Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Rebound Review in the Charleston Post & Courier


Post and Courier logo

Adapting books | Wed. May. 29, 2013

Charleston Post & Courier

In a Brooklyn basement, blonde wood shelves stuffed with leather-bound tomes line the walls. Doug Beube, a mixed-media artist, has a home studio full of books, but his basement is not your typical library. In the center of the room lie Beube’s carpentry tools — a table saw, a dremel rotary tool, a belt sander. Beube motions to the books on the walls, “These,” he said, “are up next for the guillotine.”
A paper guillotine — a large paper cutter with a long, knife-like handle at one end — is a normal tool for those working with paper. Beube would know. He apprenticed with a professional book binder while getting his masters in photography in Rochester, N.Y. It’s an appropriately dramatic object for transforming a book into a work of sculptural art.

“Rebound: Dissections and Excavations in Book Art” opened May 23 at The Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, in conjunction with Spoleto Festival USA. Curated by Karen Ann Myers, “Rebound” features Beube’s work alongside other artists who use books as their raw material — Long-Bin Chen, Brian Dettmer, Guy Laramee and Francesca Pastine. “So there is a use for these old books that we keep throwing away,” said Jean Meyer, who manages the sorting room at the Charleston County Public Library. 

 At the show’s opening, she was looking at a piece by Dettmer made of 10 Collier’s New Encyclopedias and teasing her colleagues about the surplus of such outdated volumes. Part of her job is selling old books to help raise money for the library. Her reaction is the exactly what Dettmer hopes for. Initially, he felt guilty for cutting into books, but once he started sculpting with reference books — “the first to become extinct because of the Internet,” he said — he felt like he was doing a service for book preservation. Dettmer said his process was a little like reading, because he never knows what will come next as he carves through one page at a time. After he seals the books with varnish, he uses an Xacto knife and tweezers to carefully cut around illustrations and a few words he wants to keep inside the spine of the book. He said he wrestles with whether his creations are books or sculptures, “because a wooden table is no longer a tree, but it’s still wood.” Beube has his own adapter’s philosophy. He routinely tears into the guts of a book, cutting pages and arranging them into tracts and EKG-style waves. But there’s one book he would never alter: He describes the Gutenberg Bible, the first mass-produced book off the printing press, as an information technology milestone. “Why would I want to destroy the first computer?” he said, while noting that his other bookworks often function as collaborations with those authors. 

Francesca Pastine works with the glossy covers of ArtForum magazine, No. 11 Xacto blade in hand. She doesn’t consider herself a book artist, but rather a material artist. “I’m not a text kind of person,” Pastine said. “I’m totally dyslexic.” That explains why she sees her work largely as an unsolicited collaboration with the artists on ArtForum’s covers. Pastine likes to flip through the magazine to expose visual repetitions in a way that makes the magazine look like it’s melting one artist into another. 

 It’s ironic that the College of Charleston’s bookstore is visible across the street from the front steps of the Halsey. Just up the block is the Addelstone Library, where Chen has installed a Zen garden carved from books. Chen said Asian artists are known for landscapes and for adhering to tradition. He made an unorthodox move by choosing books as his medium 21 years ago, as a young artist fascinated by reading in Asia and America. “Books are on a bookshelf, and no one touches them,” he said. “They become seen as a waste of space.” Instead, Chen forces audiences to interact with books he has turned into stepping stones in Addelstone’s rotunda. Chen encourages people to walk on his book stones from one side of the library to the other. Laramee, whose bookwork accounts for about a third of his artistic production, has come to a shrewd conclusion about adaptation. “They are metaphors,” he said of his art. He has two pieces from his island series on display at the Halsey. Each one has rows of Encyclopedie Universalis — Laramee is French-Canadian — with the top gutters hacked off, except for one or two areas of vegetation rising from the sea of pages. He carved the islands out from the tops of these dusty old encyclopedias to draw out a feeling of isolation. “Metaphor is probably the main property of art anyway,” Laramee said. “Like if you come close to a painting, you see it’s only blobs of paint on a canvas. You know the whole time it’s not real, but you believe in it anyway and it creates a feeling in you.” 

Paige Cooperstein is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.

Copyright, 2013, The Post and Courier. All Rights Reserved.

REBOUND Review in Wall Street Journal

REBOUND Review in Charleston City Paper

Rebound's five artists give a second life to books

Monuments and Ruins


"Books are conversations, books are living material. That's why people value them and why they're so disturbed by their destruction. This understanding of the importance of the book is so remarkably ingrained in human psychology." —Karen Ann Myers

The Lowdown

Artists cut, carve, and tear apart books to make a powerful statement about the information age.

 Francesca Pastine's  ArtForum collection melts away - Provided  

Francesca Pastine's Artforum collection melts away

 Brian Dettmer puts a spin on picture books

Brian Dettmer puts a spin on picture books

Karen Ann Myers is expecting people to freak out at her Halsey curatorial debut. She's organized a show that challenges the most sacred possessions in human history, the Bibles and the Great Gatsbys and the Twilights of the world: books.
Some books can be written off as carriers of information, while others are simply beach-read trash. But many are actually objects of desire and value — that's why whenever Myers moves somewhere new, she packs and unpacks her two huge bookshelves, even if she has no problem throwing away plenty of other belongings.
"Books are really sacred," Myers says, which is why the works featured in Rebound: Dissections and Excavations in Book Art may be so jolting to its audience. "[Viewers] will not be able to see the work as an artwork. They are only going to be able to see mutilated text. But books are conversations, books are living material. That's why people value them and why they're so disturbed by their destruction. This understanding of the importance of the book is so remarkably ingrained in human psychology."
On its most basic level, book art is a long-standing medium (think of the artfully bound scrapbook, for example). But the works in Rebound push books beyond the limits as we know them, transforming them into something new. Essentially, this kind of art is giving books a second life.
When Myers first started putting together the show, she wanted to focus more on actual interventions with books. That generated a list of nearly 200 artists, all of whom were taking book art and turning it into something more. In the end, she wanted artists who used the book in a sculptural way, and she eventually settled on the five who are featured in Rebound. Using tools like scalpels, pliers, and tweezers, these artists are picking apart the pages of books layer by layer, exposing their architecture for a greater purpose. "They're all making a statement about our information age and the digital media's impact on that, and I would say that they're all interested in remixing preexisting works to create something new, transformed, and a sculptural work," Myers says.
Doug Beube, one of the participants and a forerunner in this kind of book art, doesn't even consider himself a book artist. "I don't think anybody in the exhibition considers themselves a 'book artist,'" he points out, "and the reason is because we're working from collage and sculpture."
While he kept journals throughout his life, Beube discovered book art as a grad student in 1979. At first, he wanted to learn how to bind, but soon he was more fascinated by the idea of pulling the book apart. Now he approaches the materials like another artist would a block of wood. "I began to work with individual pages and cut them so you could see through them, and then eventually I went from cutting singular modalities into working with power tools," he says. "It was like drawing on books, but I'm using a belt sander."
Technology and the internet also play a role in Beube's work. Early on, he tried to reference the systemic nature of the book, looking at it as a form of technology itself — one that had limits, unlike a computer or the internet. Still, he tries to apply quasi-ideas of cutting and pasting, hypertext, and hyperlinks to his analog books. "It doesn't work, because the book is still linear," he says, "but it's the attempt to do it."
Ultimately, for Beube, it's like going on an archeological dig, but he still strives to maintain the book's functionality. For many of his pieces, the viewer still has control over turning the pages, which gives the audience a different visual experience as they move the sheets back and forth. The viewer has to slow down, because the pages are now more fragile than before. "We're very quick with our computers and scanning and et cetera, so I'm playing a lot off that idea if you want to handle my books, you've got to turn the pages slowly," he says.
Although Beube's Halsey pieces will be much too delicate for interaction on the massive scale that a Spoleto exhibit can guarantee, the institute will create an animation to recreate the experience of page turning.
Beube is joined by Guy Laramée, who has a standing love affair with landscapes that he carves into the books. He shaves away at the material to create mountains, hillsides, and seascapes. Meanwhile, Brian Dettmer works frequently with antiquated books, like dictionaries and encyclopedias, transforming them with knives, tweezers, and other surgical equipment. "As he's going through the book page by page, he can't really control what's on the pages below, but he can control how he reacts to it," Myers says. "[It's] kind of like reading, how one would read a book — you can't really control what's on the next page." And nothing is ever added to or taken away from Dettmer's book.
Francesca Pastine uses copies of the arts and culture magazine Artforum to create her sculptural interventions. She cuts away at them, but always preserves some aspect of the cover, creating an unofficial collaboration with another artist. "When featured on the gallery walls, Artforum, which is an arts and culture publication commenting on the art world, becomes the subject of criticism and adoration instead of being the commenter," Myers says. "It's also a way for Francesca to insert herself into the art world conversation, which she may not be a part of otherwise."
Long-Bin Chen will serve as the artist-in-residence for the show. He carves Buddha heads from phonebooks that, at a distance, look almost like marble or stone. They're meant to represent the looted heads of ancient Asian figures that have been sold to Western museums and collectors. He calls them "caring Buddhas," since they end up containing hundreds and thousands of names in their heads.
While each artist will have roughly eight to 15 pieces in Rebound, the Halsey's curator of education Lizz Bizwell and local company Bibliolabs will create anthologies for each artist, immersing viewers in the artists' worlds. Bibliolabs is sponsoring the show, despite their focus on digital publishing. Still, their anthologies will let viewers see an in-depth version of their collections to help immerse them in the artists' worlds. Guests will have the chance to learn more about the participating artists by browsing previous works, watching videos, reading press clippings, and seeing photographs of studios.
"The thing that's great about this project with Bibliolabs is that it allows us to present the information in very high resolution," Myers says. "You could zoom in and get crazy details on each of the artist's works, which is something that's difficult to do in other ways."
Despite this addition of digital technology, Rebound is a celebration, an exploitation, a redefinition, and a resurrection of the book. The artists are honoring the book, but they're also forewarning viewers about the fine line between their role as monuments and their potential as ruins. Myers hopes that viewers realize that the artist interventions are making the books even more sacred, returning the books to a new life without destroying them.
"Artists often cause us to ask questions about things that we didn't know we needed answers to," Myers says. "This is a really exciting time for books, because books are kind of in a state of limbo, existing somewhere between life and death, certainly because of the age of technology and the digital media ... It might seem that books are under threat because of this, but it's more realistic that they're at a point of transition."

Related Events