The Velocity of a Page was never meant to live online. The inaugural virtual book arts exhibition at the Greater Reston Art Center (GRACE), curated by Christopher Kardambikis, comprises a collection of contemporary artists and publishers working in “books, zines, publications, and book-ish objects,” according to the website. The exhibition includes a brief bio of each contributor, accompanied by a few photos or videos and, in most cases, a link to the artist’s or publisher’s site. It is a basic, somewhat flat display for such dynamic pieces, the result of quick adaptation from IRL to the internet.
There is an almost comical mismatch in seeing books — a uniquely tactile form — presented on a screen. But what the exhibition lacks in presentation, it makes up for in its breadth of artists and variety of content. If you accept the tacit invitation for virtual sleuthing within and beyond GRACE’s site, you will be introduced to a fabulous, eclectic assortment of works. In fact, why consider The Velocity of a Page an exhibition at all, when it would be better thought of as a trailhead branching off into the endless digital paths? Enter with an exploratory mindset and you’ll find a wide range of curiosities.
Take Sarah Hulsey’s books: precise, academic, letterpress-printed artifacts. Applying her background in linguistics to her art, she uses the book form to explore questions of language and logic. A Universal Lexicon, for example, centers on a passage from Galileo that begins:
Philosophy is written in this grand book — I mean the universe — which stands continually open to our gaze, but it cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and interpret the characters in which it is written. It is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometrical figures…
Hulsey prints the full passage in both Italian and English and then translates it into an intricate, diagrammatic illustration, showcasing Galileo’s notion in a new form. Accompanied by simple line drawings and beautifully bound in a muted earth-toned casing, the object takes on the quality of a beloved artifact or tome.
Other works on view embody the DIY spirit of the zine, which historically has been a mode for creative voices outside of the mainstream to distribute their ideas. This kind of independent publishing is a way to share art freely, on one’s own terms. See #BLKGRLSWURLD a small press based in Harlem, “celebrating and documenting Womxn of Color in the Heavy Music scenes.” Through photographs, interviews, and fantastic illustrations, #BLKGRLSWURLD spotlights the diversity within the metalcore, hardcore, punk, and black metal genres. Or, check out Julia Arredondo’s self-help zine, Guide to Being Broke and Fabulous, which is exactly what it sounds like. On a spread titled “Coping: Tha Dark Shit,” the marginalia proclaims, “They can’t break you. (And give ’em hell while you’re at it.)”
For a photography-led approach, see Homie House Press, a publishing press self-described as “a playground where fotos become books, a safe space for secret stories and an open house for honest content.” With an explicit emphasis on centering underrepresented voices, the publications are colorful, tender, critically engaged objects of reflection. A flip through Femme Frontera, for example, reveals intimate portraits layered on floral patterns and interspersed with personal narratives. The project, led by Adriana Monsalve and Arlene Mejorado, tells the stories of fronteras, or borders, both physical and metaphorical. Focusing on the California/Mexico and Texas/Mexico borders, they consider how these liminal spaces shape the immigrant experience. A rugged yellow line bisects one page; a poem hugs its contours:
A river begins as a small
stream, and grows the
farther it flows. The
water in a river is called
fresh water. It begins
in the high grounds of
hills and mountains
and flows down to the
lowlands of valleys and
plains. A river flows this
way because of gravity.
Because of its weight, it is not free.
For those looking for an introduction to the book art space, The Velocity of a Page covers ample ground. Others will be compelled to search out the book-makers for more. In fact, the way to get the most out of this exhibition is to leave it. This is something the curator seems to understand, and is perhaps why The Velocity of a Page is marketed as multi-platform. GRACE extends its exhibition images to Instagram and hosts virtual artist talks to accompany the show. But the real joy is in reaching even further, exploring publishers’ social media accounts, scrolling through reams of artists’ work on their personal sites, reading articles and artist statements, and watching YouTube videos unfold. What you’ll find is a collection of creators documenting their corners of the world in exciting, unexpected ways.
At a time when the livelihoods and careers of so many artists are in flux, and shelter-in-place orders necessitate creative solutions, any effort to share and support this work is a project worth pursuing. Dive in, get lost, find something new. The gallery doors may be closed, but the internet is wide open.
The Velocity of a Page continues online at the Greater Reston Art Center (GRACE) through May 23.