Monday, October 13, 2014

Marie Dern's Big Book

Last Spring there was a retrospective of Marie Dern, Jungle Garden Press, at the San Francisco Center for the Book. The title of the show, and the title of the centerpiece of the show was, "Printers' Devils and Typographical Worries." The exhibition spanned forty years of Marie's book art and her collaborations, most often with her late husband Carl Dern.

Here is a book larger than your body. Printers' Devils and Typographical Worries is 6 feet tall by 8 feet wide, originally created for Marie's graduate exhibition at Mills College in 1986, and set out for contributions from the public. It has the feel of the 1000 Journals Project, only on a singular, grand scale. At an artist's talk and walk-through, Marie turned the pages.

The book is nearly as big as a bed, which gives new meaning to "sheets" of paper. I started imagining what a book bed would look like, but, guess what, if you search for it, you'll already find one by Ruth Beale here, and a bed made out of books here

Two precedents for Marie's book are the installation Words by Allan Kaprow (who coined the term "Happenings") and  The Big Book by Alison Knowles. In 1962, and then reinvented in 2005, Words was presented as two rooms filled with writings and graffiti, sounds of Kaprow speaking, blinking lights,  chalk, and strips of torn sheets hanging from the ceiling to support pieces of blank paper that invited visitors to add to the installation. The Big Book was exhibited in 1967, and contained a typewriter, a hotplate, sound, and other intriguing features, meant to be experienced physically, but not a collaboration with the public. It apparently traveled to various venues and, after a lively run, finally disintegrated. At the time, both installations likely gave the visitors the feeling of being enveloped by a book, just as Marie's book did in 1986 and again in 2014.

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