One thing I’ve learned about the ‘book art’ community at large is that there’s a lot of discussion about what IS and IS NOT book art.
Considerable politics and ghettoizing of territory.
Case in point: I was informed, rather haughtily, by an authority on Book Art in the U.S., that my work “does not fit within acceptable parameters.” These parameters include:
• the work must be an edition (e.g. more than one)
• the work must be readable
In response, I created "So Pleased To Be A Sea Anemone," a rhymed, illustrated, tongue-in-cheek childrens' book for adults (described by a friend as "very Rosalind Russell"), with original text, a handcrafted, three-dimensional cover and brass hinges. To my astonishment, the edition of four sold out at $300 a piece. While it was a lot of fun, it wasn't nearly as challenging (or unique) as my book sculptures.
I never bothered to inform "the authority" of its existence.
In a related incident, my work was attacked for a good five or ten minutes in the midst of a presentation I was giving to the Book Arts Council of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, an affiliate of the prestigious Aschenbach Foundation. A young woman (whose grandparents happen to have been "design royalty") interrupted me mid-sentence to accuse me of "destroying” books. How could I justify that? she demanded. The fact that I only ‘manipulate’ books that have no intrinsic value, that hundreds of books are "mulched" each year by publishers, that I was in fact rescuing/recycling/giving a second life to these volumes, all seemed lost on her.
(As a writer and editor, I've contributed to the creation of dozens of books. When I began making these pieces, in 2004, I did so with hesitation and not a little guilt.)
Gallery and museum curators have called my work “problematic” because it doesn’t fit neatly into a category -- it’s not fine art and it’s not craft.
My point is: If you try to break new ground, take risks, stretch boundaries, you’re bound to run into resistance. Discouragement. Disparagement. If your work has “legs,” even more so. The entrenched don’t appreciate upstart crows.
On the flip side, several professional librarians have described the pieces as “extremely reverential.” My two solo shows were mounted by a rare book dealer with an international reputation.
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My pieces incorporate a lot of woodwork. Supplementary materials have included feathers, mink, satin, vintage erasers, radio vacuum tubes, copper sheeting, deer antlers, leather, maps, car parts, a 1910 apiary bellows, U.S. currency and brocade shoes. Among other things. A few pieces have embedded music mechanisms. One rather 18th century-looking piece glows in the dark AND spins 360* in either direction.
Okay, okay, but just what is it I think I’m doing?
There’s a tension created by taking an object designed for a very specific purpose (reading) and using it for an entirely different one; by using something flat, linear and abstract (dark lines on pages) to create something three-dimensional. If I’ve done my work well, that tension can harbor mystery, even wit. It can seduce.
Causes Barbara Szerlip Supports