artist book: a work of art realized in the form of a book
The definition may sound simple, but the world of artist books can be a bewildering place. From the familiar pairing of images and text, to sculptures created out of paper and complicated bindings that create a performance each time the book is opened, nearly anything can be called an artist book if there is intention and consideration. This series showcases artists from different realms of the art world exploring the structure and meaning of the book.
So far in this series, I’ve focused on a few artists using books as their medium—cutting into paper and books, or exploring the possibilities of moving through time and space with the turning of a page. I love all things “book” but I especially enjoy pushing the boundaries of the widely accepted expectation of the form and content of books. Artist Meng-Teng Chuang is nodding towards a conversation about the definition of a book, about what happens in we challenge our methods of identification and classification.
Chuang is thinking about the way we identify books by their spines, especially in libraries when a book is awarded a Dewey Decimal identification in addition to its existing title and author. The spine is touched by many hands in its lifetime, repaired and taped and glued, but it is the fore edge of each page that gets caressed as you move through a book; the fore edge that catches the ridges in the pad of your finger and yields every so softly to be turned; the fore edge that gets bent and dog-eared and dirtied.
We don’t often think about the fore edge of the book, and yet, somewhere in its early life, the fore edge of the book is considered for marbling, gilding, or deckling. The fore edge bears the mark of each page turn and while initially minuscule, those marks build over time. Meng-Teng Chuang seeks to change our identification of books from the words on the spine to the marks left by readers. Imagine walking into a library and picking a book to rent based on the marks on its fore edge. Would you opt for the most worn edition or the least? The old marbled edge, or the one that looks like a cup of coffee was spilled in it? By subverting our expectation of identification by names and titles, Chuang is attempting to “rebuild the library,” and is drawing specific attention to the marks left by man and time.
The photographs serve as identifying “portraits” in Chuang’s installations. Even as I am thrilled by the idea of the methods of identification, I still crave an accompanying name that tells the viewer what the book is, or at least its classification in the library. Is it better that that urge not be satisfied, or would more information enrich the “portraits”? I, for one, am not sure on which side I would fall, but I’m happy to be having the conversation.
Margret Hall is a book artist and photographer living and working in Asheville, NC. Before moving to Asheville to train in book restoration (and live life in the mountains), she taught book arts at The Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University, where she also received her BFA in Photography with a minor in Art History and Book Arts.