THE WORLD "SUB SPECIE LIBRI"
by Renato Barilli, Bologna, Italy, April 1994
Translated from Italian by Angela Lorenz with the assistance of Donatella Franchi



The artist's book has been an extraordinary instrument from the fascinating moment in which art decided to step beyond its traditional areas and practice alternative means, suggested by different areas of research. Among thee, the field of written communication could not be absent, with its principal instrument, the book. Through it, the visual arts have tried to escape oppressive structural limits that have always condemned art to be a manifestation of space, according to Lessing's famous definition. Where the arts of the word make use of time, they may depend on sequence and series, and subsequently on the systematic collection of facts and the grouping of elements placed one after another. A painting, instead, is forced to exhibit every resource simultaneously: everything is evident immediately. Another aspect, not so much regarding writing in general but specific to the printed word, relegated to the book: the miniaturization, the reduced format, which consents the use of materials in advantageous ways. Books, given their small format, are more easily preserved and transported than paintings, not to mention sculptures. And finally, printed works have the precious gift of being reproduced, allowing for a reduction in cost. Different artistic disciplines turn to printing as a means of reproduction, through etching and lithography, but in these cases, once again, it is difficult to reduce the format and aim for a large edition. In any case, monoprints are flawed by the same limits to which paintings are subject.

Adopting the size and technical possibilities of the book is, therefore, an important innovation for the visual arts, and for this reason the protagonists of the conceptual movement did not hesitate to do so, as they were ready, in the years around 1968, to avail themselves of sounds, odors and even flavors. However, if we look from a closer vantage point at the most noted conceptual artists, we realize that for them the artist's book was one of many instruments which served them, in that audacious and anti-establishment environment. A peculiarity of Angela Lorenz is, instead, that for her the use of this form of expression becomes an unequivocal choice, devoid of alternatives. Few have specialized in this genre as she has; in others, the artist's book remains an extra means, to adopt at times, but to abandon moments later, and at any rate it is utilized for certain ends or ideas that are somehow not connected to it. In Lorenz, however, it is the ideas and content that must bend to the characteristics of such a means, which then transforms itself for its own ends. In other words, the artist goes around with a curious eye in search of all that lends itself to being captured and translated into the format of an artist's book. The entire universe is seen by her, one could say, "sub specie libri," existing in the way in which she knows how to bend her work to fit the laws of seriality, reproduction and miniaturization. From here, an inventive imagination continually surprises us.

Naturally, that which interests Lorenz isn't the flat and neutral book, which lends itself to normal verbal messages. It is, rather, the accordion-fold book in which views for tourists are collected, or the book-container in which precious panels are enclosed, and the "portafoglio" of pictures in luxurious materials, a forum for the manual dexterity and craftsmanship of the person creating them. Here are the innumerable ideas, materialized in these precious "series," ideas which one is almost afraid to name, in order not to weigh down their humor and exuberance. Here is the succession of photos, of Italian monuments, having in common the fact that all are obscured by "works in progress;" here is a census of colors from the various facades of the streets in Bologna; or collections of traces left behind, small lost objects, such as buttons. And there are the series actually based on verbal elements, with which we are closer to the normal conditions of a book: well-wishing phrases or sentences that deform and reveal a second meaning when we stretch the elastic surface on which they are written. In fact, in all the books conceived by Lorenz, that which counts is the respect for the structural characteristics of this great instrument, but not necessarily the materials of which it usually consists; materials which are often plain and colorless. From this point of view, Lorenz behaves as an ingenious talent from the baroque period that seeks for the collection of all the variations possible around an idea or factual information, pushing them towards the most bizarre and unforeseeable extremes, to the point of provoking a sense of humor in ourselves.

And to this may be added a sense of detail and care that we could well call feminine, that is in some way in contrast with the stereotypical mechanical character that normally belongs to the book, a principal product of the industrial Age, inaugurated with Gutenberg's invention. But this artist, as has been said, aims each time to re-endow the serialized work with traces of manual dexterity. We are in the presence of happy compromise between two different thrusts: between uniqueness and large editions, between quantity and quality.