COUNTING: A BOOK OF LISTS
Janine Wong/CenterStreet Studio, 2008
RISD Artists’ Books W646Co
Accordion fold book with cloth bound cover folder and slipcase. Letterpress printed with wood and metal type over digital archival pigment print underlay. Pages mounted on Arches Cover paper, with pressure print images on verso.
What if someone were to look through your paper recycle bin, picking out discarded envelopes, notes, lists, letters, sketches, calendar pages, or other unwanted scraps you tossed out? What kind of story would they be able to piece together about you? In our not-so-distant past, before the aid of “Blackberries” and other mobile devices that now help organize our daily lives, we kept lists and wrote notes to ourselves to remind us of the myriad details needing our attention. Even now, we still sketch or scribble on scrap paper to capture our thoughts, plans or elusive dreams. And when we uncover a forgotten hand written “to-do” list tucked in a coat pocket or in between the pages of a book, we are reminded of past concerns and events, tokens of a life lived.
Janine Wong’s artist book, “Counting: A Book of Lists”, captures these very details, highlighting the depth and fullness of her life as wife, mother, artist, educator, and administrator. Each accordion page has a digital print of a “found list”. Lists are numbered and categorized with a few additional details, printed letterpress on top of the digital print. On the backs of these pages is a series of monochromatic pressure prints made from scraps of notebook paper, rolodex cards and empty envelopes; a kind of “debris field” in soft silhouette.
A sample entry on page 5, under the category “roles”, depicts a calendar page torn out of an organizer with lists of people to call, tax receipts to track, daycare to research, alumni dinner to plan, summer institute to organize, haircut, lectures to attend, and a new cover project to work on. As we read each list, a portrait of the artist emerges. We begin to recognize her handwriting, with its subtle variations that track the speed with which the list was made. Where the handwriting is more uniform, we can imagine her meditating on this list, mulling over its contents. Where the handwriting is scribbled, we can sense the immediacy of tracking a thought, possibly while sitting at a lecture, or just before running out the door. The large blocky word lists written by childish hands bring to mind how quickly our children grow and how important these little scraps of their childhood become over time.
“Counting: A Book of Lists”, elegantly combines the best of techniques from both the handcrafted past and the electronic present, with its letterpress printing, hand bound covers, and digital images. Turning the pages is a bit like coming across an archaeological find or a time capsule, not unlike Joan Lyons’ artist book, “Twenty-Five Years Ago” (Visual Studies Workshop Press, 1998 RISD Artists’ Books L97Tw) where the artist’s dusty old wallet is discovered in an air duct during renovations of her children’s former elementary school. Appointment cards, shopping receipts and other ordinary snippets of her life indicate the changing roles of women and the tentative beginnings of the Visual Studies Workshop. In this digital era, it is books like these that cause us to consider what will be left for people to discover about our lives, hundreds of years from now. Will our digital photo albums, our text messages, or our emails survive? How will our descendants remember us? Will they be able to paint a portrait of us or piece together our lives from scraps of paper? Will there be any electronic bytes left that are still readable?
Janine Wong has eloquently condensed these bits and pieces of her life without sentimentality and without turning the book into a kind of “family album”. Because of the book’s simplicity and straightforward approach, it speaks to many of the concerns, issues, and responsibilities, both professional and personal, which women in this fast-paced world today face. LWC