Monday, March 16, 2015

Artist's Books I've Made (post 3 of 3)

another heart for a colophon image; this
one, though, is being repaired after rupture
Though I object strongly to the characterization that artists are inhumane, in that they aestheticize painful emotions like heartbreak, grief, shame, etc., I can sometimes understand the perspective. This is particularly so when I look at the second artist book I created, + 10 - (you can articulate this as 10, plus or minus). This book is by far the most labor-intensive of my creations to date (and probably will maintain that status for a while); it is also the most personal of my works. I only created three copies of this book, all of which I still own. And that will probably be the case for a good long while. For as much as I like to make my books/artwork for others, sometimes the creations I explore in my art and writing are really, mostly, for me.

+ 10 - is about many things--but one of the prominent things that it deals with are the twinned concepts of poetic revision and bodily healing/scarring. I had this book project in mind long before it came into fruition as the artist book I'll write about here; indeed, the "ten" of the title refers to a number of years. As an undergraduate student in my early 20s, I wrote a series of poems entitled "Drafting Days" that were about the dissolution of a romantic relationship. These poems, part of my larger honors thesis project, were very much invested in thinking through the relationship between words and embodiment, between poetry and fine arts: thus, I chose to photograph these poems as I wrote them, one by one, on my own body. It struck me at the time (and still does strike me, if I'm honest) that skin was a particularly apt vehicle for expressions of the kind of intimacy, pain, and loss that these poems meant to archive--and that allowing a reader to view these poems on a body rather than on a piece of paper would communicate a kind of embodied language that I was struggling to express more traditionally.

as you can see, the techniques I used to bind and affix
images in the book, as well as to put the book together,
are takes on anatomical suturing techniques. 
I'm not sure how well any of that worked (I'm still not); however, I remain fascinated with alternative reading/writing/presentation practices. A few years later, working on my MFA in poetry, I was exploring a poetics that engaged with revision and rewriting. And I thought--wouldn't it be cool to return to "Drafting Days" ten years later and rewrite these pieces, to see what still felt relevant to me from the old language? Thus, + 10 - was (conceptually) born, though I waited several more years till the 10 year timeframe had elapsed to put the project into action.

this spine binding (as noted above) uses the technique
that doctors use to bind tendons together

digital photo/ poem/ manual photo sandwich
For the artist book revisiting of "Drafting Days," I decided to both rewrite the poems (sticking as closely as possible to the original poetic language and just redacting/ rewording/ reordering sections) and to rephotograph the images: rather than writing and photographing the entire poem on my body, however, I chose to include only a word or two as a kind of "scar" that I wrote on the same body part in the updated photos. You can see (above) how I eventually presented these pieces: a digital print of the updated photo on the left, the revised poem printed on translucent paper in the middle, and the original photo on the right. While the original photos had been taken with a manual camera and then hand developed/printed, I wanted them, in the book format, to have a more ghostly quality. Thus, I chose to print copies of these old photos on cloth and sew the cloth images into the book by hand. I used anatomical stitching techniques for the "sutures," which you can see in close-up below:

if I ever use this process again, I will pick a MUCH
less slippery thread!

I was interested in the idea, in the capturing of these revisions/scars, that there would be a lot of text visible that wouldn't necessarily be legible. For instance, in many of the photos (particularly when printed on cloth), the text is fuzzy and hard to make out. To me, this seemed a crucial expression of the essentially private, idiosyncratic nature of the loss of love. In keeping with this theme, I chose to include all of the words from the original poems but to divest them of their poetic structure. Instead, I printed them in alphabetical order at the front and the close of the book: words I used multiple times were printed in red, and ones I used only once were printed in black.

these words are printed on translucent paper, allowing for
the above effect
This book's interest in marking injury and repair, but in showing the seams and scars in this process, was also materialized in the book's cover itself. I tore an abstract hole in the cover, then sutured some of the gaping parts together. Underneath, you can see a sheet of translucent handmade paper (which I think of as a film of scar tissue) and then, below that, you can begin to discern a photograph. This kind of layering, of looking through and around and most of all at "wounds"--linguistic, bodily, artistic--was the central organizing principle of the book.

of course, this suturing is more aesthetic than practical...such a wound
would not, it seems, be closed via this thread!
In many ways, this project still feels undone to me. Perhaps this is why, more than its personal nature, I've kept all the copies of this work. I wonder, though, what the project would look like 15 years out. Or 20. Maybe there are more iterations of this to come...and in a way, I think that kind of openness to the unfinished nature of the book seems its most fitting conclusion.

Here's to the incomplete work we are all doing/being!

Dr. Renzi

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