Sunday, April 13, 2014

Fun at the Library

Saturday has been library day for our household for decades. In February, I posted about the Mystery Date with a book at my local library and how the librarians there seem to be having fun. Here are a couple more examples of their inventiveness. Following those, a quick (sort of) look at the book I picked up this week.

From March 22, 2014
"I can't remember the title, but the cover was pink" display

From April 12, 2014
A display for National Poetry Month and Poem-in-Your-Pocket Day
(This year, Poem-in-Your-Pocket Day is April 24th. Here are my posts about it from 2012, 2012 again, and 2013.)

Poems in the basket are by poets featured at the Albany library.
The one I got is "Bird, are you still" by Jack Marshall.
There were also others from the Poem-in-Your-Pocket book, I think.

The book I picked up today on reserve was One-Way Street and Other Writings by Walter Benjamin, translated from the German by Edmund Jephcott. Somewhere I read that One-Way Street was an interesting mix of street signs and directions and words pulled from advertising, in addition to being a kind of collection of essays. It is possible there was a reference in Georges Perec's Thoughts of Sorts, last week's book, an amusing and interesting collection of essays by the Oulipian. (I seem to have returned that book too soon.)

This book of Benjamin's has an intro by Susan Sontag, as well as a Publisher's Note, so although I am on page 78 of 388 pages, I am not very far into it. The description (Perec's?) is proving a bit more interesting than the 59-page essay itself, but there are some gems within. Some of those section titles are: Filling Station, To the Public: Please Protect and Preserve These New Plantings, Germans, Drink German Beer!, and Halt Not for More Than Three Cabs, among others. 

One section, called "Construction Site" discusses how adults get themselves all worked up trying to invent educational toys and "visual aids" for children, when children are happy to scavenge from the leftovers generated by adult projects and create their own world from the abandoned parts. There's a bit more to it than that, but I think it is a fascinating premise. It was written in 1925-26 and even more relevant today. (Although he doesn't specifically say "cardboard box," that's probably what we are all thinking.)

There are a few misses for me, such as when he gets overly dramatic about love or revolution, but there are enough fresh thoughts and images to keep the reader engaged. The humorous titles create interesting contexts as well. 

And humor is why I'm enjoying the displays at our library. 

I will leave you with an extremely short, shaped note from Walter Benjamin about writing that taps into our senses, titled "CAUTION: STEPS":
Work on good prose has three steps: a musical stage when it is composed, an architectonic one when it is built, and a textile one when it is woven.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Lovely Book from Japan

During our PrintWorks show, CCA Print Program featured two other concurrent exhibitions. One was a juried selection of our current students' works (which I hope to get to in another post). One was our biennial exchange with Osaka University of Art. Every other year we choose a select group of prints from CCA and Mikae Hara selects work from her students in Japan. We hang the work in our gallery at CCA, and then the show travels to Osaka to be presented there. Mikae brings many of her students with her, and they are treated to various activities, one of which you will see below.

This year, a lovely book titled Omnibus arrived with a very strong collection of prints from Osaka University of Art. The lithographs in the book were all hand drawn and printed by the student, Misato Kawakishi, who bound it very skillfully and with a clever structure. Students often ask how to attach their artwork to pages, but I had never thought of this solution. It seems a natural offshoot of the shikishi holder, a project included in Painted Paper (p. 136). Misato used strips of paper to hold her prints. The strips were nicely sandwiched inside a folded sheet (the folds at the fore edge and attached to an accordion spine like Flag Book with Folded Pages on p. 75 in Making Handmade Books.) At the fore edge, each strip disappeared into a slit. At the spine, the strips disappeared inside as well.

And that crowning activity? A piñata!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Writing with Constraints & OuLiPo

We've seen constraints in poetry in the traditional forms of haiku, tanka, sonnets and more, and recently we've seen 30-word stories, 100-word stories, and erasure texts made from a page of someone else's work. Each of these forms has a structure; poetry forms are often much stricter than the others because of their combined rules regarding rhyme/meter/and sometimes word counts. Erasure or altered text is frequently made by painting over or crossing out words so that a new text is made with only the words left untouched and in the order they appear. While many contemporary writers might balk at the constraints, the rules force the writer to wake up and stretch, often revealing work s/he might not have otherwise written.

In the 1930s, according to Barbara Wright in the introduction to a book I'll be telling you about in a moment, the French writer Raymond Queneau heard Bach's The Art of Fugue and his interest in the music's nuanced variations made him wonder about various approaches to writing styles. He began by writing a tiny story, then rewriting it several times, each time putting a different constraint upon it. The story tells of an encounter on a bus and how he coincidentally saw the same man again later in the day. There is matter of the man being jostled as well as a missing button. The story is told in 99 different styles, corresponding to the titles. A few examples: Retrograde, Precision, Negativities, Anagrams, and Exclamations. The book, originally published in 1947, with the newest revised translation by Wright in 1981, is called Exercises in Style. While the book is entertaining, it also teaches: it points to the possibilities of writing tone and style and cracks the craft wide open.

Although Queneau died in 1976, his curiosity and exploration of writing based on constraints continues with the group he founded in 1960, known as the OuLiPo, an acronym for the French phrase, Ouvroir de Littérature Potentialle, commonly translated as "workshop of potential literature." American writer Daniel Levin Becker received a Fulbright to go to France and study the OuLiPo, ultimately was asked to join the group (a rare event!) and he wrote a book about the people, history, workshops and forms called Many Subtle Channels: In Praise of Potential Literature (2012). In one fascinating chapter, "Get it in Writing," Levin Becker gives us a behind-the scenes look at what a weeklong workshop is like, including the forms that were taught then and the personalities behind the writers. He paints an amusing and vivid picture, which includes "interesting socks" and "a baby Rottweiler named Sarko."

He lists some of the nearly endless exercises:
  • Perverb "splices the beginning of one proverb with the end of another"
  • Tautograms "where each word begins with the same letter"
  • Prisoner's Constraint "where letters with ascenders and descenders are disallowed"
and writes, "The cool thing about these workshops, though, is that one man's piece of cake is another man's ball and chain; we all excel at totally different things…" (97). These are writer's puzzles, challenges, and ways to stretch your imagination. Sometimes you feel the thrill and want to conquer the form, sometimes you find it hard to engage. It may be easier to begin with a challenge in mind.

One constraint, the lipogram (a work that omits words containing one specified letter), was made famous by Georges Perec in his novel La Disparition; it is missing the letter e. It was translated into English as A Void by Gilbert Adair, who had a doubly difficult task. Adair had to make choices between content and elegant writing in order to carry out his e-less orders.

Forms are fun. Sometimes finding the content is the hard part.  But, as Queneau showed, even the most mundane sketch may be made interesting (if not amusing, fascinating, scintillating, or ridiculous) if treated sideways.

A wonderful and detailed catalogue of the forms is found in Oulipo Compendium by Harry Mathews and Alastair Brotchie. If you are looking for bookmaking with constraints to kickstart a project, see the blog post "A Recipe for an Artist's Book." And if you want to understand this whole concept better, try Daniel Levin Becker's book and leap from there.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Paper Has a Memory—So Does PCBA

A surprise email got me thinking. Kathleen Burch, one of the founders of San Francisco Center for the Book, and John McBride appear to be relaunching the Pacific Center for the Book Arts with a new website and a members' show at the San Francisco Public Library, June 21 - September 6, 2014. If you join now and send your info to PCBA by Friday, March 28, you can be in the show as well (no entry fee other than dues). I hadn't heard a peep from PCBA for several years.

PCBA was founded in 1978 by a variety of writers, artists, printers, papermakers, calligraphers, conservators, students, teachers, professionals, all those involved in the book arts. And they didn't all live in northern California; members were from around the world. San Francisco Center for the Book evolved from the work PCBA was doing, and was established by two then-PCBA board members in 1996 to provide a space for the book arts community: Mary Austin and the above-mentioned Kathleen Burch. Lectures at Mills college, events, the journal The Ampersand, and classes were some of the benefits of being a PCBA member. I joined around 1986 and was drafted to become a board member and program director, which I did from 1994-96. At the time, I instituted a series of "Book Arts Evenings and Weekends." Approximately 20-60 people attended these events. Three people showed their work each time: an established book artist who had influenced many others, a early-mid career artist, and a student. It was a great way for different generations to meet. The biennial members' show at San Francisco Public Library was always a highlight: inclusive and interesting.

I responded to Kathleen's call for entries and rejoined PCBA, which makes me think backwards and forwards at the same time. What did we have? How has the world changed since then? What can PCBA do now that is the same or different?

The book I decided to show is a felted book, Beautiful Tattoos, the one in which I first used needlefelted text. But as I handled it I decided it needed a box. And as I made the box, which can be used to hold it for display, I had to consider the materials. The book was made in 2008-09. The box in 2014. Old and new. I painted paper for the box cover, then painted over  it with gesso and scratched into it. I sewed a few stitches to indicate the front. Black book cloth for the sides, yes. But the painted paper I was going to use for the inside seemed to compete with the simple felt book. Gasp! I would have to buy a decorative paper.

photo: Sibila Savage

Not that I don't like decorative papers. I love looking at them in the stores. But I have a bad habit of being able to identify them when I see them in other people's work, so I've tried to stay away from them in my own. I don't really want someone to say, "Oh, that's a Lama Li lokta paper!" It takes away from the art. And yet. It was exactly what the book/box needed. And the book/box has final say.

Thinking again about decorative papers, I realize that they document a time. Paper mills go in and out of business, designs change, materials become unavailable. You can look at a book and know when it was made by the kinds of papers it uses. So, it occurred to me that it was okay. That it might be identifiable now, but in ten years, the paper would speak to another time.

Paper has a memory. So does PCBA.
PCBA is back. Let's see what we can do this time.
To join, see PCBA membership.  

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Opening of PrintWorks

A steady crowd of art students, teachers and friends attended the opening for the PrintWorks show on Wednesday night. Much of the excitement centered around 50 Cent Prints! Imin Yeh's print dispenser. My household alone pumped sixteen quarters into the machine. Those who got duplicates were happy to trade. 

Nance O'Banion: hand, ear
Marsha Shaw: birds
Imin Yeh: morale box 
?: my life
Amber Fawn Keig: portion of her lithograph "Attainment"

And, he gets one of Nance's ears!

This view is the street and art students wearing black
as seen through part of the hanging portion of
Laurel Prieto's installation, "Maybe We Are Safe Here,"
screen printed and hand stitched on fabric and paper.
Lots of hand stitching around the edges of the hands and arms.
I learned from her work that you can still work small if you like,
and multiple small pieces add up to one big installation.

(I agree it would be nice if the trashcan was not there.)

Erik Madsen's full installation, "Ricochet."
(Yes, apparently there is a multiverse.)

The ball has changed since the last photo/post:
now it has letters and numbers on it
and we all want to ink it up, roll it around and print it!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Openings in the Landscape

Page spreads. Two-page spreads. Double spreads. Double-page spreads. Openings. These terms all describe two pages that face each other. Verso and recto. Back and front. Together, they resemble wings. Openings. It is Spring. I was able to replace my lost camera with a twin and took my walk with openings in mind. Openings. Book or bouquet?