Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Dispensing with the Short Story in Boston

On May 26, I received a text from my wanderer in Boston of just this image. No explanation.

What?? Free short stories on the corner? How was this possible? I found an article about it here. Originally developed by a start-up in France, the machines contain thousands of stories in the one-, three-, and five-minute category. Bringing the stories to the people was the idea. Currently, all the stories in Boston are translations from the French stories, but stories written originally in English will come next.

I pressed my wanderer for details, to find out the user experience. After pressing all of the buttons, it was decided that the stories, sadly, were not very interesting. The stories issue out on a long scroll like toilet paper, the five-minute stories yielding a long galley, indeed. They were genre-specific: romance and sci-fi were two of the samples. These were stories voted on by readers, so they were popular in some circles. Maybe the stories got lost in the translation. Or perhaps novelty is the point. 

While it is neat to "Put a story where the people are," with the people bringing internet access everywhere, the better thing to do would be to steer those that wish it toward e-books, library access, and quality online literary magazines. Ahem. ; )

But WriteBoston, a youth writing program, is looking into this more carefully and hoping to partner with Short Edition, the French company, and contribute stories by students. Now, that's a cool idea!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

A Day of Book Art Shows in San Francisco

I'm a usually "one day, one thing" sort of person, whenever possible. One hour anywhere is most often stimulating enough for me, but a friend and I wanted to catch a couple of book art exhibitions before they closed, and they weren't that far from one another. We were out all day.

First, we visited Seager Gray Gallery in Mill Valley for the Annual Art of the Book Exhibition.  Now in its the twelfth year, the show has evolved from a show of books that have sculptural and visual components to primarily sculptures and imagery that use books as their source material. I can enjoy art in most forms but was happy that there were still books to read as well.

Susan Porteous, Derivations, 2007
altered book, linen thread, wood
The caterpillar binding makes this book seem alive.

Ximena Perez Grobet, Words, 2016
This is a lively use of an accordion structure with the lines of poetry 
printed on the back in rows.
Each of the pages inside is devoted to a single letter and 
where it occurs in the Wallace Stevens poem. The poem includes
the phrases, "The reader became the book" and "The words were spoken
as if there were no book/Except that the reader leaned above the page." A wonderful
example of the connection between form and content.

Charles Hobson, The Mermaid, 2016
A story from the Salish (First Nations/Native American) people of the Pacific Northwest, imagined and realized by Hobson as a book/box with text on the mirrors and his beautiful monotypes. I've been familiar with Charles' work from the very beginning, and this one
reminds me of the impulses that he had from the start: a book as an
experience, a way to expand from something small to something grand.
This is a grand book, indeed!

Jody Alexander, Book No. 1 (from KEEP Modern Library)
Sewn together from discarded library book pages.
Always interested in tactility, Jody keeps looking for and finding
new ways of working with discarded library books (she's also a librarian).
The color and textures and composition are so nice here,
creating a joyful piece to look at and touch.

Islam Aly, Unleash, 2017
First, the angel seems trapped by the words, then moves up
the page, displacing the letters as it goes, until it has
flown up and out. 
Islam Aly is most interested in historical structures 
like the Coptic binding he has used here. It works
well to give the subject a timeless feel, connecting 
new technology (laser cutter for the images and text) 
with the old (Coptic binding).

Valérie Buess, Blue, 2012
Buess creates sculptures from paper taken from old books and rolled and attached. 
Here, she's used only blue pages. 
I couldn't resist trying to take a picture inside the larger entry hole. 
The light moves through it really nicely. 

Lisa Kokin, Not Like, 2017
Lisa miraculously moves from body of work to body of work and always dives deeply and totally commits to her process. Her work is meticulous and labor-intensive, and that intense practice shows. This piece is made with sewing and shredded money. She begins with the message and the materials, raising the question of what she wants to say with the materials and how. Together the threads and currency here form the poem "The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus (written in 1883) that is attached to the base of the Statue of Liberty. A phrase from the poem is "Send these, the homeless, tempest-toss to me." The letters start out whole and gradually fracture until the words are illegible. 

As if these weren't enough riches, we drove over the Golden Gate Bridge (I'm waiting for the bill for my toll) to the Legion of Honor. First, we encountered the wonderful sculptures of Urs Fischer in the exhibition of The Public & the Private. This was one of many others. We didn't even get to the ones scattered throughout the interior of the building.

It will be on view until July 2, as will the book exhibit in the small gallery, 
Letter & Image.

Ward Schumaker, Respite (Markandaya), 2006
Acrylic and hand-cut paper collage.
The story, which seemed related to the Bhagavad-Gita,  came to Schumaker in a dream:
a little boy emerging from the mouth of a whale and talking to him.
The combination of the marks on the pages with the sharp edges of the letters 
is absolutely beautiful.

Xu Bing, Square Word Calligraphy
Here, he makes English writing look like Chinese writing.
He has always been interested in language, first making Book from the Sky, made of invented characters, which no one could read, then creating Book from the Ground: from point to point, made from symbols and icons, which anyone can read.
Really, you just have to browse his website.

Claire Van Vliet, Tumbling Blocks for Pris and Bruce
Described as a book with "two spines" that opens in a "spiral," this book I believe is made from offcuts from another of her works and appears to be a version of a one-sheet book. The elegant paper box is apparently made from two pieces of paper that hold each other in place, something not obvious from a distance. Van Vliet has been making books since 1955. 
She is a papermaker and designer of book structures as well as a MacArthur Fellow (something every book artist envies).
Amazingly, this 1996 book is still available from Abecedarian Gallery.

And if even this weren't enough, we still had Monet: The Early Years exhibition to see! (It ends May 29.) Monet's colors and skill were breathtaking in the paintings, which were primarily of snowscapes and seascapes, with some of his model-turned-wife Camille Doncieux. Not a waterlily or a haystack in sight (those are later paintings). This exhibit, which gathers paintings from a variety of museums, demonstrates how Monet worked out his process. His depictions of water and snow are exquisite. Of everything I saw that day, I was surprised at how the paintings of lapping waves and ones with multicolored whites of the snow made the biggest impression on me. I know they did, because they made me want to paint.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Creative Arts Process Cards

Having spent quite a bit of time thinking about instructions, particularly for books about bookmaking, I've been wondering how to continue that work, but in a different way. During all the time I've been teaching, the most frequent complaint is that students don't know what to do for content. This blog has partly been an exploration of that content. My daily walks always are and provide inspiration for my photographs. I wondered if there might be a way to share my practice, and the way I approach my subjects.

First, I thought maybe I'd design a print-on-demand booklet. Working with standard publishers in the standard model has gotten harder as publishers appear to take fewer risks and tighten up terms for authors. So being one's own publisher has a sense of freedom to it. But a book that listed exercises didn't seem dynamic enough to me. I wanted it to be interactive.

I found an online playing card company that is essentially print-on-demand for people who want to customize their own cards. It doesn't limit the designer to just the backs: I could print different things on different cards. I began sorting through these blog posts for activities and methods, scrolling through thousands of my daily photos for images, and was able to pair ideas and images to create a set of 52 Creative Arts Process Cards.

They are now available at nevermindtheart!

The deck includes 52 cards: Title card (1); Play cards with instructions (4); Reading card with book suggestions (1); #1 Notice cards (14); #2 Practice cards (14); #3 Realize cards (14); Exchange cards (4), all housed in an accessible clear acrylic two-piece box.

Draw three cards at random from each of the three numbered sets: Notice, Practice, and Realize, and follow the suggested process. Notice cards give you a starting point, an action to undertake in the physical world where you gather notes and sketches. The Practice cards guide you to experiment with the content you collected and are a bridge between your notes and the Realize cards, which suggest a final shape or form.

Additionally, you may opt to choose an Exchange card that gives you permission to exchange zero, one, two, or three cards or use it to decide which one of the numbered cards to exchange. Try using the deck in a class or group and see how one draw can inspire a variety of projects to emerge. The deck provides endless combinations and possibilities for work and play.

The creative process can be difficult, but sometimes the best way to access content is by focusing on just one thing at a time. The creative process is never easy, but I hope that using the Creative Arts Process Cards will ease you onto an exciting new path.

Order a set of Creative Arts Process Cards here.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Pantones, Skintones

More than I can remember, people are separating themselves into groups based on identity. It becomes both a comfort and a defense, solidifying some and alienating others. But we have so much more in common as human beings. We may have millions of channels, cable, websites to choose from, but we all share the same emotions. From the set of Pantone postcards I had, I gathered the colors resembling skin tones, wrote some haiku poems, and printed layered imagery on the cards. Rather than keep the cards separate, I wanted to bind us all together, so I chose what could be best described as a sushi mat binding: it was used for Chinese stick scrolls, and it can work as a Jacob's ladder (although that is not necessary here). It opens across the living room floor to ten feet wide. The box is wrapped in lovely gold patterned Japanese book cloth. On the backs I carved another poem in a linoleum block: one word at a time, then carved it out: a reduction print that is also an erasure of itself. Everything is temporary.

We Are All Four Inches by Six Inches is the new one-of-a-kind book in a box made from the Pantone cards. I finished it a few weeks ago. I waited to post because I scanned the individual cards, hoping to make an affordable print-on-demand edition, but was not happy with the results, so that extension of the project is now on the back burner. I've got something else coming up very soon, though. Stay tuned! I'm still here. Somewhere, anyway.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Tidying Your Mindfulness

Just before the end of the semester, a colleague of mine had her composition class read the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. As an assignment, they were to tidy their room and write about it. She pointed out that most of them would be moving, so it seemed like the right moment. Even though it was a bestseller when it was published in 2015, I hadn't heard of it, so I requested it from the library and got it over the weekend.

Yes, it is the last week of the semester, so perhaps I was ready for the book or already thinking in this direction. By Monday I had taken three garbage bags to Goodwill and the used toner cartridges to Office Depot. Two boxes of books await the used bookstore. I dusted for the first time in (I'm not going to say). The book gave me a way to look at my stuff: handle each item. If it doesn't "spark joy," then as you discard it, thank it for the good times it gave you. I was surprised to find many things I didn't really need or want anymore. Thanking each gave me permission to let it go and reflect that I did like it once, it may have brought me joy once, but it is okay that it doesn't anymore. What the book really offers is connection to your life and mindfulness in your home.

Outside: a different kind of mindfulness. I had already been weeding the terrible plants that grow spiral burrs, sitting close to the ground with my bucket and tools. Sitting in one place for an hour at a time means the world comes to you, if you notice it. This past week's sitting outside in the yard gave me experiences, stories that my neighbors brought me that I can now incorporate into fictional stories of my own. I watched crows have a meeting, and tiny birds watched me. I discovered something interesting about my letter carrier. I was aware of all the different bugs and worms I don't often see. While I did not thank the weeds for these events, maybe I should.

The cleaning and weeding reminded me that I needed to make more space for the physical world. I have been tending to create computer-based projects lately, tending blogs and websites, editing digital photographs. Not nearly as much time as I used to spend handling objects. Marie Kondo, the book's author, writes that when you tidy, you find out what is important to you, and you may even discover your life's work by what you keep. The tidying helped to clear my mind. Just like the book promised. It sounds too good to be true, but I'm hopeful. We'll see what's next.

Just outside the classroom door.