Books are both vessels for knowledge and calls for commitment: reading, thinking, feeling. Bookworks, an exhibition at the Aidekman Arts Center, is also a convincing case for books as works of art.
The vast exhibition includes over ninety objects and reveals how contemporary book artists break with conventions while observing the medium's past. A theatrical work on "works of art", the title of the exhibition comes from Ulises Carrión, who supported an expanded concept of the book on a par with sculpture, painting and film in his 1975 manifesto "The new art of making books ".
Bookworks faces the challenge with selections on four themes (material, sequence, language, rally and community) ranging from a hand-written medieval choir to a facsimile of Aristotle Organon, to angular installations incorporating paperbacks produced in series and photocopied magazines.
Such diverse and little-seen works will inspire viewers to re-imagine their hypotheses about the format of the book, said Dina Deitsch, curator and director of the Tufts University Art Galleries, and who organized the show with Chiara Pidetella, research curator and PhD students Emily Chun , AG20 and Kevin Vogelaar, AG20. Contributors also included Darin Murphy, head of W. Van Alan Clark, Jr. Library at Tufts' School of the Museum of Fine Arts (SMFA), and Christopher Barbour, editor of rare books and librarian of humanistic collections at Tisch Library.
"I think it's an introductory mess about what artist books can do," Deitsch said. "We have highlighted works that are poetic, surprising, political, but they all do the hard work of art, which is asking us to rethink the everyday."
Artists are confronted with profound questions about reading. Does the reader absorb the book or book the reader? Or both? And in the digital age, when information comes from mobile devices and generally while we are in multitasking mode, shouldn't we think about how we accept, filter and spread knowledge?
"Yes, books are ubiquitous and now you can read anything online," said Deitsch. "But that change that makes it even more fascinating to examine the shape of the book and how the shape affects the content and how we read it."
The innovative forms are in the foreground Bookworks. In 20 slices of American cheese, Ben Denzer inserted a plastic wrapped Kraft sandwich between two bright yellow hard covers. (The mold that crawls along the edges of the pages "transforms the notion of a book into a potentially finite mortal object that slowly deteriorates over time, empty of the usual archive of a book, historical goals," explains Denzer in the exhibition guide.)
Even the artist Angela Lorenz works on a variety of unorthodox materials and formats, including soap, chewing gum and spaghetti. His intent is to create multi-layered books whose physical attributes become visible over time. Namely: each chapter in Soap Story it is incorporated into a bar of soap that is carried out only when people wash their hands.
And for Silk poems, the poet and conceptual artist Jen Bervin collaborated with Tufts' Silklab to fabricate a biosensor engraved with a poem that can be implanted under the skin. Spectators read the verses under the microscope.
Other artists question the concept of readability by avoiding words and using symbols and images to convey meaning. Created exclusively with icons and logos of contemporary life, Xu Bing Book from the ground tells twenty-four hours in the life of an urban employee, employee.
The comment on major social problems is a common thread Bookworks and can be seen on a large scale in multilayer and interactive Alpha's bet is not over yet, created by Steffani Jemison and Jamal Cyrus. An installation, a reading room and a discussion space in one, presents a newsstand showing files of photocopied periodicals published between 1915 and 1922. Magazines such as The crisis is The messenger shows the key writers of the Harlem Renaissance while The Crusader is a large black communist magazine.
"Many of these magazines are available in digital format, but artists have made them physical, which I think is important," said Deitsch. "Being able to hold them back and have so many here at once, in an aggregate form, you can have a greater sense of what was happening and at the same time, you can browse and read them, and you could discover something. The goal is to trigger dialogue ".
In this spirit, Deitsch organized lectures and conversations at the "Open Book" lunch time with teachers and artists expanding on exhibition themes and seminars. Together, he hopes that the exhibition and public programming will encourage people to rethink the book as a commonplace.
"We can take reading and books for granted, but we shouldn't," Deitsch said. "Each art exhibition aims to re-teach how to look at the world and pay attention in a new way."
Bookworks runs until December 15 in the Tisch Family Gallery and Koppleman Gallery at the Aidekman Arts Center, 40 Talbot Avenue, Medford, Massachusetts. The gallery times are from Tuesday to Sunday, from 11 am to 5 pm For more information visit https://artgalleries.tufts.edu/.
Laura Ferguson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.