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Jacqueline Rush Lee, “Anthology” (all images courtesy Brooklyn Public Library)

Donna Seager’s book collection doesn’t look like most people’s. Instead of being lined up neatly on shelves, many of her books have been hacked to pieces, folded and warped like origami, transformed into chess sets, oversized flowers, men’s loafers, and abstract sculptures. They’ve all been used by book artists, who approach printed books the way other sculptors might approach slabs of marble.

Seager, head of California’s Seager Gray Gallery, first became enamored of art made from books in 2004, after a visit to the San Francisco home of collector and book artist Charles Hobson. “It gave me a ‘museum feeling’ — it was fine art,” Seager tells Hyperallergic. For the past decade, Seager has showcased such work from around the world in an annual exhibit, The Art of the Book. Ten Years of Artists’ Books, now on view at the Brooklyn Public Library, features Seager’s selected highlights from these annual exhibitions, from shredded pages shaped to resemble estuaries to “excavated” comic books.

Arian Dylan, “Order and Chaos”

In the age of Kindles and screen-reading, there’s a renewed appreciation for the tactility of printed matter. “There’s almost a nostalgia for the book, a longing for the book, that makes people even more attracted to it in the hands of artists,” Seager says. Book artists incorporate all aspects of this materiality into their work. “Paper is beautiful, edges are beautiful, fonts are beautiful, text is beautiful. Then there’s the content of all the stories and poems that artists can incorporate into these works,” Seager says.

Some artists, like Peter Ruttledge Koch, directly reference the content of a book’s text in their art. Koch’s “The Lost Journals of Sacajawea” is based on a poem by American Indian poet Debra Magpie Earling, specially commissioned for the project. Earling wrote a poem from the point of view of Sacajawea about the last days of the buffalo. Koch printed the text with photos from that era, bound it in a leather cover and a spine of empty bullet shells and beads. “The whole feeling of it captures the point of view of an American Indian woman,” Seager says.

Other artists, like Arian Dillon, from Oaxaca, Mexico, ignore the meaning of the words inside a book and focus purely on its visual and textural qualities to make pieces like “Order and Chaos,” a chess set cut from book pages.

Book arts still occupy a bit of a niche in the contemporary art world. “This kind of work has always been around, but it’s always more been the purview of special collections and libraries,” Seager says. “It’s very difficult for book artists to get the same type of name recognition as, say, painters, because sometimes they work on a single thing for a whole year.” Still, since The Art of the Book debuted a decade ago, the world of book arts has grown, with more university programs offering classes and even masters programs devoted to the medium. “Our goal is to get this work into more contemporary art collections,” Seager says.

Seiko Tachibana, “Origin/Beginning”

Andrew Hayes, “Ranger”

Ten Years of Artists’ Books continues at the Brooklyn Public Library’s Central Library (10 Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn, NY 11238) until January 24th, 2016. 

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Carey Dunne

Carey Dunne is a Brooklyn-based writer covering arts and culture. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Baffler, The Village Voice, and elsewhere.