Wednesday, April 26, 2006

 

The Stand

Unless there has been a lot of careful planning and coordination, by the time that the artist(s) have finished the process of altering a book, there is no force in the known universe that would get the book to close normally. Part of the preparation process, before you ever break out the art supplies to begin the creative part of altering, is cutting or tearing pages from the book to relieve the stress on the spine. Even with this preparation, the altered book can never simply be closed and hidden away in a bookshelf.

An altered book is a very involved work of art. It is, in many ways, like a Cornell box. It should be investigated, explored, and experienced. As I worked on the page spreads that I contributed to the whole, I enjoyed the fullness and feeling of promise that comes with an altered book whose pages now push at the restraints of their covers. There is a promise of beauty and discovery.

So, what do you do with an altered book once it's finished? You can't return it to the shelf where once it dwelled. It has taken on a new life. It has transcended it's previous limits and definitions.

Do we alter books out of an inherent disrespect? I cannot speak for all altered book artists. For myself, however, the book is a sacred object. It is a piece of the soul of a human being in a form that can be shared and accessed again and again over time by one or many future human beings. Some books, however sacred the abstract concept of "book" may be, will never be more than objects.

Law books, encyclopedias, reference books, etc all start their lives as utilitarian objects. Whether the original book was one of these, or a mass market novel, the books most often chosen by altered book artists are books which have lived their useful lives and are when we choose them, unwanted and unloved. We give them a new context. And in this case, we're also giving the book a stand so that it can live its new life displayed in a prominent place in its new home.

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