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Let There be Books/Part II of Triton Book Arts Lecture

Yesterday, as I was pondering an opening for my remarks tonight, I consulted
with my daily oracle. Some people check their astrological sign; I go each
day to the New York Times Arts and Entertainment section, Quote of the Day.
And here is what I found: "People always come to where there are a lot of
books," said Pulitzer Prize winning author and bookseller, Larry McMurtry.
(This is the author who gave us "The Last Picture Show" and "Lonesome Dove")
Well, we need only look around us tonight see the truth of that. And I think
it's a good sign, not only about the presence of books in popular culture,
but perhaps an equally important indicator of the widespread
inter-disciplinary interest in the making and experiencing of idiosyncratic

It's an odd thing to observe on one hand that more and more printed
publications are suffering financial losses as the public continues to seek
further digital input, input, input, and at the same time to see people all
over the world lounging around in cafes, bookstores, airplanes and trains
with books in hand, reading, reading, reading. I think there are at least
two good reasons why so many people of all ages are still attracted to and
continue to gather around books of all kinds, as an activity quite apart
from e-world publishing.

One idea I entertain about this is that books attract because there's a
there there. And here I will insert the word I find I must use in my own
discourses on books--story Despite the well-known fact that our ancient
human ancestors bound their community understandings together through song
and dance-the story performed-the past thirty centuries or so have equally
relied upon images and the written word to do the job.The picture and the
word have been carved in stone, scratched and painted on animal skins,
stained on papyrus, cast in metal slugs and bound six ways to Sunday in the
palpable format we call books.

The need to say and to read what is said as a literal point of reference
probably proceeds from the same animus that motivates the human voice to
speak. Giving physical expressive form to the function of conveying
"information" (note that word) must surely have developed in parallel with
some notion of instant gratification! What I'm getting at might well be
summarized in a statement I heard Brian Taylor make the other day in one of
his classes (Brian is an invitational artist whose innovative, framed
book-on-the-wall, "Foliage" is on the stage left wall of the exhibit). He
said: "I'm old-fashioned enough to believe that art has an aura and that
handmade work has a resonance-and a bit of ART SOUL-that machine-made art
doesn't have." I couldn't agree more. In fact, I think that the "resonance"
emanating from art made by the human hand is most felt when the connections
between form and content-between how something is put together and what it
says-are in excellent balance.

Anyway, what we now have with these physically expressive forms we call
books is not only the function of communication-be it entertainment or
education--but the sensual and totally self-realized experience of
simultaneously accessing something "made", on both the maker's and our own
terms. The actual touching of the story vehicle, as a means of perusing its
content is historically part and parcel of its development-even when, as
invitational artist, Kathy Walkup's interactive installation piece, "The
Library of Discards" shows us-the vehicles were chained by the "publishers"
in the 15th Century churches. Remember those monks, sitting there year after
year, hand-copying spiritual text? This artist has given us a unique
opportunity to experience a modernist interpretation of medieval book
bondage and selective reader access. I might add that she is also powerfully
reminding us of the sheer exponential accumulation these collected
expressions have made since that time, and of what measures are more
currently being taken to remedy the overflow.

In her proposal the artist has significantly commented that the rejected
books she includes in the installation are "familiar to anyone who has
browsed in the library of a vacation home or in the public rooms of a
college dormitory. They are the icons we can't throw away,...(they are )
untreasured artifacts, political symbols and holders of benign content,
publicly scrutinized and privately chosen....."

Even though, for obvious reasons, the Triton's beautiful, spacious museum
setting cannot permit unlimited visitor access to book-touching, in
designing this exhibition, our intent was to put as little perceptual
distance as humanly possible between the viewer and the books. Handmade and
artist books are frequently exhibited encased in vitrines, and the challenge
has been to hint at their fully realized qualities by how they are displayed
beneath the glass and plastic. In this show, we have used a very few vitrine
tops, and they have been employed much less formally than is usual.
Moreover, the artist books in this show, though mostly untouchable, are
unaffectedly displayed to show their salient and dynamic characteristics and
to tease the viewer with a worthy sample of the total book .

With books such as T.S. Anand's "Protect Yourself', Karen Sjoholm's
"Special Delivery", "Women's Bodies (dead meat)" and "Personal Safety",
Ceevah Freedman Sobel's "Mono Lake to Death Valley" and Sandra Beard's
"Learning Languages" series, we are very nearly mano a mano with potently
and artistically presented evidence of grave social malfeasance. Even though
we cannot, as it were, "turn the page" on most days, we can intuit the
regrettable implications the artists' books have chronicled These works
might serve as examples of how a story, or implied sequence could stand in
as a culture-keeper while its artistic properties attract and contain our

I would mention, as well, the extraordinary sense of risk-taking to be found
in the offerings of journal-keepers and diarists, whose individual
documentation of their lives--

Genie Shenk's "Dreamlog l998", Raymond Holbert's daily journals, Adele
Crawford's "Books I Have Read" , "Travel Journal" by Eileen Butcher (with
elegantly gestural watercolor landscapes) and Susan LaFrachi Madonich's "My
Sister Finally Died"--

we displayed by showing how their artist-chosen formats support their
content and function. Some artists who make journals invent characters or
personas around whose fictional lives lovingly crafted tributes are made. In
genre, these resemble memorializations. Good examples would be Joan
Ingoldsby Brown's "Col.John M. MaGregor, esq.", and "The Journals of
Casimir Labacz" by Michael Kucz

The other idea I have about the persistent attraction of books, as both art
and book is that, as Kent Manske has powerfully suggested in his work, there
is such a quality as what he calls "bookness." In his statement he says:
"Books provide a functional and inhabitable space for my images, thoughts
and language to form. Within this infinitely expandable conceptual space,
relationships emerge, narrative evolves and meaning manifests. As form, the
book provides order, structure and sequence for communication and exchange
.As an artist, I'm less concerned with a book's formal qualities and more on
its meaning.." His installation on the title wall of the show, "About
Bookness" explores book concepts as a cultural force with which to be
reckoned, and as such is identified as an ongoing project.

Kent's articulation is most helpful in addressing some prickly questions
about when a book is a book. He hints at something I personally identify as
"implied narrative". This doesn't mean that either he or I believe that all
bookness is about sequential narrative. To me, it's a way of talking about
the containment, or maybe the structural parameters of what I persist in
calling a story. Conceptual books have at their root a concept, and forgive
me, thereby hangs the tale. Their concept may or may not include such usages
or forms as "covers", "spine" or "pages", but there is a content whose idea
or story will dictate its form. As with more conventional or recognizable
formats, the success of a conceptual piece depends upon the unity of elements
of which it is composed.

One of the more arresting conceptual books in this show is a piece titled
(please excuse my inept German), "Einespinnt miner" by Pamela Zwehl-Burke.
At first blush we see what might be the documentation of a scientific
experiment, or maybe even a special clothesline for drying wet spiders, or
some abstruse gaming environment. Upon closer examination, we can observe
that the little hand-drawn spider tags are connected accordian-style in
their state of suspended animation. And what you can't experience in this
show is that the entire rig ingeniously comes apart and packs up into the
two stands to make a box-like set of "covers" This is a thoroughly
integrated piece!

Also on the conceptual plane, Michael Henniger and Vince Koloski have given
us two unusual books which though completely different in their conepts and
form are related in their reliance upon electronic.expressive elements.
Michael has humorously designed a continuous loop sequential narrative
story, which is accessed not by keyboard, but by a hand-turned crank. Vince
Koloski's A Maze Book enlightens us with neon lighted acrylic "pages". He
comments on the emotional and symbolic power of light for human beings and
says of this work: "The presence defined by a book-like object in which the
words and images seem to float in space between the covers is one that seems
to appeal to human perception in a way which bypasses the rational

In documenting a century of artists' books, author, JoAnna Drucker has
countered the Marcel Duchamp remark that,"if an artist made it, it's art"
with her own that, "if it ain't a book, it ain't a book". Jone and I believe
that what you see here is all art and all book. We wish to acknowledge the
inestimable help and guidance of Chief Curator, Susan Hillhouse, in all
matters relating to this competition and exhibition, She and her staff,
along with their most patient preparator, Ron Garcia, made our part of the
show possible.

The other member of our design team, Julia Bradshaw, gave us the combined
and much-appreciated benefit of her knowledge, skill, time and strong back
throughout the installation process. Jone Manoogian, Conni Rizutto and Kent
Manske orchestrated the shelf-making crew of volunteers for a Saturday paint
day. Jone and her husband Norm cut, filled and sanded the shelves to be
painted. Conni Rizutto coordinated the Bay Area Book Artists docent
volunteers, whose generous giving of their time makes the book-touching days
possible. Conni is also overseeing and constructing the community
book-in-progress pages on the foyer wall.

Thank you for joining us tonight. And now, let us all go to where , as Larry
McMurtry says, there are lots of books.