Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Artists and the Future of Books

“A room without books is like a body without a soul.” ― Marcus Tullius Cicero
The Bookworm, 1850, by Carl Spitzweg

It will come as no surprise to anyone who reads this blog that I am a bibliophile. I've not yet reached the point of bibliomania, which Wikipedia defines as "an obsessive-compulsive disorder involving the collecting of books to the point where social relations or health are damaged, and in which the mere fact that an object is a book is sufficient for it to be collected or loved," but I'm not ruling it out for my old age. I love books, I live surrounded by them and never thought I would live to see the current changes in technology that have many referring to them as obsolete.

I personally don't believe books are becoming obsolete, but I do believe they're going through a transition. Freed from utilitarian bonds as conveyors of information, aesthetics are what will carry books into the future, and not just as relics of a bygone era. There will always be a place for beautiful books. Artists and other creative types, always sensitive to cultural change, are already repurposing books with stunning results.

I first came across the notion of altered artists' books a few years ago when I did a studio visit with Los Angeles artist Susan Sironi. I was totally captivated by what she was doing and continues to do with books. Using a subtractive process, she carefully cuts through books with a scalpel and transforms them into objects of wonder. 

Susan Sironi, untitled (Alice, foot), 2011, altered book


Susan Sironi, Hanging By A Thread, 2010, altered book, 12" x 18"

Perhaps the best known of the altered book artists is Brian Dettmer. In the following video Dettmer talks about the information revolution as well as his artistic process.

And then there's this video which has been making the rounds on social media this week. See what happens inside a bookstore at night when no one is watching.

Upcoming Events at Offramp Gallery

   January 8 - February 12, 2012
   Bianca Kolonusz-Partee: Countries of Origin
   Closing Reception: Sunday, February 12, 2-5pm

January 8 - February 12, 2012
Megan Madzoeff: Cut it Out!
Closing Reception: Sunday, February 12, 2-5pm

January 20, 2012
Offramp Gallery Director Jane Chafin will be participating in a panel discussion at the 17 Annual LA Art Show at the LA Convention Center on Friday, January 20 at 4pm: A MATTER OF DEGREES -- MFA, PhD in Art: Is it all BS?, sponsored by Artillery Magazine. Other panelists include: Betty Brown, Tucker Neel, Austin Young and Anuradha Vikram.


  1. Jane, your words and passion for artists' books stirred up my own bibliofanaticism. And the timing of your article is serendipitous because I'm reading Charles Harrison's two volume set Essays on Art & Language, and Conceptual Art and Painting - Further Essays on Art & Language. I'm sure you're familiar with these books that provide a lot of insight into artists books as art not literature. Plus, as with any biblionut, I received three books in the mail from Amazon this afternoon (using up my latest Visa card rewards points). One of the books is quite interesting and seems to be aligned with your writing - Liz Kotz's Words to Be Looked

  2. I too love books...but not because they are a good source of material that can be carved and sculpted. You might as well call yourself a bibliophile because you like how well books burn in the fireplace. Perhaps bookmaking can return to the age when they were written and drawn by hand and transformed into individual pieces of art that can be treasured for a lifetime. Perhaps people should be taking all the material they are creating on Facebook and print that material to paper and create personal books that can be given to someone. That may be all some people have to show for decades of their life, especially if the internet crashes or we lose all that data due to a solar flare or other catastrophe.

  3. Hi Jane

    Poppycock !!!
    ..............well this post of yours couldn't have been more apt. I have just posted a video link, to my Facebook page. After spending a huge amount of time over a period of 5 months - I am pleased to say that the edition of 15 artists books with the title INIMOIS is done and dusted !!!. The video is on You Tube. I don't know if links become "active" when you post them in a comment on a blog............

  4. In the realm of law, law books have become obsolete because their function has been replaced by the invention of the internet. Even though the books still hold good law, online research has proven to be much more efficient, not only in time, but in cutting down the space needed to house the books.

    But I have always thought that the appearance of law books are appealing. Hence I created a series of art incorporating them...

  5. I too have made "artists books" for awhile. I enjoy converting them to an object either as a sculpted form or as Spirit Books of hand made paper and mounting on a branch. Books can be thought of as a block of wood to be carved, sculpted or reformed and still may attain the magic of words incorporated. It has been done as long as man has had a written language and it always will be. Hooray for the book - for it will always bring us magic, wisdom and knowledge and wonderful people to think of ways to do it. I remember the Black Block found on the moon in 2001 A Space Odessy - The author stated it represented the book - Our building block of knowledge.