Bookwork: Medium to Object to Concept to Art
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“There they rest, inert, impertinent, in gallery space—those book forms either imitated or mutilated, replicas of reading matter or its vestiges. Strange, after its long and robust career, for the book to take early retirement in a museum, not as rare manuscript but as functionless sculpture. Readymade or constructed, such book shapes are canceled as text when deposited as gallery objects, shut off from their normal reading when not, in some yet more drastic way, dismembered or reassembled.” So begins Bookwork, which follows our passion for books to its logical extreme in artists who employ found or simulated books as a sculptural medium. Investigating the conceptual labor behind this proliferating international art practice, Garrett Stewart looks at hundreds of book-like objects, alone or as part of gallery installations, in this original account of works that force attention upon a book’s material identity and cultural resonance.
Less an inquiry into the artist’s book than an exploration of the book form’s contemporary objecthood, Stewart’s interdisciplinary approach traces the lineage of these aggressive artifacts from the 1919 Unhappy Readymade of Marcel Duchamp down to the current crisis of paper-based media in the digital era. Bookwork surveys and illustrates a stunning variety of appropriated and fabricated books alike, ranging from hacksawed discards to the giant lead folios of Anselm Kiefer. The unreadable books Stewart engages with in this timely study are found, again and again, to generate graphic metaphors for the textual experience they preclude, becoming in this sense legible after all.
exhibit mediately on the difference between books to a text-based mirror work called Tych/dip in their linguistic versus physical proper- Palindrome: a pair of hinged boards at the ties. Untitled (after Foucault’s Les Mots et scale of a normal hardback book covered on les choses: Une archéologie des sciences hu- their inner faces with thin mirrors and held maines) offers, behind glass, in a simulated ajar at forty-five degrees for viewing. The in- cross section of an archaeological
they are pictures. As paintings of books of its intended meaning in transmission. All of photographed paintings, however, they art requires a mediating form. The active art replay an initial demediation whereby the of demediation, always to some degree con- original canvases of the Masters are trans- ceptualist in this regard, is, as we’ve seen, to ferred to photo-print in plates and jacket il- peel back a layer or two of this inevitability lustrations. They do so by returning these to
environs, and fierce variety, as extreme X-ray of his own painting (2009), museum objets—all in a further clarification which bores beneath pigment itself to reveal of demediation’s deep inter-art gesture. only the stretchers of the canvas, its screws, With seas between in nationality staples, and hangers, all sharply delineated and technique, how does one think to- when displayed in the museum variant of a gether, think into relation, Rakuzin’s art- pathologist’s lightbox (fig. 3.6).
e d i at e d means | 123 exchange. We do so for a further look, in arrays the horizontal strips, slightly out of particular, at those synecdoches of reading alignment at their left and right margins, so time, its duration per se, that can, strangely that they expand the resulting image verti- enough, achieve demediated spatial form in cally into what is revealed, only up-close, as the plastic art of the bibliobjet. Once remove a striated layering of multiples, here from the time
held book Book sculpture? The very idea needs some from the painted scene of reading, and then added deliberation. For to call the objectified to substitute for it (in three-dimensional museum book, whether real or replicated, a space) its material equivalent, and further sculptural object—as we have done intermit- to rest this object upon a plinth or shelf in a tently throughout—approaches, perhaps, to gallery space, preventing it there from being the most thoroughgoing challenge