Rebound: Dissections and Excavations in Book Art

June 04, 2013

The Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art at the College of Charleston School of the Arts recently organized a major group exhibition of new works by five mixed media artists from around the world who sculpt, scrape, bend and carve to create astonishing compositions using books. On view through July 6th, the exhibition features work from Doug Beube, Long-Bin Chen, Brian Dettmer, Guy Laramee, and Frecesca Pastine. 

"For generations, our society has been lamenting the loss of natural beauty and the dwindling of Earth’s resources to the rising tide of industrial and technological “progress,” all in the name of greater efficiency and luxury. With this emphasis on technology, the relevance of physical books in our culture is diminishing. Books as a vessel for accessible and easily communicated knowledge are becoming somewhat antiquated. The tangible, permanent information presented in books is quickly being replaced with digital media and the Internet, which exemplify fluidity and constant change. In our ever-evolving digital present, we see a variety of once cherished technologies losing their importance and luster at an increasingly rapid rate.

Because of the confusion and sense of loss that emerges from this state, the artists in this exhibition have created their own responses. Some, like Chen and Laramée, directly address the parallels between the disappearance of natural spaces and books as an outdated mode of expression; as a result, they carve landscapes from the pages and bindings. Deep crevasses, hidden caves, and awe-inspiring phenomena and landscapes emerge from chiseled pages. Alternately, some artists, like Beube, Pastine, and Dettmer, seek to find a place for books in the future, by digitizing or technologizing them. Here, images are created that are reminiscent of topographical maps, weather maps, readings from seismographs, or cross sections of the “bodies” of the books. These works are treated as surgeries or dissections; scalpels and needles are used to carve away the books’ exteriors.

Brian Dettmer’s precise excavation of books, page by page, focuses on taking something that already exists and introducing alternate histories and memories that reveal and illuminate new relationships. Long-Bin Chen combines the cultures of the East and West in his blend of sculpture and literature. Through this, we are prompted to examine the eternal vexation of communication and the social relationship we enjoy with books. Guy Laramée’s work plays heavily on the idea of erosion, in that knowledge could very well be an erosive process rather than an accretion. In that light, he brings up the human fascination with the content of consciousness. In turn, he examines not what we think about, but that we think. Utilizing the glossy publication Artforum, Francesca Pastine reveals the visceral topography of art trends by means of an unsolicited collaboration with the magazine and the cover artist. Doug Beube explores the book as an object, a seemingly antiquated technology that is still purposeful in the digital age. He accepts its limited capacity as a personality flaw, but, moreover, acknowledges its elegance.

The importance of the book is remarkably ingrained inhuman psychology. It may be a simple carrier of information, yet even today it is treated as an object of great value. Books represent our desire to record, organize, and preserve the details of our existence. Through each artist’s interventions, the book becomes even more sacred. For many of the artists, the historical and narrative value of the chosen material drives the pieces, and, by intimately getting to know the book they are working with, they are able to return it to a new life without destroying it.

In the face of unsettling changes, these artists appeal to a sense of monumentality in their work. The references to nature, religion, science, or cultural complexity allude to the idea that only concepts of the greatest importance stand the test of time. Despite the emphasis on the precariousness of human invention, these works do not display a completely bleak outlook on society’s changes. The variety of color, form, and openness of composition among the works also celebrates the ingenuity of creating something new from something old. Books may seem under siege, but they are more realistically at a moment of transition. The artworks in this exhibition simultaneously celebrate and forewarn the viewers of the fine line between monuments and ruins." - Karen Ann Myers (Curator and Assistant Director @ Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art)

All images courtesy Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art