For the last 6 months, I’ve been part of a project to investigate the potential of “new” technologies to document artist books. True, documentation of books is no new thing, however, when an integral part of the design and intention of a book is to think outside of the binding square – and often also to subvert traditional methodologies – the usual documentation method of photographing pages often misses the point. Add to this the importance of sculptural and interactive experiences, and a photograph doesn’t even come close.
This is particularly true for a series of books we’ve been looking at in the Preservation Unit. Two of them are by the fantastic artist Julie Chen (Flying Fish Press): A Guide to Higher Learning, and Full Circle; present very different structures to the conventional book.
The third is by Ron King (Circle Press), called Anansi Company. This book is more conventional in the sense that it is made up of folded sheets with pages to turn. Within these pages, however, is a rod-puppet, corresponding to the text and made to be removed and operated.
The distinctive design of all of these books, and the attention to detail has been great to work with up close. The challenge of thinking through the interactive intention for these books, and how we can replicate that experience in digital form has been stimulating and incredibly hard. If anything, it highlights the delight that a physical book can produce and the conceptual boundaries it can explore.
There’s a common opinion, expectation, and even fear that ebooks are rendering the physical book obsolete: I’ve had it said to me that conservation and archiving is pointless – everything is on Google! However, I believe that as long as we interact with physical objects in the world, there is a place for physical books and artist books really bring to the fore the presence and interaction that the digital format is nowhere near catching up on.