20120727

DURATION, SEQUENCE & STRUCTURE (5)

[Editor’s Note: This series of Duration, Sequence & Structure posts is a text/image version of a collaborative talk that was given by Kyle Schlesinger and I at the 2012 College Book Art Association conference in the Bay Area. One section will be posted every day of this week. This is the last.]
 
[KS] In What You Will, the language is layered both in the printing and in the text itself. Unlike many of the works discussed in Craig Dworkin’s Reading the Illegible, the legibility of the poems was in no way compromised by the printing, nor were the poems written specifically for this book form. Spaces within spaces, books within books, with all four elements visible simultaneously. I get bored when there aren’t at least two things happening at once, but I’ve never been interested in noise for the sake of noise, and/or artists’ books that are essentially one-liners talking over one another (or any other kind of book for that matter). As I recall, in 2009 Aaron asked me for some work and I sent him eighteen new poems. When he received the manuscript, he thoughtfully asked right away if I had any thoughts about how the book should be, and I said something like, “you know how much I admire your work, so please, do what you will.” (or did I just say this to myself and title the manuscript thereafter?) The poems in this book take on quite a few different forms (the shortest poem is just two words, the longest is four pages) and yet I feel that the short line holds it together. The line is a unit of measure that I’ve been working with for the last five years, combined with a somewhat street-wise vocabulary. Almost all of the poems are occasional and contain found language, often from several sources within a single piece, but the sources aren’t as important as the relationships between elements, the contrast that can be introduced by a diverse palette of words and phrases that sometimes result in unexpected twists that keep the poem moving forward, at other times making for awkward moments that create something of an intentional acoustic or visual fumble (such as typos or successive clich├ęs).

Reading is an experience that unfolds in time—the letters build up into words, the words into sentences, and the sentences into a text. The codex has a specific sequence and a sophisticated hierarchical structure designed to honor the author’s intention. Traditionally bound books are often divided into chapters rationally organized in ascending order, as are the corresponding page numbers which are conveniently listed in the table of contents, while the index creates a complex network that is easy to cross reference among identical copies of a given book; i.e. the third word of the third sentence in the third chapter of the first edition of Moby-Dick is intended to be the same in every copy. But artists’ books and poetry often don’t rely upon such conventions, which is one of the reasons that the two genres have such a rich and intertwined relationship. The time of a book (unlike the time of a dance performance, film screening, or bus ride) is subjective and determined by the individual reader. Poetry is rarely read cover to cover, and poets know this. Are the rules for reading a traditional codex any more defined than strategies for reading artists’ books? How are these strategies informed or obfuscated by collective reading environments? When is one “done” reading? Does the book begin the same way it ends? Is experience a reading that in time unfolds—text into sentences, sentences into words, words into letters?

20120726

DURATION, SEQUENCE & STRUCTURE (4)

[Editor’s Note: This series of Duration, Sequence & Structure posts is a text/image version of a collaborative talk that was given by Kyle Schlesinger and I at the 2012 College Book Art Association conference in the Bay Area. One section will be posted every day of this week. This is the fourth.]

Andy Warhol, Saturday Disaster, 1964, synthetic polymer paint and silkscreen enamel on canvas

[AC] Reading is an experience that unfolds in time—the letters build up into words, the words into sentences, and the sentences into a text. Both the text, with its letters and words, and the book, with its frames and pages, are ordered, accumulating multiplicities. A recent collaboration between Kyle and myself, a book of Kyle’s poems called What You Will that was published by my NewLights Press, attempts to make this idea of accumulating multiplicity, which is essential to every book, visible and legible to the reader and crucial to their understanding of the poems. I’d like to talk about some of the concepts that fed into What You Will in terms of three different examples, which are, moving from the general to the specific: pop and high-modernist/minimalist artistic strategies, the form of the traditional codex, and the actual poems that make up the book.

Andy Warhol, Marilyn Diptych, 1962, acrylic on canvas

In terms of multiplicity, Andy Warhol’s early screenprinted pieces do one crucial thing in terms of investigating the mass-printed/produced image—they show the entirety of the “edition” on the same surface. These pieces show the multiple nature of the mass-produced image-object all at once. This is an image of the image-object, in its repetition and in its difference, never single, never quite the same in each iteration. One of the many effects that these pieces demonstrate is the dislodging of the signifier from its referent through repetition, similar to the way a word starts to sound like gibberish when we say it over and over again. In the book The Return of the Real, art critic Hal Foster briefly mentions the idea that repetition has done more work than abstraction towards disrupting the language of representation: “For abstraction tends only to sublate representation, to preserve it in cancellation, whereas repetition, the (re)production of simulacra, tends to subvert representation, to undercut its referential logic.” Repetition, in these pieces by Warhol, allows for a “making strange” of the language of the mass-produced image. 

Frank Stella, Six Mile Bottom, 1960, metallic paint on canvas

The “stripe paintings” of Frank Stella are so nihilistically perfect in their collapsing of form and content that it’s hard to think of them in terms of representation at all, sublimated or otherwise. As objects, “you see what you see,” and their total lack of reference, and depth, and composition, forces the viewer or reader to consider their status as objects—are these paintings or sculpture? And to consider how they were made—are these stripes, one after another, in compositions not really based on choice, applied without traditional “painterly” finesse, really painting?


And when you look at the series of Stella’s paintings next to one of Warhol’s images, they start to tell us something more about this idea of “accumulating multiplicity,” of difference and repetition, and, as Foster noted in a comparison of minimalism and pop more generally, something about “the series,” or serial production, in American culture at large. Because these pieces are paintings we don’t usually think of them in terms of time or duration, but that is an aspect of them, brought out through this idea of accumulation, of “one thing after another,” of repetition, of difference.

We say that the book is a time-based form because it takes time to move through a book. The book itself, in the sense of its “pure” or uninflected technology (bound but blank pages) presents what is essentially the same event over and over again—a page turns, a page turns, a page turns, and so on. This is a multiplicity, but an ordered, ideal, uninflected one—all repetition. When content begins to crawl over the pristine surface of the pages the multiplicity becomes far more chaotic. Now the ideal measure of the page is inflected, varied. Now, we can read the book, and reading brings us into the realm of duration.


These are some examples of Kyle’s poems. As you can see, they are mostly tall and skinny, and they make a strong vertical mark on the page. Reading them, I thought mostly about structure—how words connect to other words, how the lines of the poems build up, move, repeat, rearrange, and disarrange, within one poem but also from poem to poem. These poems are not piles of language, they are columns, or skyscrapers, carefully built, one brick after another.


This idea of structure really came to the foreground when I saw that the table of contents for the book was essentially another poem—a poem based literally in structure and accumulation.


The next few images will show some successive page spreads and details from What You Will.






The poems themselves are the white text in the black stripe on the left of each page. The width of the stripe is determined by the length of the longest line of the individual poem. To the left of each poem is printed a mirror image of the text, in transparent gray, with the successive poems stacking up and merging as one continues through the book. All of the structuring principles of the text and of the book are immediately made visible on every page.


The covers were made by printing every single plate from the pages in white, on black paper, in exactly their position on the page, showing the entire open book at once.


The jacket contains all of the information that would normally be on the jacket of a book (title, author’s name, press name, etc.) collapsed and layered into single lines and in two reversed arrangements. The book functions in, and demonstrates, both idealized, spatialized time, and indivisible, overlapping duration.

20120725

DURATION, SEQUENCE & STRUCTURE (3)

[Editor’s Note: This series of Duration, Sequence & Structure posts is a text/image version of a collaborative talk that was given by Kyle Schlesinger and I at the 2012 College Book Art Association conference in the Bay Area. One section will be posted every day of this week. This is the third.]


[AC] Reading is an experience that unfolds in time—the letters build up into words, the words into sentences, and the sentences into a text. That text is at once continuous and fractured. We see it as a line, moving relentlessly from the beginning to the end, but that line is precarious—shot through with cracks, fissures, breaks, white space. The line is an accumulation of fragments. The line is an accumulation of voids. The largest gaps occur in the transition from page to page, through the gutter or around the fore-edge. These are the crucial non-spaces of reading, when the technology of the book rushes up to meet our attention, when our conception of time asserts its artificiality; yet we, as readers, steadfastly ignore it. The lines of text and the blocks of the pages divide and spatialize time—sometimes arbitrarily, always artificially. Artificially because we don’t read like that, we don’t experience books in the way that the things themselves like to imply—in a straight line of perfectly divisible units in strict sequence. The text does not pass by our fixed viewpoint like the frames of a film. We read, we stop reading, we get distracted, we pet the cat, we back up, we start again, we read, we start to fall asleep, “it’s a little warm in here,” we read, we stop, we read, “did you remember to?” We flip to the end of the chapter to look at an endnote, we read, we stop, a word or phrase reminds us of something, we read, it’s time to eat, we grab a bookmark and wedge it into the space of the gutter, we close the book and now it’s all fore-edge again, now we’re back at the beginning. We walk away. We come back hours later. We walk away. We come back days later. We walk away. We come back years later. The text does not change, but it’s a different book every time we pick it up.


[KS] And sometimes the text does change, rekindling the old adage: you can’t step in the same book twice. Bolinas poet Robert Grenier’s Sentences, published by Whale Cloth Press in 1978 is one instance of a book’s structure having a direct effect on the reader’s understanding of the poem. Sentences consists of five-hundred poems that could be described as minimalist in nature, each of which is printed on one side of a 5 x 8 inch card, and the cards are housed in a Chinese box complete with ivory clasps manufactured in Hong Kong. Unlike the poet’s other books, the loose cards invite the reader to shuffle the stack, revisiting the text anew each time. Paradoxically, Michael Waltuch, Whale Cloth’s publisher and designer of Sentences, told me that when he was in the Rare Book Library at the University of Pennsylvania discussing his work with some students, he unclasped the box, cut the deck, and began shuffling the book, reading the short poems in a randomized, rapid sequence. He said the librarian nearly fainted! Apparently, the library had preserved the original (arbitrary) order of the cards for twenty-five years, urging their patrons to never, under any circumstances, place the cards in the “wrong” order. I might have had a similar idea in mind when I made A Book of Closings in 2005.


I had been reading Keats’ odes and thinking about the way poets say goodbye, formally and informally. I began writing down all of the closings culled from Irving Layton and Robert Creeley: The Complete Correspondence, 1953-1978 in my notebook. Then, I wrote them down on index cards and sorted them, avoiding any repetition.


For example, “love” seemed to be a popular closing, especially as the two poets came to know one another more intimately. I decided that “love” with a comma was different than “love” with no comma, just as “love from Mallorca” was certainly different from “love from Betty and me.” 


The closings were printed letterpress on cardstock and housed in a blue paper folder of sorts. I didn’t attribute particular closings to a particular author, in part, because I’m interested in that mysterious third element that is introduced in any relationship or collaboration, and of course, who could resist the bookbinders’ pun on the absence of signatures in a book composed entirely of loose cards? The form allows the reader to randomly rearrange the lives, and more importantly the relationship lived through letters by the poets.


20120724

DURATION, SEQUENCE & STRUCTURE (2)

[Editor’s Note: This series of Duration, Sequence & Structure posts is a text/image version of a collaborative talk that was given by Kyle Schlesinger and I at the 2012 College Book Art Association conference in the Bay Area. One section will be posted every day of this week. This is the second.]

Richard Artschwager, Book, 1987, Multiple of formica and wood 

[AC] Reading is an experience that unfolds in time—the letters build up into words, the words into sentences, and the sentences into a text. The act of reading is one of the fundamental elements that differentiate books from other art media. I saw the artist Richard Artschwager speak in Baltimore in 2002. In the lecture Artschwager demonstrated his concept of the difference between painting and sculpture. He said, and I’m paraphrasing here, “you look at a painting like this [mime standing in place and staring at a painting] and you look at a sculpture like this [mime walking completely around a 3D object].” To that I would add, you look at a book like this: [mime examining the exterior of a book by flipping and rotating in the hands, then opening it and paging through]. If we were to accept Artschwager’s approach and define the form of an artwork by how it’s viewed, then the book is 2D—viewed from a fixed point, and 3D—viewed from all angles, and 4D—the book has to be moved through as well, and that moving through takes time. Can the book be thought of as an image of time?



[KS] The book remains our most sophisticated storage unit “of” and “in” time, our most reliable means of recording texts and images, of retrieving and receiving information and ideas. The Canadian artist Michael Snow’s 16 mm film So is This (1982) begins: “This is the title of this film. The rest of this film will look just like this. The film will consist of single words presented one after another to construct sentences and hopefully (this is where you come in) to convey meaning.”


Snow’s experimental silent film does what it says it will do: white words set in Helvetica appear one by one against a black backdrop, building on one another to form sentences.


The narrative is linear, self-reflexive, ironic, (even funny) and driven by the relationship between its subject (language) and time.


So is This builds and deconstructs simultaneously, often humorously: “This, as they say, is the signifier.”

As in any film, some shots are longer than others, but in So is This, the time spent on one word does not have a direct correlation to the aesthetic value of the image (I mean, it’s all Helvetica) or the narrative.


The irregular rhythms play with the viewer’s patience, desire and expectations. 


Cinema, since its beginnings, is nothing if not an image of time, an image in time, and Snow’s film is no exception, but perhaps what sets it apart from most films is that it is an artists’ book. I know, I know, we’ve all been down that road one too many times, but I would say that the discourse of artists’ books lends a useful vocabulary to the problem (both poetic and cinematic) posed by Snow’s film, which is 45 minutes in length. I’m less interested in what something is or isn’t than the lexicons we can borrow from in order to understand a thing as something other than itself. In this talk about time and sequence and technology, it is important to note that the time of this film (which happens to be a text in the literal sense), is universal. I was living in Berlin when I rode my bicycle to the kino. The screening began at eight o’clock and was over at quarter of nine. Everyone in the theatre saw (and read) the film at the same time and in the same time. Unlike the book, if the viewer misses a word in cinema, a sentence, there’s no going back. Time marches on, but duration doesn’t, which is why it seems to me a more appropriate term than “time” for the book arts discourse. Films, dance, theatre and other performances are time-based art forms, in part, because the audience observes the work together, in the same time, eight o’clock till quarter of nine, while the book is generally experienced one reader at a time. The book steps out of that time sequence, out of sequence, out of time: enter duration.

[Note: The complete So is This can be watched on Ubuweb.]

20120723

DURATION, SEQUENCE & STRUCTURE (1)

[Editor’s Note: This series of Duration, Sequence & Structure posts is a text/image version of a collaborative talk that was given by Kyle Schlesinger and I at the 2012 College Book Art Association conference in the Bay Area. One section will be posted every day of this week. This is the first.]
It was he told me I'd begun all wrong, that I should have begun differently. He must be right. I began at the beginning, like an old ballocks, can you imagine that? Here's my beginning. Because they're keeping it apparently. I took a lot of trouble with it. Here it is. It gave me a lot of trouble. It was the beginning, do you understand? Whereas now it's nearly the end. Is what I do now any better? I don't know. That's beside the point. Here's my beginning. It must mean something, or they wouldn't keep it. Here it is.
—Beckett, Molloy

[KS] Beginning at the beginning is difficult. Where does the book begin? I hand you the book, a book you’ve never seen before, and your experience of it begins. Although you don’t know this book, you know it is a book because the image of it resembles books you’ve seen before. You take it in your hands. You thumb the fore-edge, grasp the spine, turn it around, read the title, open it, snap it closed, read the last blurb, get bored, read the title again, adjust the dust jacket, feel nervous, self-conscious. So you break the tension, you ask me to sign. Pencil or pen? You smile, I laugh. Receiving the book is a strange performance or ritual. The book stops you, asks you to ask yourself what you’re doing. What are you looking for when you open it? A good book is a good question, not an answer, not “about” anything or anyone. What can you learn from the book before reading (as such) begins? How do you enter? The book doesn’t stop, which is why it is useless to describe the book in terms of “time.” The book goes on—doesn’t miss a beat. It doesn’t need me. You either. The book I am reading now isn’t the first, but it might be my last: any book, anywhere, anyone, anytime. This book is one in a sequence of books within an ever-broadening memory of the object. There is no book, only books. The book eludes you the moment you perceive it. It will always be incomplete, a sequence of points of perception that split the past and the future. The book is already gone.

20120716

NOW (NON)LIVE ONLINE: ART INTO LIFE

It is really exciting to finally get a complete version of this up online. As was mentioned in the previous “Faking It & Making It” posts, the idea of doing some kind of reproduction or archive copy came shortly after this book was completed in 2005. And when I first realized that doing online versions of the book was finally a real possibility, this book was the big goal. & now here it is.

Due to limitations on file size I had to divide the book into three sections—I didn’t want to sacrifice image quality. It is actually one 180-page book. There is one fold-out section towards the beginning, which will look strange when you come to it, but hopefully it will make sense. Be sure to click on the pages to zoom in and read the footnotes!






Art Into Life
Altered book with text and images by NewLights Press: Aaron Cohick, et al

180 pages, case bound, 8 ¼” x 5 ¾” 

Digital printing, collage, delamination, and mixed media drawing 

Unique

2005

20120712

FAKING IT & MAKING IT (5)

David Hockney, Christopher Isherwood Talking to Bob Holman, Santa Monica, collage of chromogenic prints on board, 1983.

All of the digitally archived NewLights books show their edges. If you look closely (at What You Will, for example) and watch the transition from spread to spread, you’ll see that the edges are in flux—they slide back and forth and wobble crookedly against the edge of the digital document. If you look toward the spine you’ll see that the shadows cast by the book don’t match up, and sometimes, even the edges of the cover or jacket don’t either. Look a little bit past the book toward the digital edge and you can see the boundary between the image and the file that holds it—mismatched approximations of gray or black or white. The reality of the image bleeds through.

Often when I picture these archived books in my mind (another ideal space), they float against a pristine white background, shadowless and perfect. It is obviously possible to make that ideal a reality in the realm of the digital, but it seems counterproductive. These are not ideal objects, they are as imperfect as our shabby bodies, and to hide that fact is to actually withhold information from the reader. & the archive is a functional object—it gives you the content as well as an image of the form, as completely as it can.

(I’m writing this post in the ideal light of the early morning, a bit hazy from the nearby wildfire, [ Editor's Note: This post was actually written a while ago, while our fire was just beginning, before our city started to burn.] as the pages of The Heads of My Family, My Friends, My Colleagues, a new book of poems by Justin Sirois, are being digitally printed. I can hear and see the pages flex and wobble as the machine pulls them in. I am clearing jams. I can see that they are not straight, not lining up from back to front. This is going to be even more obvious once I start the letterpress printing. I have accepted, planned for, the imperfection of the physical-digital. Hopefully the design is successful enough to take advantage of its oscillation.)

The design and production of the actual NewLights books focuses on making their technology visible, on directing the reader’s attention to the window: by fingerprinting it, cracking it, taking it out of its frame and asking the reader to hold it for a second. Those ideas are important, foundational, to all of the books that NewLights makes. My initial concerns about, and resistance to, digital archives and/or physical facsimiles grew from the idea of the seamless image of the facsimile—if the books themselves insisted on showing their seams and how they were made, how could I justify another version that would hide those same things? But the translation to the digital form allows new opportunities, allows for more layers of information, allows for more richness, and allows more people to access the experience of all those things. Sure, a physical facsimile could do the same thing, but I’ve got a lot of other printing to do, first-order printing, if you will. One last thought in regards to all of these posts and the recent Call for Proposals from The Center for Book & Paper Arts at Columbia College Chicago: the digital archive insists, to a certain degree, on the reproductive functionality of the digital medium. But what happens (and this is a huge question in Book Land right now) when the digital becomes first-order as well?

And by the way, the digital version of Art Into Life will be going up on Monday.

20120710

FAKING IT & MAKING IT (4)


From The Elements of Typographic Style, by Robert Bringhurst, (Vancouver: Hartley & Marks, Publishers, 2008), 145:
[…] Sizing and spacing type, like composing and performing music or applying paint to canvas, is largely concerned with intervals and differences. As the texture builds, precise relationships and very small discrepancies are easily perceived. Establishing the overall dimensions of the page is more a matter of limits and sums. In this realm, it is usually sufficient, and often it is better, if structural harmony is not so much enforced as it is implied. That is one of the reasons typographers tend to fall in love with books. The pages flex and turn; their proportions ebb and flow against the underlying form. […]

Books are often designed with very thoughtful and precise geometry, Euclidean and perfect in the abstract space of the computer. As soon as they start to make the transition to paper that ideal is corrupted—the books bend, move, fold, lines and angles aren’t quite perfect. The book, as an object, is not, literally can not, live up to the Euclidean ideal that it often begins with.

Taking the physical books back into the ordered space of the computer tends to make this fact even more apparent. Trying to get a decent image of an open book can be difficult. First, there’s all the problems of the actual photography—set-up, lighting, getting the damn thing to lie flat and stay open, etc. (This is why I usually use a scanner to document books—it’s sort of easier, at least for me.) And then once the images are up on the computer (not always a necessary part of photography, but we are talking about making digital archives here) a new problem becomes visible—which geometry takes precedence? Should one straighten and crop according to the line of the spine? The edges of the head or tail or fore-edge? Or to the text and image on the pages? What looks “right?” My default tends to be the spine, as all of those other things are more subject to the “ebb and flow” of the book in space. But that depends on the image too, and sometimes even a straightforward image can have a spine that is deceptively crooked when compared to everything else.

Art Into Life is a particularly wonky book. I don’t think any part of that book is a right angle or straight/parallel line, despite my best efforts.

The differences between the facsimile and the archive accumulate around the imperfect edges of the book. The facsimile seeks to mesh and hide the edge of the image with the edge of the real. The archive shows the edge, acknowledges the book as an object-in-the-world that is being viewed through a window. The facsimile or reproduction produces an illusion, an image that purports to be real. The archive produces an image of the real.

20120706

FIGHT FIRE WITH LITERATURE BENEFIT SALE: UPDATE!

We have been very pleased with the response to the FIGHT FIRE WITH LITERATURE BENEFIT SALE. We've raised over $500 from supporters here in our local community and from around the country (& even the world). THANK YOU ALL. The sale of everything (all books & broadsides) will continue until the end of next week, Friday, July 13. We will continue to sell the Day 8: Waldo Canyon Fire broadside and donate that money to wildfire relief efforts until that edition is gone. The fire in CO Springs is almost completely contained, but there are many other fires in the west right now, and we're only about half way through the season.

20120703

MORE FUEL for the FIGHT FIRE WITH LITERATURE BENEFIT SALE!!!


The FIGHT FIRE WITH LITERATURE BENEFIT SALE continues, now with a new featured item:


A letterpress broadside collaboratively produced during a weekend workshop here at The Press at Colorado College. The colophon of the broadside reads:

This began as a type specimen broadside, but quickly became a way to commemorate the Waldo Canyon Fire, which began in the Pike National Forest, near our home of Colorado Springs, on June 23, 2012. At the time of this writing we are only 8 days in, and already we have seen far too much devastation. With hope, gratitude, and solidarity we dedicate this project to the firefighters on the line, all those that have been evacuated, and those that lost their loved ones or homes. All proceeds from the sale of this broadside will be donated to local charities to help the displaced members of our community. Designed, typeset, and printed at The Press at Colorado College on June 30 and July 1 by the members of the Intro to Letterpress Workshop: Jo Langer Reichardt, Katie Cornelius, Candace Santa Maria, Elena Foraker, Carol Dickerson, Beth Kancilia, Heather Horton and Theresa Henderson. As usual, Aaron Cohick and Eleanor Anderson hung around and helped out a bit.


Day 8: Waldo Canyon Fire
Letterpress printed from lead & wood type and photopolymer plates
13” x 25”
Edition of 100
2012
$10 (plus shipping—CO Springs residents can choose to pick up their copy)
 
And remember, all money from this sale, which includes ALL NewLights Press items, will be donated to the local Red Cross to assist people who have been displaced by the Waldo Canyon Fire and other fires in Colorado.