Thursday, November 29, 2018

Incunabulum Deconstructo!

An incunable, or sometimes incunabulum, is a book, pamphlet, or broadside printed in Europe before the year 1501. As of 2014, there are about 30,000 distinct known incunable editions extant. 

Extantadjective (especially of a document) still in existence; surviving.

Deconstruction is a method of critical analysis of philosophical and literary language that emphasizes the internal workings of language and conceptual systems, the relational quality of meaning, and the assumptions implicit in forms of expression.

Consider the above a bracket to bend around the following notion: What is the stingiest structure that can be called a book? What is the most basic element that defines bookness? If you picked up a physical object, where is the line between, "I am holding printed pages," and "I am holding a book."? 

It is the kind of question that could only come up in graduate school for artists' books. But it is exactly the kind of purely theoretical question that I find compelling. 

One page

So here is what I learned: In book design, the basic unit is not the page. The basic unit is the spread. Spread refers to the pages of a book laid open with both the left and right page showing across a gutter. So a book must have a spread and a gutter. 

Page spread with unfolded gutter

What else? Well books must have a page turn. The primary action that defines book reading is opening the book and revealing a spread. That means a book must have a cover where the book begins, a page turn, a spread reveal, a second page turn to close the book, and a back cover. That is the minimum structure that can be called a book.  

The examples you find here are worth a read. They are the result of a collaboration with Joseph Lappie. The premise: I would put words in his mouth, making him seem like the worst kind of egotistical young artist who believes the things he makes are hugely important and that his career is meteoric. In return, Joseph would put words in my mouth as if I were an older, established artist trying to give unwanted advice about how to make it long term in the arts. We would each make three deconstructed books poking fun at one another, but more broadly at cliche attitudes abundant in the academic graduate school experience. 

The problem of display: If you make books intended to be read in an intimate, one to one reader/book experience, then there is always a challenge when asked to display your work in a gallery setting. Do you set books out under glass, make them available only to be handled with white gloves, as a video projection of all the spreads, converted into an installation of some kind? At what point are you no longer displaying the original book but instead displaying something inspired by the book? One of the things that drew me to this project was that the beauty of the deconstructed book is that the open spread can be display like a horizontal broadside, and it behaves similarly to a one to one reading. 

back cover

Incanabulum Deconstructo!

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