Thursday, October 25, 2018

Book Art at the Getty Museum 2018

I first became aware of a new exhibition at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles through an ad for its catalogue in the New York Review of Books. Artists and Their Books / Books and Their Artists was the title. Did I need a copy? Through a nice coincidence, I was going to be in southern California while the show was still there.

This is part of a set of photographs on the wall. Tricksy!

L to R: Olafur Eliasson's Your House / Felipe Ehrenberg (see below) /Dieter Roth's Poetrie / Katherine Ng's A Hypothetical Analysis of the Twinkle in Stars/ Keith Smith's Book 91, String Book.

Artists and Their Books / Books and Their Artists is an exhibition of primarily large-scale bookworks that have a certain amount of flash to them. The introductory wall text, which is also at the website linked above, is right on: 
Artists' books occupy a creative space between traditional books and contemporary works of art, challenging what a book can be. This highly visual and experiential presentation of some of the most lively and surprising works from the Research Institute's extensive collections focuses on artists' books that can be unpacked, unfolded, unfurled, or disassembled. They are made to be displayed on the wall or deployed as sculptures or installations. The exhibition seeks to provoke new inquiry into the nature of art and to highlight the essential role that books play in contemporary culture.
I like the idea of the "creative space" as a way for the books to define themselves as what they are, not a notion of what others think they should be. And pointing out the "essential role that books play in contemporary culture" shows the wonderful transition of thought; books are not just closed and quiet on a shelf, but open, visible, accessible, "lively and surprising."

A hanging bookwork by Cecilia Vicuña made of wool.
(previous post about her solo exhibition is here.)

This piece links to the work she calls "quipus" (knots), and what her website talks about as "a poem in space." Here, if you were allowed to, you could comb through it with your fingers, untangling the meaning. Texture, text, textiles, and tactility are all connected and interwoven.

Two identical, extra-large vitrines housed a collection of unique books, a project called Bookscape, that seemed to be celebrating language and literature by Johanna Drucker. Titles of the individual books include, "aphorisms" and "oeuvre" and "with respect to form"  and "actual/factual." One vitrine held the books, the other held their slipcases and containers, all shiny silver. Nicely curated so that each and its box were in the same position from one vitrine to the other. According to Drucker's website, the project was meant "to resemble a Neiman Marcus gift box." The playfulness and physicality of this project is quite appealing.

Videos of a few of the books unfolding and being handled are shown at the Getty exhibition link as well. Some essays may be found here.

Several of the artists included are from the longtime book art world, people I have met or know of, in particular: Johanna Drucker, Timothy C. Ely, Daniel E. Kelm, my friend Katherine Ng (I wrote about her new year's cards here), Felicia Rice, Keith A. Smith, and Buzz Spector. And other familiar and famous folks: Chris Burden, Dave Eggers, Olafur Eliasson, Guillermo Gómez-Peña,  Ellsworth Kelly, Anselm Kiefer, Sol Lewitt, Ed Ruscha, Cecilia Vicuña, and William Wegman. And those aren't all the eighty names.

Guillermo Gómez-Peña and Felicia Rice: DOC/UNDOC: Documentado/Undocumented: Ars Shamánica Performática, 2014. Gómez-Peña has been working to push boundaries and cross barriers in his performance work under the name Pocha Nostra for decades. In the early 1990s, he was the first Chicano/Mexican artist to receive a MacArthur Fellowship.

(Both are photos of this work: above, the props, and the colorful and lovely book, below, which has tons of tiny text.)

Longtime book artist and printer, Felicia Rice of Moving Parts Press will be featured in a new Craft in America.

Andrea Bowers: Sentimental Bitch, 2002. "Loose-leaf binders of sixty-eight Xerox prints of the periodical Bitch: The Women's Rock Newsletter with Bite." An activist who has worked with the Teamsters and the Standing Rock protests, Bowers and her work were also included in a 2017 NY Times article, "Protest Art in the Era of Trump."

Felipe Ehrenberg: Codex Aeroscriptus Ehrenbergensis: A Visual Score of Iconotropisms, 1990. Ehrenberg died in 2017; his obituary describes him as "the Conceptual artist who performed ephemeral actions to take art objects beyond the confines of the gallery space." He was a member of Fluxus, a group desiring to erase boundaries between life and art, employing everyday objects as art. At a residency at Nexus Press in Atlanta, Georgia, he created this book, "an anthology of his iconographic heritage of patterns." Nice double-sided accordion with a very L.A. feel on the back. According to the description in the Stanford Special Collections, the imagery is based on stencils he drew and hand cut, then reduced and photocopied. Each copy of the special edition contains a hand-sprayed image. There are still a few used copies out in the world for purchase.

Very funny Field Guide to North America and to Other Regions by William Wegman. Note the linguistic play: gull / guck / duck and frog / dog / log. 1993. You've undoubtedly seen his photographs and videos of his dog Man Ray, or the succeeding dog Fay Ray, and all the others ever after. This portfolio makes use of a variety of media: a photograph of an idyllic sunset, a checked blanket, several prints, and a photo of the idyllic sunset framed and hung on a tree. A crossover experience to make the viewer smile.

A stainless steel book, where the words dance off the pages, by Wei TianTo Be or Not to Be, 2015. To be a book or a sculpture, to be read or handled. Or not. According to a website, he is interested in opposites, in looking at both sides at once, and the idea of switching.

Hilarious (and a little kinky) shower curtain by Dave EggersA Monologue on a Shower Curtain; THE THING Quarterly, no. 16. 2011-2012. Although known primarily as a writer, Eggers was trained as a painter, and he exhibits widely. This is a fun object that combines a conceptual art piece with writing with an everyday object. Art and life merge.

In front: Lisa Anne Auerbach: American Megazine #2: The Age of Aquarius, 2014. The megazine you may have read about in the NY Times a few years ago: "So Print Is Dying? Don't Tell the Megazine." That's right: MEGAzine. The size of the coffee table itself, or rather, the dining room table. Art school always encourages its students to "make it bigger." In this case, bigger form equals larger presence.

On the wall: American Qur'an by Sandow Birk, 2005-2014. Birk's project is "to transcribe and illustrate all 114 chapters" and includes his contemporary urban illustrations. According to his website he is interested in social issues, and he has traveled widely, studied mural painting in Mexico, and won many grants and awards.

In the last room of the exhibition was a wonderful and extensive selection of works by Dieter Roth, including one of his infamous "literature sausages," which were shredded books he "can't stand or from authors I want to annoy" mixed with gelatin or lard and spices and stuffed in a sausage skin (1961-1970). All of these bookworks may be seen as photographs in a book, and that is primarily where I have seen them: Dieter Roth Books + Multiples: Catalogue Raisonne. Roth, born in Germany, but lived in Switzerland, Iceland, and the United States, worked in all media, from jewelry to designing posters, books, sculptures made of chocolate and birdseed, printmaker, filmmaker, musical composer, and more. He died in 1998.

You might notice that these books and their artists are interested in pushing, crossing, merging, blurring borders and boundaries with their works. There's another example of that "creative space," mentioned in the introductory wall text. 

I can think of two more perfect examples off the top of my head that could easily fit here (but are not in the exhibition or in the Getty special collections, so I'll just add them in!). Julie Chen's A Guide to Higher Learning (among others) is one that has "rigid pages" that are thick walls which open and unfold into a complex object as you "learn" the content, and Charles Hobson's Fresnel's Tower is another; the nested cylindrical forms can stack to become a lighthouse. According to Hobson's website, Augustin Fresnel "overcame learning disabilities to develop the complex lens for lighthouses." Okay, three books. Chen's Listening, is in the library's collection, and it would also make sense here, as the thick pages of the flag book can wiggle and clack to make sounds, and the book ties together with a ribbon to make a headress/hat. Book or hat? Silent or noisy?

With thousands of artist books in their collection, it is a wonder that The Getty Research Library was able to choose only eighty artists! But it was well done and with humor throughout, with just enough work so the viewer could understand the overview and be able to remember the works, and it was presented clearly, with space devoted to each. I haven't bought my catalogue of Artists and Their Books / Books and Their Artists yet, but I'm definitely tempted. The exhibition continues for another week, through October 31, 2018. I don't always exit a book show energized, but this time I did.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

You Can Build a Bridge If You Can See the Other Side: New Quilt

Last January, when I was working on the quilt, What Are We Becoming? a few scraps of hand-dyed cotton fell into place on my work table and spoke to me. They whispered that they wanted to be something, perhaps a pillow, perhaps a quilt. They neglected, however, to tell me what subject they were touting. 

I humored them for a few days. And added more scraps the beginning of February.

I played with them.

And finally used Heat 'N Bond to stick them down. I pinned the top to a backing with batting in between. I  hung up the quilt-to-be in the studio, still puzzling about it. Minimalistic. No printing or words. Yet.

Would I hand sew it? Embroider it? I had thought of using stencils of people's shadows, but I saw the boxes were too small for that. After I finished the Crows and Cons quilt in July, I turned back to the mystery quilt in August and machine stitched the box edges.

I sewed on the binding. And I began focusing and turning over ideas. Boxes. Being outside the boxes. Not being a checkbox. Thinking about not fitting a prescribed role or idea. But most of these were rectangles. Bridges? I turned to drawing and writing in my journal. This tussle we have with communication is always on my mind.


The ideas were circular: "not what are you but where are you not what are you" and "you can build a bridge if you can see the other side you can build a bridge." I added embroidered xs, then the silver threads connecting the rectangles, then the circular embroidery in yellow.

September went by. Once the Where Is My Home When My Home Turns Against Me?  jacket was finished, the slates were cleared. I finished the embroidery today, October 23, 2018, nine months after conception.

Sashiko thread was nice and thick for the cursive embroidery. I like the hand-dyed, gradated color.

This quilt was an interim project, to be worked on when things were quiet, and with no deadlines. Once again, some for better and some for worse, I learned about materials, sewing craft, and color contrasts. And lastly, I was pleased to use up more scraps. The freedom to choose everything, including the timeline, made it a little more challenging to focus. But here it is, finally finished.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Form and New Work: Where Is My Home When My Home Turns Against Me?

The creative process can be frustrating, mysterious, and joyful. Part of the process for me is answering the questions, "What do I want to say?" and "What do I want to make?" Once those are decided, the larger work begins. This past year I've been making work specifically to submit for consideration to themed shows, so at least I've had a starting point: a subject. But from what angle? And which form will it take? What stirs me up so much I have to express it? So many questions must be investigated.

The theme was "Forced to Flee," in the most general sense, a look at immigration. I began with some solar prints of a photograph I had taken of people walking and standing around: the feet. I had other photos of things left at the curb, lamps and books, so I made prints from those as well. My goal was to make a kind of checkerboard with positive and negative images and in two different colors and to make all the corners line up, a technical challenge as well.  I did that, for the most part, and then was stuck; the little patchwork was pretty small. Luckily, I started this project months in advance. All the printed cloth went into a bag, and I put it away. For the moment. To incubate.

I re-read the call for entries. I thought maybe I would do a map of the world, stitched lines connecting and crossing, but the idea sat limp with me. Then our world changed again when it became clear that immigrant children were being separated from their parents at the U.S. borders. Immigration policies and realities were even more in the forefront. And that seemed so important, but also so fraught.

Eventually, I found it was the form that wasn't working. I wanted to put a face on the individual, what it feels like, and how it connects to those who are physically safe in their own houses, or to those not safe in homes for psychological or emotional reasons. And then there were the fires in northern California. So much displacement for so many different reasons. A garment seemed a better fit. A jacket or coat. With pockets. Imagining running out the door and stuffing things inside. A garment to cover a person, to house a person, to serve as a shelter, perhaps. And as a metaphor.

In the 1990s, I had made a couple of Japanese-style hanten jackets from a book I no longer own, Make Your Own Japanese Clothes: Patterns and Ideas for Modern Wear. I still had the jacket I made for myself, so I pulled it out and studied it.

photo by V

It was tricky to copy. But I remembered that it used cloth efficiently, in rectangles, even the special triangular-looking sleeves, so I decided to go ahead with it. I thought about scraps and things left behind, collected and discarded, and I printed wood type on the cloth I had eco-dyed (a post about the method here) and used those pieces. I also created some new scrap collages with my scrap colors (a post about the technique here).

It needed some stitching. My slow brain couldn't remember a word and looked it up as I visualized it: "marking time with lines of bundled sticks." Tally marks! Of course. How we count, how we began to count long ago when fingers and toes weren't enough. Groups of fives. I stitched those with the eco-dyed linen thread on the lighter side of the front panel, then added the natural color for variation. I like the look of marks and irregular lines to show the hand, that a person was here.

And in a graphite gray on the darker side of the front panel. 

A long, slow hand-sew on the collar.

In this case, the form was all important to firing up the creative process. It just didn't want to be a rectangle.

The back panels are printed: "Other / Mother / Brother / Another." I also wanted it to embody human dignity. Inside, there are pockets, and the inner bottom panels say: "I ask / I do not beg."

Any of us could be in this position, as Other, as traveler against our will, a stranger. And even if we weren't, then perhaps we could step into another's clothes and understand what it means to ask,
"Where Is My Home When My Home Turns Against Me?"
That's what stirs me up.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

A Year of Fees: Are Art Entry Fees Worth It?

I've always been against entry fees on principle and for most of the thirty-plus years I've been a practicing artist and writer, I have stayed away from shows and submissions that have fees. I wrote about fees before in this 2014 post and came to this understanding in this 2017 post. This year I tried an experiment; I entered every show that sounded interesting whether it had a fee or not. Today marks one year since I began the quest. Here is the analysis.

Was I successful? I have to ask myself what success means to me. I need to be honest about this evaluation because it turns out (if I got the math right) I spent $624.00 on fees and memberships. Looking back:
  • What did I hope to achieve from these unrestricted submissions?
  • Did I achieve my goals?
  • Will I continue in this mode?
Each question branches into more question-twigs. Good questions, I think, for any artist to contemplate; the answers propel the next steps. In fiction, the question is: what does the character want? Here: what did I want to achieve?
  1. To get work out of my studio and make way to create more.
  2. To show new work.
  3. To sell work.
  4. To gain opportunities I wouldn't have if I didn't pay an entry fee.
  5. To see where my new work fit in a new environment/community.
How did the story go? Did I achieve my goals? 

1. To get work out of my studio and make way to create more.
The quilts piled up. The only thing that didn't take up physical space was my writing, which I did not pay to submit, and I did get several things published this year (see this list). So, the answer here is: not really.

1a. Did I create more? which leads to: Did I learn anything new?
Because I created new work for each themed show, particularly for the SAQA shows, I stretched and learned new techniques and processes. Answer: I created a ton of work and learned a ton.

2. To show new work.
I got to show my favorite Osprey quilt, "Sweet Osprey Dreams" to the Osprey Live Chat peeps who live in the area. So that was a plus. There was no fee since I was a member of California Society of Printmakers (or you could call it the membership fee: 50.00). 

I was also excited to have my "Hand Gun" quilt accepted by SAQA for the Guns: Loaded Conversations exhibit debuting at the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles and traveling to the New England Quilt Museum. Those felt the most important to me. So the answer here is: satisfactory. But if you look at how many submissions and fees I paid to SAQA, the answer is less clear; I paid 239.00 to SAQA for fees and membership, total.

3. To sell work.
I sold nothing through the exhibitions. (In comparison, I did okay on Etsy.) I only sold work at Roadworks, where I got a booth in exchange for carving the linoleum for the big three-foot print, and that was the best experience I had all year, both monetarily and emotionally. But for the purposes of this experiment, the answer is: no.

4. To gain opportunities I wouldn't have if I didn't pay an entry fee.
Again, SAQA wins for me with the gun quilt. I also was accepted into a SAQA regional show where I got to show my felted books (scroll down when you go to the link) as 3D quilts. I also started learning about other annual shows that do not require any fees. The answer here: yes, but proportionally small in comparison to what I paid overall.

5. To see where my new work fit in a new environment/community.
I learned that my felted books gain a better reception within the fiber arts community. I learned that my quilts, unlike most quilts I've seen, are not heavily based on craft, but more on art, concepts, text, and materials (no surprise). I guess this is why I still think of them as books. I found that printmaking on fabric and sewn into quilts might show better in a printmaking environment. Answer: gained good knowledge.

Will I continue in this mode?

I've re-upped my memberships with SAQA and California Society of Printmakers. I'll give SAQA another year, partly because I'm working on a project I hope to have ready to submit by the end of the month, and I'm excited about it. I'll probably stick with CSP and just submit to the free shows, of which there were many opportunities this year. And I had a lucky break with the gun quilt, which was worth the SAQA admission and membership. 

The results are mixed and complex. Juried shows are subjective, as I know when I wear my editor hat. I bought a few tickets but didn't exactly win the art lottery. But I did learn a tremendous amount about sewing and the craft of quiltmaking, so if I were to categorize the fees as Education, it was absolutely worth it. The other aspects are debatable. This is anecdotal, so it's hard to know if this is typical or not. It's one artist's data point. 

Conclusion: It doesn't seem sustainable over time, but I'm glad I was able to try it, once. I think it was the right time on my art path to do it.

Related: I entered a proposal and won the 2018 Anolic Family Jewish Book Award. That was free to enter and is a generous grant for a 2018-2019 project. 


10.3.17. 1 quilt submitted and accepted for exhibit. SAQA membership. 40.00.
10.17.17. image submitted and declined for journal. SAQA membership. 0.
11.16.17. 3 quilts submitted and declined for exhibit. no membership. 35.00
1.5.18. 3 quilts submitted and declined for exhibit. SAQA membership required. 40.00
1.7.18. 3 felted books submitted and 2 accepted for exhibit. SAQA membership. 9.00
1.25.18. 10 quilts + books submitted and declined for exhibit. CSP membership. 35.00
2.13.18. 2 quilts submitted and declined for exhibit. SAQA membership. 40.00
2.27.18. 1 book submitted and accepted for exhibit. no membership. 40.00 (upon acceptance)
3.13.18. 1 image submitted and declined for journal. SAQA membership. 0.
4.5.18. 2 books submitted and declined for exhibit. RAC membership-discount. 35.00
5.18.18. 1 quilt submitted and accepted for exhibit. CSP membership. 0.
5.27.18. 2 quilts submitted and declined for exhibit. SAQA membership. 40.00
5.25.18. 1 quilt submitted and accepted for exhibit. RAC membership. 0.
6.11.18. 1 quilt submitted and declined for exhibit. CSP membership. 15.00
7.1.18. 3 quilts + 1 felted work declined for exhibit. RAC membership-discount. 45.00
7.17.18. 1 print submitted and accepted for exhibit. CSP membership. 0.
[9.24.18. 5 quilts submitted. JURIED, pending. CSP membership. 0.]
[SAQA Journal, Volume 28, No. 3: photo of my accepted quilt from 10.3.17 appeared.]

Total Entry Fees Paid: 374.00
Number of Entries (not counting those in brackets): 16
Number of Artworks Entered: 41
Number of Accepted Artworks: 7
Total Acceptances: 6
With Entry Fee Acceptances: 2
Pay after Acceptance: 1
Member Acceptances: 3

I joined the following organizations that are related to this tally:
Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA) 70.00
Richmond Art Center (RAC) 80.00
Berkeley Art Center (BAC) 50.00 [this members' show is upcoming, I missed it last year]
and re-upped my juried membership to California Society of Printmakers (CSP) 50.00
Memberships: 250.00

Total to SAQA (including fees): 239.00 (7 entries, 2 acceptances)
Theoretically the acceptances cost 119.50 each BUT the venues are excellent: San Jose Quilt and Textiles Museum in 2018 and New England Quilt Museum in 2019.

Total to CSP (including fees): 100.00 (4 entries, 2 acceptances)
These acceptances were for members' shows with no fees. So, theoretically they cost 50.00 each. Bridge ArtSpace in Richmond, CA; Piedmont Art Center in Piedmont, CA. I had entered another but declined to pay for shipping it back so withdrew it.

Total to RAC (including fees): 160.00 (3 entries, 1 acceptance)
Members' show. Theoretically, this members' show cost me 160.00

Total to BAC: 50.00 (remains to be seen)

Other fees (non-member, random): 75.00

Total 2017-2018 Costs: 624.00