Adaptation: a Book Art Show at UC Berkeley Environmental Design Library

I like UC Berkeley's Environmental Design Library. It feels modern and airy, with big windows, art, and prominent glass showcases, so I was happy to return with a friend to see a book art show there, curated by Julie Chen. The show, called Adaptation, has been there since March and closes on May 15, 2022, featuring 24 artists, showing current work with a wide range of responses to the theme. If you live or visit the area, it is worth taking a look. The library is open every day. When we got there the library was crowded with students studying for finals, but there is still plenty of space for one's own thoughts, and of course it is quiet.

Overall, the works are thoughtful, well-crafted, conceptually interesting, and moving. I think the last few years have been a profoundly grounding experience and a time to figure out what is meaningful, and it shows in the works. I recognized many of the names, but several I had not heard of. Here are the ones that caught my attention particularly, and why. There is an exhibition catalogue, and through an online search I saw that someone had made a video of the show, so plenty to see elsewhere.

A large, layered and lush 2022 book by Clifton Meador called Dead Life (maybe as opposed to Still Life?) The colors are vibrant, the page has movement and depth, and I love the sea creatures and plant life. The descriptive text is about the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, high-quality scans, the Dutch East India Company, and both the benefits and the struggles provided by capitalism. While it does not say this explicitly in the show, he writes on the website that the imagery and/or colors is "extracted" from images of selected paintings and recombined to make entirely new pictures. This transformation is brilliant: integrating the images in a personal way. The pages are made of cotton twill with dye sublimation printing. It is two feet square, open.

This is called Home and Back / Entrehogares made in 2021 by Eleonora Gómez Bas. (Her name is misspelled on the description.) She was born in Buenos Aires, according to her website, but has moved several times. The book contains a poem in English and Spanish about adapting to living in Venezuela and New York City and themes of attachment and separation. I was interested in how the accordion with signatures structure worked as separate chapters or moments, perhaps, of her life. The text explains that the entire book opens to a nine and a half feet long single image. I like how a folio sits up on the mountains.

Clarissa Sligh has been making powerful books about her life and identity for many decades. My Mother, Walt Whitman and me was made in 2019, the explanatory text says it was created for the 200th anniversary of Whitman's birthday and that Whitman, although a racist, had written some words that resonated with Sligh, that she could relate to. The book page adds that her mother had once found a copy of Leaves of Grass in a trash can and picked it up, even though she did not read poetry. The formal quality and craft of the work joined with deeply moving personal stories that connect universally as well is what attracts me to Sligh's books.

The quilt-like sewn paper collages and the sewn container caught my attention immediately. This is another book about home and migration, this time by Sandra C. Fernandez called Yo Soy de Aquí Soy de Allá (I Am from Here and from There). She eventually makes peace with being from two places, "a bridge is created over the abyss" as it says in the description. Sewn together, the pieces, each exploring an aspect of her life. Details:

And a lovely paper quilty piece that was made together with a book by Steph Rue, both called, Cloud Study, made in 2019:

Rue makes Korean bojagi (wrapping cloth) as small paper quilts, each hand sewn from handmade paper. The subject is end times and separation anxiety. The descriptive text says she made the work as part of a residency at Kala when she was pregnant with her second child, the title based on the writing of a Christian mystic.

On the right there is text sandwiched inside the dark middle square: We will be / together / forever.
I find this so beautiful and delicate.

Another well-crafted and beautiful book is Pilina Everlasting, made in 2022 by Allison Leialoha Milham. There is an artist book, a fine press book with an essay by her mother, a record, and a sample from the record that plays. With this work, an offshoot of a residency at Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park just after her mother died, she explores grief, healing, the land, and her ancestors. "Pilina," the text tells us, means "connection, relationship."

(text written on inside papers of the box)

Those were a few of the books that captured my attention. I also read Shu-Ju Wang's 2021 book, Castor and Sapient, about beavers and found the writing both personal, universal, and engaging; it includes natural history, cultural history, and the history of her garden and land where she lives, especially in relation to water.

A thoughtful exhibition in an excellent venue. Congrats to all!

Through May 15, 2022 at UC Berkeley Environmental Design Library, 2nd floor. Open daily.