Materials & Hidden Meaning

In a sense, making a book is like playing a wind instrument. You have to think about tone, rhythm, timing, breath, and how what you are doing connects with other people and the work that has come before you. There's a variation of history and time within the music. When you choose materials, you are also choosing the kind of time that will contribute to the book. New materials suggest a fresh start, an original idea, the proverbial blank slate. But what about old ones in our era of reduce/reuse/recycle? When is new appropriate? When to use found materials?

When we concentrate on a material object, whatever its situation, the very act of attention may lead to our involuntarily sinking into the history of that object….Transparent things, through which the past shines.
Vladimir Nabokov, Transparent Things (1) 

By paying attention to our materials, we can control what kind of past shines through our books. We are often attracted to an object by its patina, the layers of history it contains. Just holding it up and saying "look how cool this is!" isn't enough. Those layers add a context and their "transparency" ties the object to a time and place and person, but they need a new purpose when used in art. We need to bring the object into the present moment, to make it relevant to our situation today.

Century, 2007

A few years ago, I visited Glass Beach for the first time and was fascinated by all the shards and objects available for my use. I particularly liked the little metal plate that was probably a manufacturer's label, and some of the sea glass. I built a box with compartments, painted paper with the colors of the patinated plate, and wrote a poem and made a book, Century, about coming from an old era into a new one. In that case, I wanted the history to shine through the objects, and for the present moment to cradle the book.

First Class, 2007

With First Class, I used discarded business envelopes for the book. For the cover I used a large envelope sent to me by someone now deceased, who used to send out details of her health issues to everyone she knew, even if they didn't know her very well. I painted the papers to look old, bringing them into the present, and framing them as universal memories of a faded correspondence.

I made Horizon from old maps that someone gave me. I had no personal attachment to them, but maps always seem to contain adventure, hopeful journeys, or nostalgia of past travels.

Horizon, 2007

"A thin veneer of immediate reality is spread over natural and artificial matter, and whoever wishes to remain in the now, with the now, on the now, should please not break its tension film."  
(Nabokov 2)
photos by Sibila Savage


val simonetti said…
Alisa, I love the threads on Horizon. They look like roads, rivers,and highways are escaping from the book. What structure did you use for this?
Alisa said…
Hi Val!
Thanks. I used the Miniature Tied Binding on page 65 of MHB. You fold a piece of paper in half, glue a long linen thread inside at the fold, then glue the two halves shut. All the threads from all the pages get tied in square knots at the head and tail, one page to the next.-A
Liz A said…
here I am, nearly ten years later, learning about Glass Beach for the first time ... and yes, I love using materials that hold story
Alisa said…
Liz A—I was glad to be able to visit Glass Beach when I did. I am not sure now much is left, all these years later. At the time I remember people walking out with bags and buckets full, which I think you were allowed to do, but I only took a few pieces. But the pieces I kept are little memory jogs of a pleasant day.