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.
In the tradition of ringing in a new year with odes to our past year of experiences and goals for next, this month I want to talk about personal and handmade maps. Charting and recording where we’ve been seems to me to be a human instinct, and while a lot of it happens indirectly through social media and the presence of our ever-attached cell phones, some artists still dig into the old language of paper maps.
One such person is Nobutaka Aozaki, a New York-based artist who is building a map of Manhattan out of hand-drawn directions from other people. When shown a map on a smart phone, he asks for a hand-drawn version, “I tell them I’ll forget so please draw me directions!” His destinations are not selected with the purpose of completing the map, sometimes the destination is just where he’s meeting friends for dinner. In this aspect, the project takes the role of an evolving and non-chronological daily record of his life. By pinning the actual maps to a wall, the viewer is allowed to play the archaeologist, investigating the types of paper used for each map as well as handwriting and drawing style.
Utilizing red map pins and thread, artist Katie Holland Lewis maps the locations of various body sensations in a project titled Tangled Pathways. Starting with a gridded representation of her body, she tracks these sensations daily over a period of one month, six months, or a year. The end results are an interesting abstract of the frequency of particular sensations as represented by the density of pins and thread. Though it may look like only slightly organized chaos, Lewis says “The very logical, systematic, and quasi-scientific approach to the work gives me the authority to rationalize something irrational and control something that is beyond my control.” The accumulation and confusion of all the thread and pins over time speaks to the impossibility of truly charting the sensations of a body we live in every moment in a way that can be understood by another person—the language is loose and our memories are tangled.
Dahlia Elsayed’s map-like paintings and drawings offer the viewer visual markers to bring the them in while denying them deeper access to the significance of each particular grouping of events. Her use of flags to place memories or thoughts in landscapes of blues and greens pulls on the viewer’s innate reflex to locate a specific place when confronted with these symbols. The frustration from being denied access of these “locations,” however, brings to mind the subjectivity of maps in general. Without a basic knowledge of the particular standardized map language we’ve grown accustomed to, what would any map mean, even if it was of the place we were standing in?
I know these works are on the periphery of what could be considered an “artist book,” but maps are near and dear to my heart as an “oddities” option for bookmaking. Falling in with scrolls, sculpture, paper, found objects and the like, starting with the idea of maps and mapping offers the opportunity to move one’s art outside of the box it’s been living in. When I was learning bookbinding, the “oddities” lesson was the one that really lit a creative fire in me and took me beyond my linear thinking at the time. It’s a new year, and as we all muster up courage for pursuing new goals and dreams, we must remember to be brave and bold, especially if it requires stepping outside of your comfort zone.
For those of you interested in the art of maps and maps as art, I highly suggest visiting the Hand Drawn Map Association’s website where you’ll find extensive archive of maps found, requested, remembered, and reimagined. These archives can be searched by location or author, and are worth mining. HDMA founder Kris Harzinski has also published a collection of selected maps in “From Here to There.” Another great source (in book form) is “The Map as Art: Contemporary Artist Explore Cartography” by Katherine Harmon.
Margaret 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.