Urban Scrawl 003: Books: They’re not just for Reading Anymore

Urban Scrawl 003: Books: They’re not just for Reading Anymore

 

Urban Scrawl 003: Books: They’re not just for Reading Anymore
A few weekends back the LA Times Festival of Books took over the UCLA campus, staging an orgiastic buzzspector_cristinerosegallerymarketplace for the written word that almost had me believing people still buy books. I’m not talking about whether or not people still read—I’m talking about the actual, traceable, physical acquisition of paper-and-ink books whose dimensional bulks take up space on the shelf in addition to (instead of?) their contents taking up space in the brain. The Hammer’s current exhibition exploring the famed Red Book of Carl Jung perhaps provides a lone example of cooperation among the qualities of both; offering a metonymical fusion of sensory experience and narrative content that examines the operations of the mind’s attempt to comprehend its situation, and seems to celebrate art as a useful bridge between the two. As an aside, don’t you think it’s interesting that Kindle as a brand name evokes fires, given that the pyre has been the fate of so many of history’s most important literary efforts?

At any rate, I’ve always assumed that the art world’s slice of book paradise is fundamentally safe from the trend toward content-disembodiment. Just in the last few months, gorgeous new monographs from Kim Gordon, Dana Schutz, Charles LeDray, Dennis Hopper, and many more have all arrived at my door. MoCA (aside from what I assume will be plans to highlight the new Hopper this summer) is putting out a brand-new children’s book (not a podcast or an infographic, but a proper book) exploring its collections. The Brooklyn Museum just received a gift of a collection of 11,000 art books, coincidentally from a woman I worked with at the Guggenheim nearly 20 years ago. Small world, and Brooklyn thanks you, Thea! Meanwhile, both LA and NYC are facing major fiscal crises that threaten the programming and accessibility of major public libraries, as well as, I would imagine, their acquisitions budget…

Well, as for acquisitions, as I remember reading in my faded Xerox copy of Benjamin’s “Unpacking my Library”, and herewith massacre through paraphrase, the best way to collect books the books you want is to write them yourself. If you’re curious, the galleries will all have copies already or right away, but I’ll be posting the essays over at my website, sndx.net. They’re not there yet, though, since I’m waiting until they’re properly published to send the full information around. Don’t worry, I’ll let you know when and where and how to snap them up… So in that vainglorious vein, keep a lookout for upcoming exhibitions from LA artists Julia Schwartz (5.15 at Bleicher-Golightly), Jim McHugh (5.22 at Timothy Yarger), and Jay Mark Johnson (in conjunction with the Venice Art Walk); plus work for Marine Salon (a July release of its first-year catalog) and the .ISM Polaroid Project catalog, due out this summer. I also wrote the copy for a new artist book from Yoskay Yamamoto, the first of a series of publications from LeBasse Projects.

arne_svenson_westernprojectSpeaking of which, we must of course consider artist books as a wholly separate genre—those limited-run, individually finished art projects that take the form of a book but are widely understood to be closer to editioned prints or other non-singular works of art than to printed matter—and as a beloved hybrid art form with artisan publishers and avid collectors of its own. If anything, the ratio of originality to affordability they offer recommends them highly in this economy. They give curious collectors a chance to own something special by emerging art stars whose larger works have already been priced out of their (our?) reach; and a new show at the Land of Odd is dedicated entirely to this proposition, not to mention almost all of the salient exhibitions up at the Getty Research Institute, including the upcoming Monumental Prints show there. Also opening this month at Western Project is a curious, unsettling, and delightful book-based project from Arne Svenson, The Last Library, investigating the role of technology in the question of authorship and authenticity.

But there is another thread running throughout all this page-turning, and that’s the recent confluence of art shows/installations by artists that make art out of books, who destroy them in the process of using them as raw material for their work, sculptural, performative, interactive, and otherwise. And there are more than a few. I’m not sure how I feel about this practice. I love the delicious irony of separating books from their function; works like these manage to highlight books’ existences as objects precisely because of their destruction. This destruction itself, being in service of a larger idea, seems to honor the directives contained within the pages of the sacrificial tomes—an oroborus of the finest quality.
The artist Brian Dettmer seems to agree. I haven’t seen these dinosaurs (pun intended) in person yet, but I buzzspector_my-ruscha_2000look forward to the chance. Have a look and read his artist statement too while you’re at it—I think he’s right. I remember when I moved here from NYC in the early 1990s, I saw a piece at Angles Gallery by Buzz Spector in which he had patiently removed slivers from pages of an open book, creating a sculpture that retained its function as a deliverer of written content only when viewed from a certain aspect, but more than fulfilled its function as a massive, intriguing, fraught, beautiful, and complexly referential sculptural object. Right around the same time, Dani Tull’s Rejected Written Material: Tilted Arc offered a genius lampoon of the imposing volume of discarded screenplays tossed in the dumpster in a given month in LA—so much that the artist was able to recreate Serra’s famously large and unpopular NYC sculpture on a fairly large scale with nothing but unwanted, and probably unread, stories.
mike_stilkey_blkmrktAnd speaking of books you might love but can never read, one of my favorite things about the way Mike Stilkey uses books in his work has to do with the way he lets their ghosts persist into the conversation. He’s got that whole thing about honoring through divorcing from function down, building brick and mortar walls out of carefully selected/juxtaposed books as surfaces both intimate and monumental on which to paint. Like Duchamp’s urinal which became art because he said so, and because it was no longer able to be used as it was intended, Stilkey’s books, by being books, contribute to the content and form of his work in a way no other appropriated element could do. He leaves the titles legible on the spines for the most part, hitting notes by shorthand—Oh, look! Proust right next to Twain! I wonder what it means?—thus leaving the door open for them to add to the work’s actual narrative content in their original incarnation. It’s a fine line, absolutely worth walking.
A recent installation by Pascual Sisto at the mixed-use studio and exhibition space at 533 Los Angeles Streetpascualsisto_confetti took this depagination and deconstruction to an alarming and charming extreme. For Absolutely Not, the artist built upon a previous series in which Gilles Deleuze and Guy Debord’s calls to radical thought and eventually to action were taken to a level the thinkers may or may not have appreciated—the sloughing off of old ideas symbolized through their physical transformation into a confetti party. Sisto has a penchant for high-brow humor expressed in populist, multisensory formats, and an argument could be made that the generation of collective experience fostering the reexamination of once-incendiary ideas in the context of a world those ideas have already transformed is exactly the sort of thing that generation of French intellectuals might have found delectable. My pocket is full of big ideas and silver stars, and I feel both smarter and more French because of it.

johnabrahmason_bertgreenJohn U. Abrahamson’s installation at Bert Green Fine Art last month took a rather different approach, but also encouraged a course of deracination, digestion, and recapitulation. Flesh and Blood included a suite of paintings and a central sculptural installation—a kind of altar made of steel, glass, wood, suspended vials of the artist’s blood, and dozens of hand-written journals representing 15 years of quasi-illegible diary entries detailing the high highs and low lows of an agitated existence. Viewers were encouraged to pull out and keep pages at random, in an effort to help the artist purge this frenetic past and, I assume, start again tabula rasa. I have no doubt whatsoever about the powerful magic of his request, but I also intuited that were I to open myself to it, my participation could yield an oracular new form of intended literature, one with poetry and purpose for myself (the viewer, not the critic)… So I pulled out each of the page 23s that remained, pulled off the top lines of each, and here’s the collaboratively fractal action-poem that resulted. I kind of like it, but you tell me.

I’m calling it, “Come out the other end…”

Come out the other end dry as a bone. We will have to see about New York…

Indeed upon the right path. I don’t know right now; all I want is to get caught up on bills so I will continue to work as hard as possible until that happens.

Physical labor and pooled tips so there isn’t any back-biting or fucking high-school politics.

Something tells me I cannot do the soft pack anymore.

All I will be left with is guilt and regret.

I’ve got him to a point where he can care for himself and I die.

Enough talk.

What can I tell you? That I have masturbated with a dildo?

Blood. This could symbolize my art.

I tend to gravitate there when I want to self-destruct.

All that aside, as I have stated on numerous occasions…

I am desperate to email her and thank her for driving up and dropping off the money in such a timely manner.

Realize that this will take entirely too long.

To pull extra shifts just to stay afloat.

Washing away in blood.

My new mantra, I suppose.

I have been drinking again. Too much. Get drunk almost every night, alone in the dark, late at night,

But lost within the light of the day. Oceans and oceans of regret.

I would never have guessed in a million years that I would be married to a beautiful woman.

Then I have to deal with the stupid cable bill.

Damn, man, that is good coffee.

Greet this line with open arms. My life has so many wondrous things.

Perhaps there is the play I really should be reading!

Then coming across a pack of dogs straining against their leashes, held by a single man.

Night. Christ, I didn’t get to be until almost five o’clock.
A few weekends back the LA Times Festival of Books took over the UCLA campus, staging an orgiastic marketplace for the written word that almost had me believing people still buy books. I’m not talking about whether or not people still read—I’m talking about the actual, traceable, physical acquisition of paper-and-ink books whose dimensional bulks take up space on the shelf in addition to (instead of?) their contents taking up space in the brain. The Hammer’s current exhibition exploring the famed Red Book of Carl Jung perhaps provides a lone example of cooperation among the qualities of both; offering a metonymical fusion of sensory experience and narrative content that examines the operations of the mind’s attempt to comprehend its situation, and seems to celebrate art as a useful bridge between the two. As an aside, don’t you think it’s interesting that Kindle as a brand name evokes fires, given that the pyre has been the fate of so many of history’s most important literary efforts?

At any rate, I’ve always assumed that the art world’s slice of book paradise is fundamentally safe from the trend toward content-disembodiment. Just in the last few months, gorgeous new monographs from Kim Gordon, Dana Schutz, Charles LeDray, Dennis Hopper, and many more have all arrived at my door. MoCA (aside from what I assume will be plans to highlight the new Hopper this summer) is putting out a brand-new children’s book (not a podcast or an infographic, but a proper book) exploring its collections. The Brooklyn Museum just received a gift of a collection of 11,000 art books, coincidentally from a woman I worked with at the Guggenheim nearly 20 years ago. Small world, and Brooklyn thanks you, Thea! Meanwhile, both LA and NYC are facing major fiscal crises that threaten the programming and accessibility of major public libraries, as well as, I would imagine, their acquisitions budget…

Well, as for acquisitions, as I remember reading in my faded Xerox copy of Benjamin’s “Unpacking my Library”, and herewith massacre through paraphrase, the best way to collect books the books you want is to write them yourself. If you’re curious, the galleries will all have copies already or right away, but I’ll be posting the essays over at my website, sndx.net. They’re not there yet, though, since I’m waiting until they’re properly published to send the full information around. Don’t worry, I’ll let you know when and where and how to snap them up… So in that vainglorious vein, keep a lookout for upcoming exhibitions from LA artists Julia Schwartz (5.15 at Bleicher-Golightly), Jim McHugh (5.22 at Timothy Yarger), and Jay Mark Johnson (in conjunction with the Venice Art Walk); plus work for Marine Salon (a July release of its first-year catalog) and the .ISM Polaroid Project catalog, due out this summer. I also wrote the copy for a new artist book from Yoskay Yamamoto, the first of a series of publications from LeBasse Projects.

Speaking of which, we must of course consider artist books as a wholly separate genre—those limited-run, individually finished art projects that take the form of a book but are widely understood to be closer to editioned prints or other non-singular works of art than to printed matter—and as a beloved hybrid art form with artisan publishers and avid collectors of its own. If anything, the ratio of originality to affordability they offer recommends them highly in this economy. They give curious collectors a chance to own something special by emerging art stars whose larger works have already been priced out of their (our?) reach; and a new show at the Land of Odd is dedicated entirely to this proposition, not to mention almost all of the salient exhibitions up at the Getty Research Institute, including the upcoming Monumental Prints show there. Also opening this month at Western Project is a curious, unsettling, and delightful book-based project from Arne Svenson, The Last Library, investigating the role of technology in the question of authorship and authenticity.

But there is another thread running throughout all this page-turning, and that’s the recent confluence of art shows/installations by artists that make art out of books, who destroy them in the process of using them as raw material for their work, sculptural, performative, interactive, and otherwise. And there are more than a few. I’m not sure how I feel about this practice. I love the delicious irony of separating books from their function; works like these manage to highlight books’ existences as objects precisely because of their destruction. This destruction itself, being in service of a larger idea, seems to honor the directives contained within the pages of the sacrificial tomes—an oroborus of the finest quality.
The artist Brian Dettmer seems to agree. I haven’t seen these dinosaurs (pun intended) in person yet, but I look forward to the chance. Have a look and read his artist statement too while you’re at it—I think he’s right. I remember when I moved here from NYC in the early 1990s, I saw a piece at Angles Gallery by Buzz Spector in which he had patiently removed slivers from pages of an open book, creating a sculpture that retained its function as a deliverer of written content only when viewed from a certain aspect, but more than fulfilled its function as a massive, intriguing, fraught, beautiful, and complexly referential sculptural object. Right around the same time, Dani Tull’s Rejected Written Material: Tilted Arc offered a genius lampoon of the imposing volume of discarded screenplays tossed in the dumpster in a given month in LA—so much that the artist was able to recreate Serra’s famously large and unpopular NYC sculpture on a fairly large scale with nothing but unwanted, and probably unread, stories.
And speaking of books you might love but can never read, one of my favorite things about the way Mike Stilkey uses books in his work has to do with the way he lets their ghosts persist into the conversation. He’s got that whole thing about honoring through divorcing from function down, building brick and mortar walls out of carefully selected/juxtaposed books as surfaces both intimate and monumental on which to paint. Like Duchamp’s urinal which became art because he said so, and because it was no longer able to be used as it was intended, Stilkey’s books, by being books, contribute to the content and form of his work in a way no other appropriated element could do. He leaves the titles legible on the spines for the most part, hitting notes by shorthand—Oh, look! Proust right next to Twain! I wonder what it means?—thus leaving the door open for them to add to the work’s actual narrative content in their original incarnation. It’s a fine line, absolutely worth walking.
A recent installation by Pascual Sisto at the mixed-use studio and exhibition space at 533 Los Angeles Street took this depagination and deconstruction to an alarming and charming extreme. For Absolutely Not, the artist built upon a previous series in which Gilles Deleuze and Guy Debord’s calls to radical thought and eventually to action were taken to a level the thinkers may or may not have appreciated—the sloughing off of old ideas symbolized through their physical transformation into a confetti party. Sisto has a penchant for high-brow humor expressed in populist, multisensory formats, and an argument could be made that the generation of collective experience fostering the reexamination of once-incendiary ideas in the context of a world those ideas have already transformed is exactly the sort of thing that generation of French intellectuals might have found delectable. My pocket is full of big ideas and silver stars, and I feel both smarter and more French because of it.
John U. Abrahamson’s installation at Bert Green Fine Art last month took a rather different approach, but also encouraged a course of deracination, digestion, and recapitulation. Flesh and Blood included a suite of paintings and a central sculptural installation—a kind of altar made of steel, glass, wood, suspended vials of the artist’s blood, and dozens of hand-written journals representing 15 years of quasi-illegible diary entries detailing the high highs and low lows of an agitated existence. Viewers were encouraged to pull out and keep pages at random, in an effort to help the artist purge this frenetic past and, I assume, start again tabula rasa. I have no doubt whatsoever about the powerful magic of his request, but I also intuited that were I to open myself to it, my participation could yield an oracular new form of intended literature, one with poetry and purpose for myself (the viewer, not the critic)… So I pulled out each of the page 23s that remained, pulled off the top lines of each, and here’s the collaboratively fractal action-poem that resulted. I kind of like it, but you tell me.

I’m calling it, “Come out the other end…”

Come out the other end dry as a bone. We will have to see about New York…

Indeed upon the right path. I don’t know right now; all I want is to get caught up on bills so I will continue to work as hard as possible until that happens.

Physical labor and pooled tips so there isn’t any back-biting or fucking high-school politics.

Something tells me I cannot do the soft pack anymore.

All I will be left with is guilt and regret.

I’ve got him to a point where he can care for himself and I die.

Enough talk.

What can I tell you? That I have masturbated with a dildo?

Blood. This could symbolize my art.

I tend to gravitate there when I want to self-destruct.

All that aside, as I have stated on numerous occasions…

I am desperate to email her and thank her for driving up and dropping off the money in such a timely manner.

Realize that this will take entirely too long.

To pull extra shifts just to stay afloat.

Washing away in blood.

My new mantra, I suppose.

I have been drinking again. Too much. Get drunk almost every night, alone in the dark, late at night,

But lost within the light of the day. Oceans and oceans of regret.

I would never have guessed in a million years that I would be married to a beautiful woman.

Then I have to deal with the stupid cable bill.

Damn, man, that is good coffee.

Greet this line with open arms. My life has so many wondrous things.

Perhaps there is the play I really should be reading!

Then coming across a pack of dogs straining against their leashes, held by a single man.

Night. Christ, I didn’t get to be until almost five o’clock.