As I sometimes — or quite a lot of the time — find myself disposed to avoid the demands of work and household, my favorite dodge is perusing much read books for those “juicy” parts that I’ve doted over for years. Samuel Beckett’s Murphy is just the right book for this kind of time wasting: It’s a novel about an indolent, hapless, emotionally paralyzed man. He’s a loner, out of step with the world, torn between desire for his mistress and the wish to sink further in a self-involved fantasy world. The eponymous un-hero Murphy (he really can’t be called an anti-hero as his chief aspiration — a catatonic state achieved by rocking in his rocking chair — barely qualifies as anti-anything) is securely held by what Blake called “mind forg’d manacles.”
Sometimes a gallery’s books are more interesting than the artwork they regularly exhibit, and you can peruse their best artists and exhibitions from the confines of a well-constructed catalogue.
It’s to be expected that when America’s greatest living poet publishes a translation of one of the greatest and — to borrow a phrase from the titles of old forgotten anthologies — best-loved poets of world modernity, readers would take notice. And they have, so maybe I should think twice before adding more kudos to the pile. But it’s surprising that people haven’t been more surprised by John Ashbery’s decision to undertake a translation of Arthur Rimbaud’s Illuminations.
In The Archaeology of Knowledge, Michel Foucault usefully reminds us that “[t]he frontiers of a book are never clear-cut: beyond the title, the first lines, and the last full stop, beyond its internal configuration and its autonomous form, it is caught up in a system of references to other books, other texts, other sentences: it is a node within a network.” Noah Eli Gordon’s new long poem The Source is such a node — a radiant node — within a site-specific network of other books.
“I’m sure the people of Iraq are looking forward to your poem about Franco and his economy,” Isabel tells the main character, Adam Gordon. Since the death of the self, the author and painting, the desire for significance has led to a daily slew of preposterous claims and downright silly statements.
Boulder bookstore owner David Bolduc said of artist and graphic designer Tina Collen’s “artobiography,” titled Storm of the i (2009) and published by Art Review Press, “I’ve been in the book business for thirty years and have seen a lot of books. But I’ve never seen anything like Storm of the i.”
I agree with Bolduc that Storm of the i doesn’t look like other books, but Storm’s uniqueness is also what hinders it most. The book defies traditional design and layout, like a watered down, less haunting version of American author Mark Z. Danielewski’s popular House of Leaves (2000), and it’s a confusing book formally and conceptually. It vacillates throughout all three hundred pages between various different styles—photo album, scrapbook, self-help, personal memoir, maudlin diary, autobiography—and none of them seem to help its author’s intent.
Equally wild and soft, the book art of UK artist Louisa Boyd is an animated discourse on the distress and destruction of analog media. She breaks and reconstructs books into sculpture, wondering loudly with the rest of us, what’s going on with the world of print? In a book lover’s nightmares, libraries look like the modern car-yards of Detroit, empty and steaming. With ruins of pages and pages flipping open in a breeze. Where are we headed?
Poetry can be intimidating and difficult to “get.” It can evoke the same feelings many of us have toward contemporary art — we don’t always understand it, and it can make us feel shut out, like outsiders to an in-joke. Poetry as one of human nature’s more obtuse endeavors, can have the same effect. Ayala Sella’s first published book of poems, entitled Soliloquies of a Crosswalker (2011), published by Wasteland Press, works to contradict the notion that you must have a deep interest, appreciation, and knowledge of poetry before reading it.
Jai Arun Ravine’s The Spiderboi Files: Volume 1 is a careful, intentional work of book art with themes that reverberate delicately through the book’s physical structure. Its content rattles a cage of constructs: commercialism, California and gender identity.
Now in its sixth year, the New York Art Book Fair, which takes place at MoMA’s hipper sister in Queens, PS1, from September 30 to October 2, features more than 200 exhibitors from Ireland to South Korea. Presented by Printed Matter, the fair is the world’s premier event for artists’ books, contemporary art catalogues and monographs, art periodicals and artist ‘zines. Exhibitors include international presses, booksellers, antiquarian dealers, artists and independent publishers from around the world. As a person susceptible to panic attacks, it is sensory overload city.
The latest monograph of the Contemporary Art Series covers the provocative Polish artist and trickster Pawel Althamer (b. 1967), discussing in minute detail his “sculptures, installations, and pubic interventions.” Without a doubt, Phaidon’s Pawel Althamer is the most substantial art book I’ve laid my hands on in a long time, and it’s certainly not a book for someone with only a passing interest in contemporary Polish art.
Urban Knits, a small book of colorful photographs, explores a relatively new kind of graffiti called “urban knitting,” self-proclaimed to be the most “inoffensive” type of urban graffiti. Like most books of its kind, a collection compiled by theme, Urban Knits unintentionally shows the wide discrepancies in quality that exist in all forms of art, but that are especially prevalent in graffiti and street art. When the impetus for making art is not exclusively about the quality of the work itself but rather about the act of leaving a mark, the results are often less than imaginative. This seems to hold true for tagging as well as knitting.