“The World As Text”
Author: Claudine Ise
06.16.11-08.12.11 Center for Book and Paper Arts at Columbia College Chicago
Part exhibition, part library, and part metatext about the nature of textuality itself, this concise yet wide-ranging gathering gives equal consideration to the handmade zine, the limited edition chapbook, the e-book, and a host of other material and conceptual approaches to the hybrid form known as the artist’s book. Dianna Frid’s delicate, hand-sewn text is the only work requiring a vitrine—everything else is fully accessible. By including roughly seventy-five selections (chosen by a panel of artists that included Buzz Spector and Maria Fusco, among others), curator Jessica Cochran has made it possible for dedicated visitors to read everything over the course of the show’s run.
Books are grouped somewhat randomly, freeing audiences to forge their own conceptual links. Gregg Bordowitz’s Volition, 2009, a book consisting solely of questions, might be productively considered alongside Octavian Esanu’s JFL: What Does Why Mean?, 2005, a text constructed entirely out of queries posed during artists’ interviews, which can likewise be read against Mel Bochner’s Misunderstandings: A Theory of Photography (1967–1970), 1970, a group of offset prints on note cards showing nine quotations from different artists and thinkers on the subject of photography—an unidentified third of which were fabricated by Bochner himself.
Given its eclectic offerings, “The World as Text” is probably best understood as a series of intertextual excursions whose trajectories are charted by the viewer’s own idiosyncratic wanderings. By putting artists’ books directly into the hands of visitors, the exhibition transforms viewers into readers who may construct their own metatexts without the aid of museological signposts. Exhibition designer John Preus, a Chicago-based artist and builder, furthers this concept by putting salvaged desks and office chairs to ingeniously off-kilter new uses as wall-mounted display units and book nooks, inside which myriad textual worlds await discovery.