An Exhibition of Artist’s Bookworks
Curated by Paul Forte
June 15th to July 13th 2013
Opening Reception Saturday June 15th 6-8pm
The idea for this exhibition of artist’s bookworks occurred to me after reading Garrett Stewart’s insightful book, Bookwork, Medium to Object to Concept to Art, a 2011 survey of recent developments in the way that artists engage with and transform books into art. Garrett’s key concept, indeed the raison d’ etre for what may be a new genre, is “de-mediation,” a term that has a familiar ring, summoning the holy grail of Conceptual art first proposed in 1967 in an article in Art International magazine by critics, Lucy Lippard and John Chandler: “de-materialization.” And there is an intriguing connection or similarity between these two concepts; the former designating the reduction of media to its material support or basis, the latter, the reduction or minimization of the material basis of art (ironically, in this context, often involving the presentation of ideas through language and or photo documentation). While apparently denoting similar processes, these are really two inversely related concepts that seem situated at opposite ends of the Conceptual art spectrum.
With this in mind, Transformed Volumes attempts to make some distinctions between what are called “artist’s books,” and “artist’s bookworks.” The interesting thing about both these art forms - something that supports my contention regarding the inverse relationship between “de-mediation” and “de-materialization” - is that both arise from Conceptual art. As I have stated elsewhere, “The defining feature of bookwork art is its “de-mediated form,” which means that the basic function of the book to convey ideas or expression through its content (usually text or images) is disrupted or suspended in some way.” I hasten to add that “de-mediation” is a relative matter, whether it involves text or images, because the effacement, disruption, or occlusion of such content is often partial or incomplete. Instances of purely de-mediated bookwork are probably rare because, among other things, the refashioned material embodied by most transformed books and their surrogates could be broadly construed as image content. In other words, if the transformed book acquires symbolic or semiotic significance it might prove to be a kind of de facto mediation. Stewart and I discussed this possibility and he was essentially in agreement when he answered a question that I posed: “Might some bookwork involve, for lack of a better term, a paradoxical form of ‘de-mediation’ where ‘the original treatment and intent’ has been re-framed or removed, thus ‘replacing its means toward a new end?’ ” That end being to function in its altered or re-fabricated form as either a symbol or a sign (all quotes are from Stewart’s Bookwork, Medium to Object to Concept to Art). After maintaining that what was de-mediated was text alone (which I take issue with), Stewart replied to my query: “And what emerged in the remaining medium of sculpture was usually a figure or trope or metaphor (or yes, sign or symbol), often of precisely what was missing (hence, yes, paradoxical).” * The “missing” element is, of course, content, the paradox being that bookwork can still be read, not for what this art contains but for what it embodies.
Transformed Volumes makes a strong case for an emerging aesthetic founded upon what might be considered the remains of the traditional book while also showing that the iconic status of this seminal technology still has the power to engage the imagination
in new and unusual ways.
© Paul Forte 2013