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.
As tablets, e-readers, and other handheld devices begin to replace traditionally printed and bound books and magazines, artists everywhere are taking note of the growing numbers of shuttered bookstores. Frequent encounters with boxes full of discarded books prompted San Francisco-based artist Alexis Arnold to think about the materiality of the book and its ability to archive content. Her resulting sculptural series Crystallized Books gives a new purpose to the abandoned books and re-conceptualizes the idea of preservation.
Arnolds’ worn and weathered books are dipped into a Borax solution that adorns them with non-toxic crystals. Looking like objects that one might find in a shipwreck, each title has a conceptual tie to the project. Appropriately, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea published through the Classics to Grow On series finds itself submerged in the crystal solution. Phone books, bibles, and instruction manuals are included alongside classic titles. The crystallization process removes the text and, “…transforms the books into aesthetic, non-functional objects.“ One might argue that at the time of abandonment their owners had already considered them to be “non-functional,” particularly the reference materials.
Although the texts have been stripped away, Arnold has preserved the reader’s experience. Crystallized in mid-movement, each book takes on an organic shape that retains evidence of a reader’s interaction in the form of bent pages and curled spines. “The books,” Arnold says, “frozen with crystal growth, have become artifacts or geological specimens imbued with the history of time, use, and nostalgia.”
Kat Kiernan is the Editor-in-Chief of Don’t Take Pictures and is filling in for Bookmarks columnist Margaret Hall, who is on a book arts adventure at Penland School of Crafts.