Artists’ Books Content Design voicE Form

Throughout history artists have long been agents of change, throwing light in new ways on challenging issues of our society, both past and present.  With determination and invention, artists call attention to issues of war and conflict, gender, race, politics, and the environment.  With transparency and honesty they reveal personal issues of family, love and relationships, illness, tragedy, death and loss.  They remind us of the wonder of nature and with playfulness and humor show us how to laugh at ourselves.

Artists find the book form a compelling medium for making works of art in order to give voice to their ideas, narratives or concepts. The physical attributes of books, with their portability, intimacy, interactivity, and time-based sequential elements result in a unique and dynamic involvement between artist and audience.  The structural form of an artist book often goes beyond merely providing a platform for text and image.  More likely it serves as a metaphor for the content, mirroring the subject and meaning through materials, design and form.  The reader’s experience of the artist’s book is both visual and tactile through a hands-on engagement that cannot be experienced with works of art that are displayed on a wall or pedestal.  Organized around selected themes, the books in this exhibit are a glimpse into the many and varied ways that artists speak through paper and print.

An exhibition catalog is available which describes each of the 50 books on display, showing how artists have integrated materials, images, text, and format to convey the underlying story or content.  For information about the exhibition catalog, contact the Special Collections Librarian ( lwhitehi@risd.edu) .   See a review of this exhibit by Arts Editor Bill Van Siclen of the Providence Journal.

One of the themes in this exhibition is September 11, 2001.  The following is an excerpt from the exhibition catalog, featuring an artist book by Jeannie Meejin-Yoon.

The events of September 11th touched us all whether we were there in Manhattan, had loved ones or friends who perished, or experienced it through the media as we sat glued to our TV screens.  In many ways our country has been changed forever.  Some artists in the years following felt the need to express their fears, confusion, distress, and respect for those lost in this tragedy and turned to the book form as their medium of expression.

12.  Absence / Jeannie Meejin Yoon
New York, NY: Printed Matter; Whitney Museum of American Art, c2003

When closed the pages of this book form a solid block of white, with the single word “ABSENCE” in cut-out on the cover.  The first ten pages reveal a single tiny hole in each otherwise blank page.  The next 110 pages have the same identical two squares in cut-out, again with no text or other reference.  The last page has a grid of cut-out shapes, evoking buildings and streets.  On the inside cover, the subject is revealed, “In Memory September 11, 2001”.  Each page, as it is turned, pulls the next page along bringing to mind the falling of the towers.  The holes represent the TV antenna on one of the towers and the number of pages represents the number of floors in each building.

As you look back into the stacked squares, you see the empty space where the towers once stood.  Yoon, an architect living in Manhattan, created this stark “architectural” memorial which at first puzzles the reader and then hits home with poignant reverence.

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