Monday, March 28, 2011

Paper, Scissors, Rockin' Art: The Book as Metaphor and Medium

I've had a tab open to Brian Dettmer's website open for an embarassingly long period of time. I just can't bring myself to, um, bad pun, close the book on it.

I've been intrigued with the concept of a book as alternate medium for a long time - thus, I find myself incredibly attracted to the use of a book as a vessel, metaphor, art form, etc. I think some of this fascination truly came to a point of import with the advent of digital readers. The seemingly unchanging, ever present format of a book - in it's physical form - was suddenly, strikingly altered and threatened with extinction.

This is no small matter in the history of humanity; The invention of the printing press (thank you Gutenberg) could be considered the spark for the entire way of life as we know it. Printing enabled faster communication, the spread of ideas, leading to revolutions - scientific and religious - that have informed our entire current systems of education, market economy, business and so forth. I won't bore you with things you already know or can surmise - this is just to say, a book is a serious matter...even those trashy novels (as much as it pains me to say). If you are interested in the implications of the printing press there are some excellent resources, in book format, of course.

Brain Dettmer's pieces are always thought provoking. I find myself ruminating on another thought each time I pause on his work: how is a book altered by it's presentation/cover/posture, the implications of physically placing the human image into pages, the concept that to see the depth of a book you have to remove all the linguistic depth - the outright statements that provide knowledge related depth, and so forth. Needless to say, I'm impressed.

Alternately, but related, I've also had a tab opened to a  page for Jonathan Safran Foer's newest book, Tree of Codes. I might have mentioned it before but indulge me - Jonathan Safran Foer is probably my favorite author. Ever. Which, I think, is saying something. But I to tend value my own opinion - I'm humble that way. 

Well, never failing to beat any expectations I might have, good 'ol JSF knocked out another doozy...but he didn't write it at all...well, not exactly. He interpreted it, you could say. Here's the reactions it gets:

Why? Because he took his favorite book and then excavated it, removing language, changing orders of words, manipulating the pages, context, and physical structure to form an entirely new story. 

From the Visual Editions site (go peek through the pictures to see how it all works together): 

Our early conversations with Jonathan Safran Foer about Tree of Codes started when Jonathan said he was curious to explore and experiment with the die-cut technique. With that as our mutual starting point, we spent many months of emails and phone calls, exploring the idea of the pages’ physical relationship to one another and how this could somehow be developed to work with a meaningful narrative. This led to Jonathan deciding to use an existing piece of text and cut a new story out of it. Having considered working with various texts, Jonathan decided to cut into and out of what he calls his “favourite book”: The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz.

And here's a peek at the Making Of:

I can't wait to get my hands on this book! I can't even begin to wrap my brain around how long, and how much work this too - the die maker alone must have worked, tirelessly for ages. It is truly, a work of art - and such an interestingly masterful manipulation of the medium, yet entirely accessible to the public at large. Pretty darn know, in my opinion.

Be sure to check our other Visual Editions books as well - they have more visual writing books in the works and a great Flickr pool collection of visual writing (you probably already know Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer as an example - if not you should check it out for the visual style as much as the story).


Katie said...

I love love LOVE this post. I've been justifying my book-hoarding by repurposing old hardcovers into sketchbooks. I always feel so blasphemous when I take them apart, like I need to whisper an apology to the book's soul before I give it a second life.

Tricia said...

I love your sketchbooks Katie! I know, I would feel completely sacrilegious doing the same. When we made my nephews book safes I ended up buying books that were so historically incorrect they were better off destroyed :)

k said...

ok, 1. i love the idea of books on walls. i've been meaning to find covers of my faves, but I should just put the actual book up there??? and i can't imagine how long it must take to rework a book like that. mind blown.

Brandi said...

My brain has so much to process. I recently stumbled across Brian's work too and was wildly fascinated by it. I don't know if I could do that with a book, though the statement one can make is amazing.