 The reader/viewer - who is likely to be a Camberwell student - sees their reflection  -
and on the other side, a notebook used by tutors for recording a student's progress at Camberwell College of Arts and Crafts (as it once was known), which is also pierced by metal -
The metal - copper wire - is stitched through the empty pages of the book, and a needle dangles from the end -
When the book is closed, do electrons jump the gap and make a current flow? Do creative sparks fly?

21 October 2011

Art I like - Massimo Polello

I stumbled on this video of calligrapher Massimo Polello at work - seeing the shiny ink go onto the paper makes you want to do it yourself immediately!

See more of his work on his website  (or here). He lives in Turin and is a member of a group of artist-calligraphers called Doigts Noires.
In addition to designing packaging, he has worked with film-maker Peter Greenaway.

I'm drawn to the abstract qualities of his lines, as well as the materials he uses. Although calligraphy traditionally relies on legibility, even elegance, my personal interest is in the wilder manifestations - the illegibility and inventiveness, the texture rather than the text.


"The more abstract, placeless, and bodiless our existences, the more we come to live beside ourselves, and encounter the world and each other at a distance and through various kinds of remote control, the oder and lovelier things can became, and the greater the importance in our lvie scan be of objects that we can lay hands on, manipulate, transform and do things with. Human beings are such incorrigible fidgets, such manipulators of ;objects, of things we can touch and handle, or think of touching and handling, that it is scarcely possible for us to think dream and imagine  without things exerting their shaping force upon us. We think with shapes and weights and scales and textures. We literally keep ourselves in shape by the ways in which we heft and press and handle things."

Steven Connor, Rough Magic - broadcast on BBC in 2000.
Image from here, the site for a research project that to make digital copies of fragile archaeological artefacts, like textiles, which can then be handled virtually.

Looking for a sofa

It won't be this one, though - price tag is about £13,000!

18 October 2011

Book du jour - Here And There (Black Book)

Making this one book took nearly all day, and not just because of waiting for the glue to dry. It's the first of a series of "Black Books" for a group exhibition at Camberwell college library at the end of the month. We aren't confined to the display cases, so some of us are putting books on the open shelves, among the library books themselves. That way people can actually handle them - which is especially important for these Black Books.

The plan is to make half a dozen (I have a list...). This one sprang from nowhere on a Sunday morning, and it took so long to make because of the many decisions involved, decisions that will affect the rest of the series.

Size - this can be variable in every dimension.

Materials - the boards can be any thickness, weight, or material; the covering is always black bookcloth  - the unifying factor. I need to go buy several metres - each book takes quite a lot.

Title format - another unifying factor - this was the big decision, informed by many experiments. Using debossed lettering will keep the titles short. It's tricky to do, and I'll just have to be careful... Finding a font took a while - I'd like to use the same one for the series. Gill Sans Ultra Bold, with a bit of extra space between the letters, seems to work ok.

And the small matter of the contents - well, I have lots of ideas for the Black Books, and will make as many as time allows.

Hopefully the photo above showed the title - in some lighting conditions the reader will have to move the book to read it, the first step in interacting with the book.
A box takes longer to open than does a book ...
... and might not have as many "pages" as a traditional book ...
The spine awaits a Dewey Decimal number (as befits a library book)  - something in the 900s ... 910 perhaps, geography and travel?

Things are looking up

 Along with the installation of boiler, the painting of living room. The most crowded bookshelf had to wait because there was so much furniture in the way, and nowhere to put the books. Here it is Before -
...and this is During -
To get to "After", the books need dusting and sorting and replacing. I rather like them this way...