Monday, May 23, 2016

Albert & Apollinaire: Calligrammes

I've always loved the visual poetry of Guillaume Apollinaire's 1918 Calligrammes. Type that is shaped on the page is appealing to me. What would this poetry sound like if sung? Composer Albert Behar has answered the question his way, written up in his notes as a "song cycle for soprano and accordion that celebrates the 100-year anniversary of Apollinaire's visual poetry." The newly reopened Berkeley Art Museum featured Behar's work—its west coast premiere—in a concert on the eve of May 21, 2016, and I was very happy to be there.

The program was an unbound booklet made from four folded pages. I immediately wanted to sew mine together. (Albert told me he had asked for them to be stapled.)

 Albert played the accordion and sang with Ariadne Greif. The costumes, made from cloth printed with lines from Apollinaire's text, are by Gretchen Vitamvas. He said later that the cloth was printed digitally, laid out so that the text would match up when cut up and pieced and sewn together. Another appealing craft.

The performance was joyful. The two of them had great chemistry as they acted and sang playfully, their faces expressive. It was fun having the original text in front of us to follow as they went, seeing how Albert interpreted the lines. It was polished and clear. It felt like we were inside a book.

I introduced myself to him afterwards. When he was fifteen he attended a summer program at the college where I teach. He was in my ten-day bookmaking class with a friend. He said he thought I looked familiar and remembered that some of my books are in his grandparents' collection.

His grandparents, the Sackners, own The Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry.
One of his books was made of handmade stencils of a lava lamp.

At that time he told me he was a musician. He was a talented composer, even then, and he is quite successful now. I knew he wasn't going to continue making books, but he has, in a way.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Art of the Book at Seager / Gray Gallery

On view until June 5, 2016, The annual Art of the Book exhibition at Seager/Gray Gallery features a variety of artist's books, from conceptual works to altered books to mixed-media unique books to wall hangings, to traditional fine press books. On my visit there, 19 May 2016, the sunlight glowing through the front window and skylights made it almost unnecessary for gallery lighting, and the space looked so beautiful that Donna had nearly forgotten to flip the switch.

Images of all the work are available in the printed exhibition catalogue and online at the Seager Gray website. I've included links to the closeups in this post. 

From the doorway you can see an installation of 49 printed handmade books hanging on the wall, "Red, Yellow, and Blue" by Alice Austin (right), and a wall hanging, "Almost Red" by Emily Payne, made out of found book cloth and book boards (and Donna Seager at the desk).

At the front of the gallery, the work feels summery, linenlike, with primarily natural materials and the colors of old book pages.

Barbara Wildenboer's framed work consists of finely cut, sculptural, altered books. The book on the pedestal is by Sarah Brown, titled, "84 Hours," which was the work week for William Wood, a bookbinder in 1788 (full story at the link).

My neighborhood of "HOUSEWORK" is displayed just behind the wall, in the  far left corner.

I love the intimacy of the back room of the gallery and the built-in counter. There are books that have pages cut and excavated, to create a kind of layered tunnel book effect. There are sculptural books made from old tools, book pages referenced by pieces of cut and sewn zippers, a skyline painted on books, images created from cutout letters, and many more. It's interesting to see the progression of the book as art and how it relates to a gallery setting. The book has become more of a material to sculpt and shape. Collage, alterations, and appropriations have become acceptable, widespread, and desirable.

A basket of gloves sits by the front door, available so the viewer can read and handle the books, but there were not as many books to read as I like. I am not ashamed: I have a bias. I miss the old book show days where text was prominent and the literature was as important as the art. Luckily, reading definitely has a part in this show. Julie Chen's new book, Bitter Chocolate, points to those days: a wonderful combination of writing, research, sculpture, invention, and imagery. Charles Hobson has a lovely new book with photocollages by his daughter, photographer and artist Mary Daniel Hobson, featuring Amy Hempel's short story, The Man in Bogotá. Inge Bruggeman's book, Nowhere to go is subtle and beautifully printed. And Ken Botnick's award-winning book Diderot Project is also quite remarkable. Aside from Julie's book and mine, though, I am not sure if there were any other books with original text by the maker. Curious, that. I'll be including a very brief excerpt from Julie's book in the summer issue 4.2 of Star 82 Review. Coming very soon!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Pipeline: A New Quilt

Some time the end of March, beginning of April, I cut up three pairs of pants. Some shapes were regular, some not. I liked the irregular ones better, and so the quilt grew. It grew on its own at first, but on one of my walks I realized I may have been subconsciously influenced by the work on the water lines up the hill. I couldn't avoid seeing them as I skirted about; my usual route was closed. I gradually noticed the patterns, then intentionally patterned my quilt after them. The black and green were leftover from this past year's previous quilts here and here and here. The white was mostly from scraps of a trimmed canvas dropcloth.

The beginning.

Seeing the road.

The finished quilt. The symbols I used for quilting were taken from orienteering control descriptions for river/stream/watercourse and pipeline. Orienteering is a sport in which participants must get through a course and locate specific places with a compass and a map.

The small, deep blue square near the upper left was from the inside of a pocket.

With river embroidery/quilting: 

The pipeline embroidery/quilting:

Denim is so beautiful in its many colors. 

Next quilt will be from my wanderer's old jeans.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Water Bill, River Bill, Rain Bill: Felted Collages

I always have a project so I can procrastinate the project I'm working on. Last week, instead of finishing the neighborhood of HOUSEWORK, I had the urge to make felt, which led me to these collages.

My working title, the title of a poem I wrote last summer is "The Back Side of Make," which was something of a kaleidoscope or collage itself. But, in reality, these demanded the following titles.

Water Bill

River Bill

Rain Bill

Some of the imagery is playing off of a quilt I'm working on called Pipeline, part of a body of work I have in mind called Water & Power. Some of the scraps are from cloth I printed for the HOUSEWORK project.

What's going on here: wet felted white wool with black or red in-between the layers; needlefelting from the front; needlefelting from the back; sewing machine stitching; hand stitching; original printed fabric (my design) from the front and from the back; clear vinyl; needlepoint mesh; sticks picked up on my street. Security-lined business envelope reference with abstract cancellation marks; thinking about water in the context of billing or owing. Zoom in to read the texts.

Last summer's poem:

The Back Side of Make

this see-through piece
of paper held with tape, its

four letters seen by window light
formed by opening a mouth,
a pencil box, typewriter case,

a dusty cutout of a woman, seated,
bent over something frayed and

silky, a tangled silver thread of hair
eyeing the needle on the table
pointing to fingers

glued in place
her face

turned over, it’s mirrored,
translucent, no longer human
save the shape

I just want a word with you,
its meaning clearly made.