Altered Text and Jacob's Ladders

Between the car I parked in Vallejo, CA on one June Sunday, and the Pirate Festival I was going to attend in order to see a former student, now a professional mermaid, I noticed sections of a book in the street. The book had no cover and looked like it might have been run over. Arrrr, I thought. While I try not to bring more stuff into the studio, I promised myself that if the book was there when I returned, I would pick it up. Guess what?

I had no plan for the pages. It looked like a book about capturing gangsters, an old one, since the words "radiophone" and "Cadillac" were prominent. As I prepared for a studio class the following Tuesday featuring a Jacob's ladder, I suddenly knew that I would use the pages to cover the boards. (A six-panel Jacob's ladder is found on pages 142-145 in Making Handmade Books.)

Altered text was on my mind: the previous week I had taught my last session of "Writing and the Creative Process" at JFK University and we had looked at erasure texts, collaged texts,  found texts, and Annie Dillard's book Mornings Like This: Found Poems. Students each brought in a page of photocopied text, one for each classmate. We had plenty of raw material. Some possibilities for handling the alterations:
  • Look over one page. Use only the words found on that page and create a new text with a fresh subject.
  • Cut out words from any number of the pages. Rearrange them to form new sentences, thoughts, and poems.
  • Use one page. Excise the words you don't want, leaving the words in order that you do want, similar to Tree of Codes by Jonathan Safran Foer. More about the book here.
  • Use one page. Glue paper on top of unwanted lines, or use a pen to block out the words. Lisa Kokin once used shredded money for this in her books.
  • Use one page and create a resist. Apply low-tack artist's tape over the words you want to keep. Paint or color over the entire page, then peel off the tape. (You could also run it through the ink-jet printer as I did here.)
  • Use one page as a base. Cut out words from another page and start to add the words to the first page, changing the text. 

For my Jacob's ladder book I tried to use as many of these techniques as I could. The cover had to have holes on it, I decided, to resemble bullet holes. I had fun working with the unfamiliar subject matter. Off I went…

In April, the Minnesota Center for Book Arts sent me a discarded book cover. As part of their fundraising auction each artist is to alter/create a piece out of it and send it back. The cover has been sitting forlornly in my studio with a sign on it that says "July 16." It's from a book about the revolutionary war general Lafayette, who turns out to be a cool dude, an early abolitionist. Turns out, he needed to be a Jacob's ladder, too (although he had to be a smaller one). I printed out a few pages from his Wikipedia entry, cut out a bunch of words, and wrote a new piece. You never know where the inspiration will come from. Just keep swimming.


Gwyneth Depport said…
very intrigued and excited about this.......