Writings by Angela Lorenz
Artist's Books - For Lack of a Better Name
Artist's Books - For Lack of a Better Name
by Angela Lorenz
© 2002 Angela Lorenz
Research in the Works
by Angela Lorenz
I do not often consult precious manuscripts in libraries. Usually reproductions or transparencies are shown to researchers, initially at least. Readers need a really good reason, and often credentials, to consult old or delicate works. But scholarly reference works abound in open stacks of public libraries and in journal articles now available on the Internet. Open stacks lining huge library walls in tiers might as well be a gourmet food emporia , for some kinds of bookworms, at least. In the open stacks of the Archiginnasio Library of Bologna, I consulted the Loeb series of Greek and Latin works, translated into English, for mentions of Roman wax tablet use for Wax Promises [Figure 3.2] and for references to sundials and early clocks for Librex Solaris [Figure 3.3]. The inspiration for both those works came from viewing historical objects in museums that suggested a structure appropriate for an artist's book: portable sunclocks in the Poldi-Pezzoli Museum in Milan and wooden Roman writing tablets from the Archeological Museum in Naples.
For Life, Life, Eternal Life: Uncle Wiggily Meets the Pilgrim's Progress [Figure 3.4], I consulted a few reference books on maps to find an appropriate graphic style. To my astonishment, one of the books had a map puzzle made of this novel in the 1700's, to teach children Christian values. I went to the British Library in London to consult the original puzzle, which turned out to be miniscule. So, I ordered the largest photographic reproduction available to enable me to study it at home. After all that, I only used three tiny images in the resulting work, on the covers of three pamphlets tucked inside pockets. In the end, it didn't feel right to label the places with names in this board game/artist's book. John Bunyan rails against the educated in his novel effort to bring Biblical knowledge to common people. In my work, I felt the need to communicate the places on the pilgrimage from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City in symbolic, allegorical ways, without using text.
The Johns Hopkins Library in Bologna, specialized in international relations and economics, proved useful for the work Binding Ties [Figure 3.5], which concerns the history of trade. But regarding research on regimental ties, libraries weren't helpful at all. Not even in the military academy at Sandringham, England. The Victoria & Albert Museum had nothing. Neither did the Guards Museum in London. I finally found what I needed in a few historic men's clothing stores, where proprietors let me photograph and sketch from their antique sample books of regimental ties. They also pointed me to the last regimental tie producer in East London, where I collected actual tie scraps and further reference material. The inspiration for this piece came from a chance find at an antique shop in Maine: a 1941 Parker Brothers board game called the "South American Travel and Trading Game." I was so horrified by this game, which taught young North Americans what raw materials to extract and what refined products to sell—a process known as the north-south transfer—I created this piece in response. Although as my research progressed, with the aid of Johns Hopkins economic professors, I realized that economic relations in history couldn't be so easily generalized. Accordingly, this work raises more questions than it answers.
Ephemera, book, and antique dealers have provided great materials and expertise for my projects. They are very much like librarians and curators, except they can sell their collections. Or let you photograph them and learn about them for free, if you are polite enough. Collecting plays an important part in my research, both for interesting formats and for content. Sometimes I'm not sure why I feel the need to purchase certain items, and often they serve a different purpose than intended. Quite often I buy ephemera, in the form of packaging and printed matter, for its graphic style or for its social history value. The statements on packaged items and advertising over the last century often seem ironic, humorous, or even hateful as they illuminate social views and trends of the past. Or sometimes I buy an old box or game because it has been reused or recycled by a previous owner. Usually these boxes come with contents, like it or not. But the old blue pencils inside the vintage pencil boxes came in handy for The Strength of Denham – Sir John Denham Jeans and Imitation Denhams [Figure 3.6] and the hundreds of antique pen nibs from their respective boxes were perfect for various symbolic uses on the game board of Life, Life, Eternal Life. This same work also benefited from a Victorian parlor game found in Bermondsey Market in London. I bought it because the claim on the cover ("an exciting parlour game") contrasted so heavily with the sad, lonely-looking little girl playing the game in the graphic. But the game itself served as my model for the catapult used to get players out of Vanity Fair, that place invented by Bunyan in The Pilgrim's Progress (1678). At the same London market I found an unusual structure for a book. It appears to be a cigar, but opens into a fan, apparently so men in Spain could have a fan at the opera, yet not have a feminine object in their pocket when not in use. Not wanting to waste such an unusual find, I waited for years for the most appropriate project in which to utilize it. For a future bookwork, I am going to make paper cigar fans containing text from works, read by employees known as lectors, which keep the workers in Cuban cigar factories entertained as they rolled cigars.
Sometimes the things I encounter in shops and markets are not for sale, like sample cards created by vendors to show their line of products, such as buttons or beads. I have often been successful in purchasing these from shopkeepers in different countries, like India and Italy, by paying the sum of the parts. Studies of sample cards and books, some collected, some found in museums, have been useful in several works, including Bologna Sample [Figure 3.7] and Riddle [Figure 3.8], based visually on paint and wallpaper sample books. I rarely use anything in a work in its original form, taking care to avoid the "preciousness" or inherent value of something antique, rare, or sentimental. Making facsimiles gives the idea without extra baggage. It is also easier to ensure the archival standards of the work, with acid-free paper and glue, when new materials are used. For example, instead of using my grandmother's ornate silk Victorian lace with palm trees and Greek friezes in Life, Life, Eternal Life, I scanned it and transferred the textile imagery onto sized white silk. I did use some antique textiles in the work, but I tried to transform them to neutralize them a bit—felting carded wool through lace or strategically cutting areas to abstract imagery.
Museums are my mainstay in research, however. What I find there is, without exception, followed up with research in books or questions to scholars. The contents of museums, and especially the labels and wall text, provide a lifetime of input. I have always loved the work of the artist Hans Holbein the Younger. In the Victoria & Albert Museum I came face to face with a tiny portrait painted by him of Sir Thomas More and his family household. The photographic, 3-D likenesses of figures as small as my thumb magnetized me, but the wall text was even more riveting. A lot of what I know about history, religion, and myth is through 30 years of art history, often self-taught. I never took a European History course in high school or college. I couldn't believe the irony, as I read the painting's label, that More was killed for his Mores. More's mores turned into "More's'mores " when I realized how the American junk food snack s'mores could be an appropriate vehicle for the peculiar life, potty-mouth Latin, and punning gallows humor of Sir Thomas More, beheaded by Henry VIII. I reproduced a drawing of More by Holbein, had it reduced and cast in bronze, and branded it onto cast-paper marshmallows, pierced with a slate pencil [Figure 3.9]. When More didn't have proper writing materials in prison, he used burnt wood and slate pencils to write. His head was displayed on a spike on London Bridge.
As much as I enjoy doing the research for each work, and writing essays and poetry stemming from this research, I could never renounce the physical making of art. The homo faber, or maker, in me needs to experiment with materials as well as words. My curiosity spills into the physical realm: what if I try to dye this paper with chocolate or pomegranates or saffron? What if I print on chewing gum? Or felt dust onto wool? What if I cook spaghetti and glue it on a printing plate? I am always looking for new materials. Specialized stores of all kinds, with solely cloth, plastic, fiber, or chemistry products, fill me with an overwhelming sense of potential. Italy is good for those types of supply venues. Or sometimes my supply source can be a complete surprise. On a trip to the city of Catania, in Sicily, I visited the treasure-filled Diocese museum hoping to find some interesting typologies of reliquaries for a work in process. At the top of the museum, there was a roof-top terrace, filled with piles of volcanic ash that had been accumulating during the ongoing eruption of Etna. I hadn't wanted to collect it from the street, as it mixed with dirt in the gutters. But here was a clean supply, which I scooped into my pockets and purse. I kept it for years, waiting for the right occasion. At the university library in Manchester, England, I discovered volcanic ash was used to make paintings by British women in the 18th century, perhaps by the Bluestocking member Mary Delany. Thus it seemed perfectly appropriate to mix the volcanic ash with glue, and use it to depict the threatening fire-and-brimstone place known as Mount Sinai on The Pilgrim's Progress game board.
I have often benefited from casual exchanges of information with strangers in airports or other venues in the daily path of life. I had learned about nose contests from an ephemera dealer in Bologna, who sold me a gummed stamp from a nose contest at Carnival in Italy. But it was in a Milan airport that a Turkish student travelling back to her university in America that I learned of nose contests in her town on the Black Sea. Having the opportunity to talk to a dedicated scholar or a person who has acquired great cultural knowledge through experience is for me akin to stepping into a warehouse of materials or an astounding collection of historical artifacts in a museum. I may pooh-pooh the ancient practitioners of alchemy and the Renaissance seekers of universal knowledge through mystical diagrams and memory theaters, but perhaps my own goals and appetite for knowledge are similarly unrealistic. I can't help it: a sense of awe originates from my perception of being in the presence of great resources, human or inanimate. Tony Zwicker, with her incredible overview of artists' books and scholars, provided that sense of wonder for me in her cabinet of curiosities at the New York Arts Club. Her acute critical prowess and direct, questioning manner transfixed many of us. She prodded artists until she was satisfied of their intentions, and their knowledge. I don't think artists need necessarily to have intentions, or to necessarily make them known to others. But as my intent is to represent and circulate information, albeit in an unusual guise, I have greatly benefited from the scholarship of dealers, academics, collectors, and vendors alike, as well as the occasional cab-driver.
Angela Lorenz, 2010
Art in Sequence
by Angela Lorenz
These thoughts, and my works, may be considered inconsequential to the world at large. They do not belong to the great engines of social change. They are not even on the forefront of paper-engineering. Nor may I be credited with changing the face of the book. I am just one of many people participating in the world of what has come to be known as "artist's books", for lack of a better name. To be candid, I do this for fun. I must remind myself of this during the production stages of my editions, to eliminate whining or self-pity, no matter how meticulous or repetitive it may be. I've chosen to do this, I tell myself, as a means of expressing ideas. When asked to write about my method or myself, the resulting text can sound so serious and pragmatic. Perhaps this methodology is just a ruse, a justification or excuse to accumulate and tinker with all the tidbits of human experience that evoke wonder, surprise, sadness or amusement in me. Packaging and representing this information to others is a puzzle for me to resolve, revolved into something for others to puzzle through. It is both a challenge and a justification for my unbridled curiosity which allows me to dabble freely in the word, with little interference.
In trying to paper-engineer poetry, I use surfaces and structures to deliver meaning in sequence, manipulating the viewer's experience with the order in which information is received, giving support to the naked word. The pages bend, fold, stretch, slide or melt to fit the conceptual needs of the words, but the words must adapt to the surface area of the pages, often quite limited in size and number. The boiled-down, concentrated verbal message would seem to render futile the lengthy research involved, but when the text must fit on four sticks of gum (Chewing Tzu - The Rumination Book, 1993) or be sewn entirely on cloth (Where's the Button? 1997) there is a necessary economy of words. Mnemonic devices are inserted all along the way: as many elements of "the book" as possible are encoded, even encrusted, with information, because experience has taught me that it is easier to remember the anecdotal, the surprising, the isolated encounter than to memorize paragraphs or lists. I am drawn to the non-verbal communication of cultures, present in their habits, gestures and artefacts. In an effort to convey cultural material in an effective and interesting way, I inadvertently began to apply these same non-verbal means to the artist's book, for others to unfold.
My casual choice of Italy as a place for a year abroad led to the discovery of gypsies and nomads, of startling uses of and attitudes toward architectural spaces, of curious functions for recycled materials, and of individuals imprisoned or liberated by American armed forces, all as a part of my nonchalant daily experiences in the piazza or the paint store. These encounters and observations set in motion many research categories, that do not focus on Italy itself but on human experience, and occasionally the life of plants. The elusive nature of investigating gypsies and nomads has led me to broad areas of art and culture, such as indigenous textiles and portable ornaments, or jewelry, all imbued with meaning. As nomads have not chosen historically to write about themselves, I began to seek knowledge in their material culture and oral traditions with an oblique approach through anthropological texts and ethnographic museums. I am not sure whether it is possible to ever grasp the essence of nomadic peoples (we don't even know what language Attila the Hun spoke) or what affirmations outsiders may make of them, but the off-handed by-product was the accumulation of a rich library full of cultural information nomadic and non, and a host of new themes. Such a circular approach from all fronts is necessarily slow, but this wide net cast for mackerel or minnows allows me to ripen and winnow many projects at once. This is an efficient if haphazard way to do research over long periods of time. Many of the individual theses are not cross-referenced should I seek them directly, so even the daily newspaper is indispensable.
While this mysterious information gathering may resemble "drag net", the ultimate format, packaging, transport and presentation is decidedly "Mary Poppins". Often, artist's books have more than one display possibility, but, distinguishing them from other genres, they are frequently designed to be housed in specially-created, packaged formats which render them portable works of art. Anyone travelling around and presenting them is susceptible to evoking epithets such as "hurdy-gurdy show" or "song and dance", due to the unusual contents which might spill out, along with explanations or verse. Handling them can be problematic; sometimes diagrams and instructions are necessary. Jan van der Wateren, while Keeper of the National Art Library at the Victoria & Albert Museum, gave a slide-lecture in Iceland about the difficulties of artist's books. He decided to present The Hat's Up To You (1994), my most sculptural and unwieldy edition, composed of a series of seven collapsible paper hats which may be pulleyed to a full height of twelve feet, as an example of why artist's books are all worth it in the end. This said, it may be frustrating to view an artist's book under glass, without the benefit of a personal tour.
Certain works lose some of their carefully crafted function, motionless, in a temporary exhibition case. It is very helpful to have more than one copy of each edition to display, in freeze-frame, the unfolding sequence. But the Plato's cave scheme of the artist's book as a tool to manipulate the viewer's experience fades when the ploys are revealed. This holds especially true for Riddle (1994). Here the reader sees the text in its entirety in the lining of the question-mark covered clamshell box, before even finding the book itself. The intention is to allow the reader to meditate on the riddle. No matter how impatient, they can't immediately flip to the back of the book for the answer. In fact, the book isn't even visible. It must be discovered from within a foam structure. When the book is extracted, the text appears again, line by line with visual clues, giving way to the answer in the colophon. The Nomad's Chair (1998) works in a similar way. I had to abandon the saddlebag-inspired case designed originally in order to hide every trace of the Kurd carpet within. The rather formal outward appearance as a vellum volume with leather labels, upright in a clothbound case, forces the viewer to reflect a moment on the meaning of the title without any hints of rug at the outset. Releasing the information gradually, in a multi-layered approach, is a quiet alternative to the one-liner sound bites of art or advertising dependent on shock value, directed to a presumed audience of short attention-span. But in the act of focusing on the reader's experience, I myself become caught in my own discourse or methodological traps, entangled in the process intended for others.
In Soap Story (1999), the text is gradually revealed, if ever, from six cubes of soap. The words are silk-screened on six linen "pages", each one folded up inside a piece of numbered soap. The story may only be read through washing, an activity central to the plot. At the end, the young heroine's washing days are over, and the soap is gone forever. All that remains is the story, an oral history rendered in cloth copy which slots neatly into the paper pages of the hardcover binding. The book is housed in a faux antique soapbox lined with linen rags. The relationship of the person consuming the soap to the protagonist and process was carefully plotted out as I had been experimenting with the soap book for ten years. In the true story, the young woman is caught washing her rags on an elderly woman's property. I found myself in a similar predicament when I realized I couldn't hang my glue-soaked pieces of linen, during the process known as sizing, off my studio's second floor laundry line. To my horror, they flapped and stuck to the dusty stucco wall of the building. So I had to sneak over to the neighboring palazzo's laundry lines to hang my strips of dripping linen, depositing milky PVA glue drops onto the cement below, terrified the grumpy elderly lady from that building was going to come out and catch me. I never anticipated such parallels with the plot in the process of the book, during which I plunged unawares into the domestic chores of yore. The joke was on me when I needed to learn embroidery, in desperation, the moment I discovered that the decorative border of the century-old linen sheet used to line the 250 boxes wouldn't suffice. The granddaughter of the elderly woman in Soap Story had tried to teach me the same stitch years before. I could not turn to her for help, as Calabria is 700 miles south of Bologna, but fortunately the retired woman who shares the other half of my studio building was able to show me. She had previously lent me her lasagna-maker for the plasticine printing plates of Where's the Button?, so she is accustomed to the unusual goings-on next door and occasionally comes over when she needs some buttons.
As the unwitting participant in my own communication theories, the search for information as well as the physical artistic process resembles part slap-stick comedy, part cultural relativism. I don't privilege information from academic sources over that of the person on the street. The person on the street may not always be aware, however, that they are imparting information or artefacts. But twice in Bologna I was intercepted stooping to pick up a button that had just popped off someone's clothes, striking the sidewalk with a "clink", when the owner of the button turned around and asked the hovering artist whether that button, indeed, belonged to him. I've also run over my own artwork with an automobile, but not as a performance piece. I hate to think what went through tourist's or religious pilgrims' minds in the Santo Stefano church complex when they came upon me and my husband, his front to my back, pressed against the baptistry wall in penumbra. We were only rubbing an image on to paper, twenty-five times over, for the edition Urban Traces (1993), with the permission of the religious authorities, of course. Several years later, my glee in coming upon a Polaroid photo face up on the sidewalk to add to my collection of lost photos and negatives turned into a mix of disgust and amusement when I realized it was planted by a sexual deviant waiting for reactions to his anatomy from a parked car across the street. He didn't get much of a rise out of me, due to the fact I was walking with my visiting mother-in-law, and immediately had to mask my surprise and pretend the photo was nothing interesting. Luckily, her eyesight is not what it used to be. In any case it was not anything interesting, not even for my archives, as it was clearly intentionally placed, not lost. Furthermore, it was mysteriously retracted, along with the parked car, on our way back.
I often find myself having to explain what I'm doing to puzzled passers-by
or shopkeepers, sometimes having to argue with the latter that their
product is indeed appropriate for my needs, even though they
never intended it to be used for that purpose. I am used to incredulous
looks when I ask permission to photograph someone's innovative use of
a plastic bag or rubber tire. At times I must convince grudging merchants
to let me buy things that are not for sale, like rudimentary handmade
sample cards of buttons on haberdashery streets in both India and Sicily.
Persuading a bread and sweets vendor in Gwalior, India to sell his tiny
display cases of dubious hygiene created with recycled tin
Actually, many of the objects or materials I collect have already lost their usefulness by most standards. If anything, I am imbuing them with value. Or potential value, as they sit categorized in limbo until they are determined interesting or complete enough for a future edition. Some categories have an externally determined deadline or expiration date after which I will no longer be bound to them. With great relief I can stop collecting Italian currency with manuscript notes scribbled on top - from chain letters to insults to shopping lists - when Italy switches to the Euro. Although, this cultural habit may be stronger than the lira, especially if the Euro provides blank spaces. But it would not be far off the mark to say that I would rather collect other people's lost shopping lists than go shopping myself. Gathering this material does not require much effort. It is not the roped-off area dissected in strata of the archeologist. The strata I dissect is already on ground level; it requires no digging tools. In fact, it is still considered trash. It has yet to acquire an antique patina, the value of age, when it may be used to construct cultural information of the past. I observe broken pieces of terracotta, the scrap-paper of ancient cultures, known as potsherds or ostraca, in museums. But I collect the discarded Post-it notes of today. Some in languages I have not yet deciphered. My behavior isn't purposefully in imitation of the archeologist. It displays a personal interest in messages, printed or manuscript, which when separated from their origins gain new meaning out of context, rendering the initial message or purpose useless, amusing or absurd.
My experiences show me that even the most intentional, pragmatic approach
is really a free fall to destinations unknown. So I collect, note or
photograph now, relying on impulse and deferring judgment. I may fantasize
about throwing things away someday, but some pieces of trash dragged
into my archives will forever remain dear to my heart. Like that filthy,
folded, corrugated-cardboard relic found on the ground in Florence,
right in the beaten path of the most tourist-trodden town of Italy.
In indelible marker someone scribbled on it "Buttare via, grazie"
(Throw away, please). I couldn't possibly.
Engaging Visitors: A Visual Artist's Perspective on Special Collections
(Essay created "Who Cares?" Symposium, Harvard University in 2017)
by Angela Lorenz
I entered Special Collections through the basement, literally, as a student worker gluing clamshell boxes for hurt books and gilding their titles, a wait-and-see approach to conservation applied by Brown University's John Hay Library in 1986. A bookbinder in Bologna, Italy trained me in these skills during the previous year abroad at the University of Bologna. I roamed the closed stacks in nothing short of ecstasy, examining antique books with recycled documents revealed by damaged spines, and inwardly drooling over the snippets of paper tipped into Dard Hunter papermaking manuals. That year I became a patron of Special Collections when two classes, one at RISD and one at Brown, held sessions in the Hay to consult eccentric examples of artist's books. By graduation, I accidentally advanced from employee and patron to vendor, when the work supervisor sent me upstairs to show my artist's books to a curator. She asked to purchase them and taught me how to make an invoice.
In toto I have engaged with staff from 200 Special Collections in the US and abroad, in conservation and cataloging, exhibitions and acquisitions, with curators, subject librarians and professors from a broad range of the humanities, including the digital humanities. I have cycled through numerous directors or curators as they retired or moved. It is helpful for employees to gain perspective by working at different institutions, but I mourn the intimate knowledge of each particular collection lost when a librarian or curator departs. This is my reflection as a researcher in Special Collections, as all my work is non-fiction, if whimsical.
I embrace digitization, which allows me, and anyone, to be a patron from afar. To consult Henry James' handwriting, or Balzac's invented typographical corrections, on Houghton's or the Morgan Library's websites from a computer in Italy is a godsend. At the same time, a project on Edward Lear's annotated watercolors required five weeks in Houghton's reading room, scrutinizing the tiny words in pencil and pen scattered across 3,500 landscape sketches and transcribing them in the same position and manner into blank sketchbooks. I did this on my own nickel, as visual artists touting a B.A. have a hard time competing with PhD candidates for funding specifically open to both artists and academics. It is difficult to quantify the utility of interdisciplinary art projects, but artists do bridge the divide from academic publishing to the public on occasion. Given the opportunity, the third iteration of my Lear research will be Edward Learospheres , environments of annotated camp chairs, hammocks and nomad saddlebags made from recycled sails for the public to rest upon while reading Lear's poetry or whatever they choose.
It is reassuring that if my personal archive suffers damage, the editions housed in Special Collections will endure. Ideas flow forth and I scramble to give them form and stay afloat as a full-time working artist. Three decades of sales to university libraries and other public institutions have been my creative life-preserver, yet nothing gives me a greater sense of purpose than hearing how the work is used for teaching in university classes or during public events. I am curious, I investigate and I offer my findings in bizarre packaging, which I hope in turn will ignite the curiosity of others, that they may seek knowledge through material culture, or research, or animated conversations or MOOCs. Or maybe they will just laugh, equally useful for the health of mind and body. I am a humorist if nothing else.
I do aspire to be an enabler, promoting low-tech, inexpensive and innovative materials to communicate ideas: prints created with spaghetti, styrofoam meat trays or pencil erasers. A hacked music box to teach about John Cage. A remodel of an antique Spanish fan to convey the history of reading in cigar factories. I respect conservation standards, and teach conservation when I am critiquing as a visiting or resident artist. I suggest inventive and accessible ph -neutral materials that don't require sophisticated equipment or a big budget. Students benefit when Special Collections also seek non-traditional examples to complement the leather-tooled bindings and first editions. All are powerful stimuli for future creators and consumers of culture and knowledge. These sensorial experiences handling or viewing material culture will outlast other fragments of their education, memory studies teach us. The more bizarre, the better, like Hemingway's circle around a drop of sweat in a letter, recently on view in a Houghton exhibition. When a student or member of the public goes home and recounts this experience the memory will be further fixed in the brain. May this be true for my cast-paper graham crackers and marshmallows, with disgusting rhymes in latin exchanged by trash-talking Sir Thomas More and Martin Luther, in the same Houghton exhibition. They are also acid-free, if acerbic.
A scroll down the blog dedicated to the traveling mosaic installation Victorious Secret illustrates interactions with Special Collections. This exhibition is currently celebrating 45 years of Title IX at its 10th venue at Brown University's Rockefeller Library. I hope it will travel for five more years until the 50th anniversary. This piece also circulates graffiti in Latin and English from Pompeii and Herculaneum, consisting of shopping lists, washing lists, and comments about abusive boyfriends and pregnancy – real issues in 79AD but not related to the actual message of these Roman mosaics from Sicily, recreated with buttons and hairpins. Salacious associations obscure the fact that 2,000 years ago prestigious Roman families gained status when their daughters competed in the Pentathlon on three continents. Somehow, the athletes' bikinis get all the attention, even of modern tourists.
The "Bikini Girls" as they are unfortunately known debuted at Dartmouth in the Brickway Gallery of the Berry-Baker Library. At Venue #7, University of Pennsylvania, Victorious Secret was invited by Special Collections and the Penn Humanities Forum. They installed the piece in the Education Commons, a library facility tucked into the athletic complex. For events there, and at the Kislak Center for Special Collections, I met with students, faculty, community members and participants of a symposium for Italian language educators. Artist's books were on display after the lecture for the public to consult.
At Venue #6, Swarthmore College, Special Collections placed the triptychs in three different buildings to reach as many students as possible – in athletics, science, and library facilities – and created a concurrent exhibition of artist's books in the library, where I met with several visual arts classes. The students published four articles and interviews – a record so far. All the links to articles and events are posted below each venue.
Venue #5, Yale University, placed the mosaics in two different libraries and invited the public to print a memento with an antique Albion press belonging to the Bibliographical Press, which sponsored the lecture. As this piece highlights goals families had for female athletes 2,000 years ago, I was gratified the Yale women's tennis team used the lecture and printed memento for a team bonding event.
At Wesleyan University, Venue #4, Special Collections, Athletics, the Title IX office and the Friends of the Library collaborated. While the mosaics were on view in the Italianate library atrium, students and staff were invited to Special Collections to play a game of Pilgrim's Progress, an editioned accordion-fold cloth game about the amusing and disturbing aspects of John Bunyan's life and work. After a lecture sponsored by the Friends of the Library, the general public proceeded to Special Collections to view artist's books acquired by Wesleyan. Librarians have informed me that when the public is invited to handle artist's books for an event, sometimes they wash their hands first with my edition Soap Story. This has the advantage of both preparing them for the unlimited possibilities of artist's books, and preventing them from soiling others.
The latest mission to inspire people to engage with material culture is a limited-edition graphic novel with a sculpture attached, which the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office describes as "an amorphous humanoid with a pointy head." The book contains over 400 watercolor paintings, a few prints and artist's books, photographs and 16 stop-motion animation films accessed through QR codes. Libraries will appreciate that the story mentions the digital humanities and WorldCat . The protagonist, r.ed monde, is trapped in an artist's studio in Bologna, Italy for two decades, trying to come out of the drawer. In the interim, r.ed grapples with boredom. The last recourse is to look at reference books, which provide r.ed monde with solace: for the first time, r.ed finds kinship in the world, discovering pointy-heads from every continent in 15,000 years of recorded history. It was here in the Red Republic of Letters, Oliver Wendell Holmes' moniker for Harvard, that this history of pointy-heads was announced in a 1994 exhibition catalog.
Now that r.ed is released, and 60 of the 300 clones are circulating in Special Collections and private homes, word filters back regarding r.ed's activities. The character has been discovered sneaking into the vault at the University of Delaware. And politely signing in at Wesleyan's Special Collections, to consult works and attend a meeting in the conservation lab. At Smith, r.ed was spotted lounging in the miniature book collection, and at Penn r.ed mimicked Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman. At Temple University, r.ed visited with Angela Lorenz works in the closed stacks, while at Swarthmore, r.ed visited an exhibition. At Bowdoin, r.ed cavorted with collections and statuary, and at the Clark Art Institute, r.ed merely gazed out the window after finding a historic rug on which to relax, perhaps gearing up for some yoga.
The contemplated future involves augmented-reality applications for r.ed and material culture collections to hoodwink visitors into closely observing artifacts through unusual juxtapositions and simple questions to classify the image or object on view. This could take place in person or online, for individuals or classes who may not have the chance to visit a library, museum or exhibition in person. Currently, the Peabody Museum of Archaeology in Andover, Massachusetts has developed a trivial pursuit game for r.ed monde and pointy artifacts on display for two weeks in October. The possibilities to engage the public are ever expanding. I am eager to do my part.
Angela Lorenz, 2017
in Isolation with Angela Lorenz, Walt Whitman, Primo Levi andr.ed monde
(Virtual lecture for RISD, 2020)
by Angela Lorenz
Covid-19 hit the Italian news just two days after I left Bologna for what was to be 6 weeks of work -travel in the US. Beyond the repercussions of having all my appointments and shows canceled, it has meant, because I am not a resident of Italy, I am not allowed to return to my husband and apartment in Bologna. We hope to reunite after more than five months apart in August, but that depends on bureaucracy and availability of flights. These are problems that will resolve with time , however. I have learned especially from my Calabrese in-laws that health is always the first thing . This world health crisis has been devastating for many, and has only added to the firmly rooted problems of systemic racism and racial injustice.
Fortunately, I fell on my feet, through the kindness of friends as usual. It is risky to be my friend, as, at one point or another, you may find your closets, driveways, attics or basements full of my stuff. Some artists collect and make a lot of s tuff , and travel quite a bit, by car, bus, train and plane, internationally . It can be hard to coordinate all the pieces. But the work needs to get made, and to be shown and sold. The process is not as tidy as I would like .
At times I have made work in hotel rooms or parking lots, sitting in my car. As Covid-19 began to unfold, first in Italy and then the US, my hosts in Cambridge invited me to set up a studio , bringing a folding - card - table up to t heir spare guest room. When things worsened, we formed a quarantine pod for close to three months, minus a trip to my studio in Maine in April . There, I managed to get caught in a snowstorm , losing power and heat for several days. It was a neighbor's turn to shelter me , together with a new lamb who had lost her mother, and was prancing around the house in a diaper.
I seek to communicat e through my work. But over three decades as a working artist, it habitually becomes clear that my carefully constructed, dogmatic approach, my earnest intentions in art- making , snap back like a boomerang. I may try to teach, but the lessons seem to be for me. The process of creating art or writing can feel like omnipotence. Within my own modest sphere, I get to make a lot of decisions, and bring into being things that previously existed only in my mind. But this sense of control is illusory when I realize I am a pawn in my own process.
An early boomerang moment came in 1993 when the curator Elli Garvey noticed that each piece I create is a little memory palace, a series of mnemonic devices placed within architecture. So, my attempt to communicate in a creative, conceptual way, ultimately benefits me - it allows me to memorize facts related to the research topics of each project. Memory theaters were invented in Ancient Greece to aid public speaking, or rhetoric. My symbolic way of creating pieces helps me speak about them as well - a fringe benefit.
Lessons about my work can be unc omfortable, when I am unwittingly "forced" to experience things I intended for others , like in Soap Story (1999). The process of making the piece mirrored the events of the unwed - mother in this true story from Calabria in the 1950's. I, too, found myself trespassing to a laundry l in e, to hang wet strips of linen dripping with glue sizing, and was surprised by an elder woman who chastised me. My intention for the reader s of Soap Story is for them to go through the process of washing in order to release the story's cloth pages from the soaps - a drama in six installments. This parallels the protagonist, whose fortunes pivot through the process of washing.
Artist's books can be labor intensive, especially in editions. But they are an artist's opportunity to control the order in which the audience receives information, like an independent film. They are sequential art. In truth, artist's books are just art, and it's a free for all, sometimes a puzzle. Some work is deceivingly straightforward, until viewers realize they are being played...that the work is merely a parody of something else. Soap Story is a performance that results in an archival, permanent piece of art , the cloth pages preserved in a book . But another piece, made out of chewing gum printed with Taoist philosophy, is consumed in the process. It results in food for thought.
So, the joke was on me again this spring, when I found myself construct ing a rustic scene of Lincoln-log cabins isolated in the woods, as I myself was isolated from the world, except for my quarantine pod, and thankfully with Internet. I was not roughing it, until I was, in Maine, actually alone in a wooden house in the woods, trying to assemble a drill-press, unable to consult any tutorials. I am not comfortable with power tools, and I had planned on getting the help of skilled artisans, but lockdown prevented that. Forced to be self-reliant, and to overcome my phobia, I drilled holes in carpenter pencils for the homemade erector set with which you can write Walt Whitman's name.
Whitman was a carpenter early on - apprenticed to his fathe r - which maybe he thought gave him street cred as "a rough," like the buff, working class types he lusted after on the Brooklyn Ferry. It surely was n't lost on him that Jesus was reputed to be a carpenter. Over time, rearranged Leaves of Grass poems resembled verses of the Bible . Some of the language sounds like a god or mystic talking. For me this is repellent , as it is hard not to blend this omniscient voice with Whitman "the man," as if HE is God's gift to man, a messiah or prophet . I was drawn to Whitman because of the radically shifting structure of Leaves of Grass over 40 years time . But when I dipped into the poetry, I recoiled.
Literature often requires an annotated text, or a teacher or guide. We need tools. We need perspective. Biography has been one of my passions from elementary school. I like people. I am interested in lives lived, and in what constitutes a good life. I am drawn to archeology and material culture - things people make, do and build. What do we have in common across the world and the millennia? What hasn't changed?
Literature is harder, because of language barriers and inside jokes and contexts that need deciphering. Author Jamaica Kincaid stressed in a symposium I was part of a few years ago that if students haven't read certain works in the Western canon of literature, like the 10,000 lines of Milton's Paradise Lost, they can't possibly understand her own writing. It can be hard to crack the code without help.
In college I decided it would be good for me to read the Bible. I quit early on. It was so incredibly violent and depressing. The biblical language of Whitman, and th e way he was saying how great America was in the 19th century, was off-putting. His writing i s inclusive for his time, celebrating immigrants and indigenous peoples and the religions and cultures of the world, but this going on about the greatness of America - it didn't ring true for women, or so many people living in America , in terms of basic civil rights, especially the right to vote . Not to mention those who were enslaved, slaughtered or removed from their lands, or who had their businesses torched.
Visual biographers don't need to fall in love with their subjects. It's better if they don't. Impartiality is good. The reason I felt compelled to visually depict the seven US editions of Leaves of Grass from 1855-1892 was that, like the Bible, many people think of it as one book, or one work, when it is really made up of changing bits and pieces that get added and subtracted and rearranged over time. It is not a static, fixed thing. Leaves of Grass is one of the most famous works of 19th US literature. But it is not one book.
I gave myself a deadline, 2019, Whitman's 200th birthday . That was back in 2007, the summer I was Resident Faculty at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine. I had come across a reference to Whitman's "Dough Face Song" poem, which is not in the Leaves of Grass - it's an abolition poem he published in 1840 signed with the pen name " Paumanok ". This is a creepy poem to read now: it addresses how compliance allowed politicians to feather their nests like jackdaws.
The "Dough Face Song" also struck me because I have created a lot of edible art and faux - food projects. My husband is a skilled baker and gelato and chocolate maker, and we collaborate sometimes . I had other ideas for bread installations, so I started exploring Whitman. When I gave a public lecture two months later at the Brooklyn Museum , I was able to discuss the local hero Whitman with Deirdre Lawrence, former library director, who shared the history of Whitman's editions .
That is the genesis of the work. I shared my lack of enthusiasm about some of the poetry with Lynne Farrington at the University of Pennsylvania. She suggested I think of Whitman's elegiac tone celebrating America as aspirational instead of literal or descriptive. That helped. At any rate, I am not an expert on Whitman, and the construction set I created is not about meaning or interpretation - it's about structure.
As I created the various elements of Seeding and Weeding - L.o.G Construction Set, painting and printing wooden garden stakes, sawing pencils and carving them into Lincoln logs, every day at noon I would look at the graphs charting the Covid-19 pandemic in Italy. After a while the charts began to resemble mountainous karst landscapes in Asian art. When I was in high school, cleaning up by myself after printmaking, I began creating similar landscapes with the recycled ink, off-printing it onto paper. I recreated the process to print overlays on the construction-set directions based on the Italian Covid-19 statistics.
Another piece I worked on in the guest room was inspired by its own structure. Often I create or adapt a structure to make ideas visual, such as the Balzaculator , an analog or paper computer, which turns Balzac's Comedy Humaine into a binary system with a punch card. But for the piece titled Carbon Atom, it is an author's own literary structure that compelled me.
I came across Primo Levi's book The Periodic Table (1975) in the museum shop of the Jewish Ghetto in Venice. I have often visited Venice since I was a student at the University of Bologna in 1985, but never fully explored the ghetto until I was Faculty A rtist in R esidence at the nearby Scuola Internazionale di Grafica , Venezia. This book blew my mind with its intelligence, humor, poignance and astonishing vignettes of the life of a chemist - Levi's main reason for writing this book. The content is fascinating - who compares their family members to the inert or noble gases of the periodic table? What parents would allow two young chemists to set up business in their apartment, and scatter about every available bit of crockery filled with combustible chemical solutions? I myself was horribly concerned about acrylic paint or ink getting on my hosts' sofa or rug - what Primo Levi did in his business partner's parents home was actually dangerous, if amusing to read about.
The content of Primo Levi's book is scattered and disconnected. Fiction, non-fiction, fable, memoir and anecdote are improbably glued between two covers. How can Levi justify this combination? He uses Mendeleev's Periodic Table as an armature for the book. Each of the 21 chapters are titled with the name of an element from the periodic table. The brilliant use of this literary/narrative structure inspired me to create the piece. The 21st chapter, titled Carbon, describes a hypothetical life of a carbon atom. But the last stroke of the chapter and book is the most exciting use of typography since Tristram Shandy's squiggly mark interpreting the emphatic gesture of a walking stick. Levi's innovation is even more ingenious, because the mark masquerades as a simple, commonplace, period or full-stop . He transforms the period into something conceptual, created by the carbon atom temporarily resting in the specific area of the author's brain which commands the hand to make the period, and end the book.
It is not uncommon that the process or format of any of my works in development radically shift shape until the 11th hour. It's important to remain focused but stay loose. Thanks to a random chat with British strangers in Venice, I learned about an event taking place in Bologna which resulted in Carbon Atom becoming a pared-down book created with cutouts and tailor's chalk.
The final format of Carbon Atom was influenced by a live reading of Le Corbusier's "The Poem of the Right Angle". The look of that illustrated book resembles Matisse's Jazz, and was created by the same artisans. I was happy with the previous structure invented for the Carbon chapter, which was complemented by a series of chemists' "recipe cards" referred to in Levi's book. Editing a work of writing or art can be painful as special parts drop to the cutting room floor.
Yet again, my work regarding problem-solving during times of deprivation came back to bite me. The sewing shop in Bologna was out of the tailor's chalk I needed. I found myself desperately having to come up with ways to extend the life of the ever-shrinking pencil nubs.
Using low-tech processes and materials is a challenge and a good example for others. What can you do with common, inexpensive materials? It is impressive what makers of the past and present can do with simple materials - like Gaudi's broken tiles or the elaborate brickwork of Romanesque architecture.
We innovate when we must, when presented with problems and scarcity. Wartime economies and incarceration have always shown this. Levi tried every trick in the chemist's book to survive in Auschwitz. I chose to use recycled and scrounged paper, and the simplest means possible: a razor blade, a straight-edge, white pencils and waxed silk thread. I gave myself parameters, or limitations, as I did in Pandora's Book in 1992. I allowed myself to use only materials from a woman's work box, or art forms considered safe for women to dabble in without attracting a lot of attention, silhouette portraits and watercolors, for this work about discrimination in history.
But Carbon Atom was created in 2019. Why was I making copies of it in my friends' guest room in 2020? Because for some makers, art is a messy process when editions are not completed all at once. This is why I have found myself making art in cars, hotels and friend's living rooms in the normal course of life, not in a pandemic. I ran out of completed copies, and needed to ship out a few more.
Through it all, a more spontaneous release came from my cartoon character and sculpture r.ed monde, which I use to humor others in real time, through photography and Instagram. While taking, editing and posting the photographs of r.ed is time consuming, it allows me a spontaneous outlet to punctuate the lengthy timelines of my other works.
Artists and writers often spend time alone, reading, thinking and creating. But for the first time in my life, in March 2020, making art bestowed a grounding sense of structure to help me cope with the destabilizing unknowns of the pandemic. I left Cambridge for two weeks of quarantine in Maine on May 27, as word about George Floyd's death spread around the world. I have not done any creative work since then. In general, I always question what I am doing at any particular time , or whether my work is relevant, and spend two hours a day reading English and Italian newspapers. This moment in time has made my work, rooted in history, biography and literature feel like a gnat, flea, or tiny carbon atom absorbed into the sea of life. But Primo Levi tells us that the atom will be released back into the air and continue its journey.
My destiny was laid out in the many hours I spent alone as a child, creating tiny objects for my troll house, and reading dozens of biographies checked out from the public library I walked to after school. Access to books has been the key to success for centuries. I have no idea which of my planned projects I will finish in the future, but this period of reflection has inspired me to be more directly involved in the access of education for others, specifically in after-school community centers, where our youth find mentors and hone their problem-solving skills through art and other disciplines.
by Angela Lorenz
The No-Bake Cake Book (1988) has metal candles and acrylic frosting on the front cover. I put it in a white box and cut a hole lined with acetate to make a window so it would resemble a pastry box. It was to be a present for someone but my friend wasn't in his office when I dropped by, so I just left it on his desk. His co-workers noticed it a bit later, mistook it for a cake, and put it in the refrigerator for him. Luckily, it did not stay there too long.
Many artists' books have similar experiences. They mystify and surprise people. My books often do not look like books, appearing instead to be take-out food, matchbooks, rags, picture frames, boxes, decorator samples, or trash. Or sometimes they look completely normal. So normal, that you must look very closely to realize they are not what they seem. Dis cover Italian Monuments (1989) passes as the usual tourist book until it is apparent that the famous monuments have been photographed with scaffolding covering them and there is a handwritten text.
Artists' books involve inspection and interaction. They are sequential, dimensional, and require concentration. Artists' books are most surprising in that they do not usually hang on a wall or stand in a corner as many people expect art to be displayed. They are works of art that involve participation. It would be easier to say, "I work in a bank." Even my relatives express frustration about trying to explain what I do. "Oh what kind of artist? Books? You mean you make the cover? You do illustrations? You make children's books? You're a bookbinder? A writer?" As many people have never seen an artists' book; they find it hard to imagine one. But my relatives describe a book or two that I've made to try to get the idea across. However, each book differs so much from another that it is difficult to generalize.
In the broad spectrum of artists' books, certain things hold true. Each project is usually conceived and produced by one person. In this aspect, they are similar to independent films. There is no grand mechanism behind or above the artist supervising or editing the work, like a publishing house. Which is not to say that the artist doesn't seek advice or criticism during a project, or ask for help during certain stages of production. But in the creation of an artists' book, one person is usually making all the decisions concerning form, content, production, and distribution. Which is why most people have never heard of or seen artists' books.
The nature of each book dictates how it may or may not be circulated.
If a book is produced in a large edition and is not too fragile or expensive,
it may be sold in a "normal" bookstore where the buyer is
willing to stock something a little unusual. Some bookstores carry exclusively
artists' books. But some books are only made in unique copies, or they
are extremely small or large and unwieldy. Some are very delicate. These
books may be seen in museums and libraries or art galleries, and they
may be purchased through dealers of contemporary rare books. Other books
are made of volatile materials and may only last a few hours or a few
days. They represent a performance or experience which may be documented
but not sold or collected. Entropy
(1986) falls into this category. It consists of four think blocks of
ice with text frozen inside that melts in approximately eight hours.
At the end, the text remains in a puddle of water which eventually evaporates.
|My artistic expression takes the form of books because I
like to communicate ideas using words, symbols, images, materials, structures,
and sequences all at the same time. Books allow me to communicate on many
levels at once and seem to impose few limits. I may conduct research or
experiments and publish my findings in a form other than that of an academic
paper. I may write poetry and hide it inside an unexpected vehicle. I
may continuously explore new techniques and materials in order to convey
each concept. I am able to express my ideas without a publisher and I
don't usually need large amounts of money and people, or an audience present,
as is necessary for a theatrical performance or film. This is not to say
that books do not present constant challenges, which I also enjoy, but
they are challenges within my means.
The challenges exist on both a physical and conceptual level. Each book is usually inspired by an initial idea or structure. If the idea comes first, the appropriate materials, structure, and sequencing must be gradually resolved. If the structure is the original inspiration, a corresponding content must be developed. Occasionally, the structure and content are conceived at the same time, but the scrutiny of every physical and symbolic element of the book must follow. Each aspect of the book contributes to the whole, while attempting not to either be overly cryptic or too explanatory. When the book has text, the process, size, color, type, and placement must be considered. It may be letterpressed, rubber stamped, silkscreened, xeroxed, collaged, stenciled, rubbed, sewn, drawn, or as in Wax Promises (1991), linotyped on modeling clay and then baked in the cover. All the concerns are not only conceptual. The materials are also analyzed with respect to their physical properties. Special paper is chosen that will be less likely to fade, yellow, or become brittle over time. Glues have different properties as well, and each kind is appropriate for different situations. Sometimes a glue is needed that dries slowly, or one that is not too absorbent. Some attract insects and others contain chemicals that may damage certain materials. The structural elements are assembled and tested so they may last over time (except when they aren't supposed to) and be handled easily enough by the reader. The creation of the structure, and the relationship between the form and content of the books, encompass the inventive aspects of my work. The rest is based on factual information and observations collected in libraries, museums, trains, buses, streets, and random encounters.
I am so intrigued by reality and history that I do not find it necessary to invent things. Instead, I collect things, take notes and photographs, listen to people's stories, and do a lot of research. As I walk, I pick up playing cards, buttons, keys, negatives, messages, and puzzle pieces. I photograph gloves, shoes, socks, weeds, signs, posters, partially exposed buildings, and objects or materials being used in ways for which they were not intended. My books document how cultures, both ancient and modern, use materials and language, and what happens to these languages and materials over time. Often I underline the humorous and ironic aspects of these cultural phenomena, although sometimes the subject matter is quite bleak.
My greatest frustration lies in being able to produce only so many of the projects competing within me to be released each year. I feel as though I have already absorbed a lifetime of material, yet I know my research will never end as neatly and concisely as my books.
Selected Bibliography by the Artist
Angelonium: Angela Lorenz Collected Works and Websites. angelonium.com
"Art in Isolation." Essay for virtual lecture, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI, 2020.
"Art in Sequence." Essay commissioned (never published), Boston Public Library, Boston, MA, 2001.
Gelatauro XX: A Mythical Feast. Bologna, Italy: Fig Lit, 2018.
"Engaging Visitors: A Visual Artist's Perspective on Special Collections.'" Invited essay (never published) for Houghton Library Conference "Who Cares?", Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, 2017.
"Blue Camouflage: Our Airplane Spotting Classes We Hope We Won't Use Yet" and "What Artists Study." In What Artists Study: Distinguishing Abbot Academy's Legacy in Coeducation. Andover, MA: Phillips Academy, 2014.
Caccia al tesoro smeraldo [designer]. Bologna, Italy: Occhio sulla città, 2011.
"Research in the Works." In At the Turn of the Centuries: The Influence of Early 20th Century Book Arts on Contemporary Artists' Books. New Haven, CT: the jenny-press, 2007.
"Introduction and Acknowledgements" and "Denouement Denuded—Stripping Away at the Finished." In Creating with Abandon: Process in the Artist's Books of Angela Lorenz. Bologna, Italy: Stamperia Valdonega, 2006. With Stephen Bury, Rosemary L. Cullen, Marcia Reed, Laurie Whitehill Chong.
"Julia Child and the Art of Cooking Up Friendships." In Smith College News from the Libraries, spring 2006.
Bound to Make Books: An Exhibition of Limited Edition Books by Angela Lorenz. Cambridge, MA: Houghton Library, 1994.
Unsuspected Books . Siena: Arte & Libri, 1992.
Large public libraries; university special collections or art libraries; specialized dealers and bookstores; prints, photographs and drawings collections of museums, or museum libraries, or both.
Department of Creative Arts
Centre for Fine Print Research
University of the West of England, Bristol
Victoria and Albert Museum
Artists’ Books: Interviews with Artists
FREE RESOURCE MATERIALS-For people who teach courses or lecture on artist's books, I offer some free samples of my own artist's books and process pieces as supplies last. Please contact me for details.