Alumni Bookworks, 1991 to 2008 by Various Artists
(The Columbia College Chicago Book and Paper Center Gallery, March 2009
The Columbia College Chicago Book and Paper Center Gallery is an out of the way little gallery hidden on the second floor of 1104 S. Wabash. Dedicated to exhibiting all incarnations of artist books and book arts media, the gallery acts as a good introduction to an underappreciated and often ignored field. This juried show lies in the depths of the Inner Gallery and addresses the wide reaching forms artist books can take. About Time uses work created by alumni and graduates of the Columbia College Book and Paper program to showcase ‘artist books’ as media. The exhibit successfully surveys activity within the book arts field while showing the diversity and variety of the art created within that realm.
Pamela Paulsrud’s ‘Touch Stones’ stands out as the only ‘altered book’ piece in the show. She has taken old hardback books and sanded down their edges to smoothly shape the books into stone-like forms. Eight of these altered books are displayed atop a pedestal along with many actual stones of similar size and shape. Their intermingling emphasizes the similarities between the two and invites the viewer to investigate further through touch. The altered books, once handled, clearly become separate from the stones as one explores their colored covers, their pages and the words on the page. The content of each book is subjugated to its form. The title, “Touch Stone,” along with and the open display encourages the viewer to interact with the piece. This is certainly the most approachable work in the gallery.
Around the corner lies Rose Camestro-Pritchett’s delicate book made from handmade paper. The soft cover and soft pages lend themselves to the softness of creams, peaches and pinks on the pages. It too, is displayed without a case, encouraging the viewer to flip through the easy to handle pages. There are few words, though turning each page reveals a deliberate journey through images from start to finish. The heaviness of delicate beadwork applied to the paper points back to the delicacy of each sheet. As each page turns, the viewer sees the thread holding each bead in place on the reverse side. Rose Camestro-Pritchett has clearly considered and utilized every surface available.
Suzan H. Mahal’s portrait, “Long Neck Karen,” hangs on an adjacent wall directly referencing Camestro-Pritchett’s book. Tiny, colorful beads, similar to those in the book, adorn the woman’s neck in the portrait. Sitting on a wall, behind glass the piece becomes less accessible, however beautifully crafted. The viewer cannot touch or handle the work or see the reverse side and is reminded of the flatness of the piece.
Moving through the space, Jen Thomas’s work offers a noteworthy series of flat, framed works. Her five pastel images clearly run in sequence from one to the next. Their identical proportions and similar stitching create continuity from one piece to the next. The first work shows a bunny drawn softly in red with a light script reading “unfulfilled.” The second has an orange colored pelvic bone with the word: “spinster.” The third shows a brown tree with the word “unnatural.” The fourth reads “old maid” with a red uterus and the last reads “selfish” with a sperm, egg and mouse. Although each of these can stand alone as a work itself, their placement in the series makes the piece decidedly narrative. The similar use of stitching, text and imagery suggest the history and traditions of book arts as a medium.
The largest, most dynamic and compelling work sits near the end of the chronology of the exhibition. Liz Wolf’s “Humble Pie” is a large 4′ x 8′ accordion book structure made of wood jutting off the wall at eye level. The painted narrative uses a traditional book structure with non-traditional medium and unusual methods of display. The large wooden panels, too cumbersome for a viewer to handle, are mounted on the wall for proper reading. The colorful, protruding and practically sculptural work catches the eye and invites further investigation. The piece successfully bridges the gap between book and art.
Finally, Joseph Lappie’s piece, “There is Always More Than One” features four, life-sized images of people cut from flat wood. Their silhouettes stand 18″ away from the wall creating a sculptural dimensionality as objects. On the wall behind them lay another set of wooden, cutout silhouettes that mimic shadows. Two of the four ‘shadows’ are black and shaped like animals while the other two have text running down their length to the floor. On closer inspection the text in the shadows tells the stories of the life-size, wooden people. The pieces, beautifully poetic and striking, offer yet another version of what an artist book can be.
Overall the curators of “About Time” create a compelling look into the world of artist books through the work of Columbia College graduates. The diversity of work and variety of presentations accurately reflect contemporary bookwork being created today. From interactive work, to books under cases, to sculptural books and even work on the wall, the quality and craftsmanship and conception of each piece shines as a testament to a thriving medium.
Reviewed by Shayna Cohen