Columbia College Center for Book and Paper Arts

A build out of a temporary reading room for an exhibition of artists books

June 16th through August 12th, 2011

Rated in the top 10 exhibitions of 2011 by Timeout Chicago.

download the catalog for free

The contemporary production of artists’ books is a canon-defying zone of activity shared by visual artists, book artists, designers, printmakers, photographers and literary artists from myriad backgrounds, communities and art worlds.  Accordingly, there is no single value system for the production, distribution and criticism of artists’ books.  In an attempt to represent a dynamic slice of this field as it operates globally, this temporary gallery reading room, curated by Jessica Cochran, will feature books, publications and printed matter- all made by artists. While the reading room will represent a multitude of approaches to the book form, the works will be linked by a commitment to intellectual, aesthetic and conceptual investigation and expression.
Over seventy five books in the the reading room are selected by a group of guest curators, including Doro Boehme, Sarah Bodman, Steve Clay, Maria Fusco, Little Berlin (collective), Emily McVarish, Tate Shaw, Buzz Spector, Temporary Services and others.


Chicago Tribune
Public Works
Timeout Chicago

Flickr photostream

About the Reading Room Design:
Designed and guided by John Preus, with studio assistant Kevin Reiswig, and guest designer John Badal, in collaboration with students and faculty at Columbia College.

Beginning with 2nd-hand desks, office chairs, and other implements of reading and writing, the Reading Room will be built and designed by a team of designer/apprentice pairings responding to literary terminology, theory and history as a point of departure for building discreet physical objects and environments.

All speech can be considered a form of quotation, more or less successful attempts to authentically inhabit an existing collection of terms, clichés, and ready-to-hand expressions.  And similarly, all objects could be considered temporary iterations of an epic material morphology. The edifice of language derives much of its vocabulary from the physical world, in turn, lending it intelligibility, significance, meaning, and articulation.  Imagining the built environment as a set of inscriptions upon an inherited landscape, the Reading Room explores the complex interdependencies of language and form.

Quotation is a deliberate use of another author’s text.  Paraphrase intends to recast the original idea in ones own words, which is to say to edit, to filter the ideas through a personal lens, in an attempt to restate what was originally said.   Paraphrase is the attempt to say exactly the same thing as the author without saying exactly the same thing as the author, or a translation into the same language, as an attempt to bridge some social or language barrier.   It serves to expand the ideas into territory that was not covered by the author, but which may be suggested by the original text.  Or it implies that the original author was not clear with the initial text, and that the secondary writers serve the role of postscript editors, clarifying and elaborating, ostensibly to disentangle, explain, or personalize the text for a specific group of readers. …  Pure paraphrase assumes that there is a perfect equivalent for every word and concept in our vocabulary, but can hardly help being tinged with editorial energy .   Quoting is maybe more complex since it appears to repeat what has already been said, without necessarily acknowledging how its repetition is affected by the given context.

I find this all relevant in relation to the things and platforms that we inherit from our predecessors.   My work has for a long time concerned itself with this question of inheritance,of what is worth preserving and maintaining and ultimately believing in and caring about.  It is this sort of world that we find ourselves thrown into, amongst an array of more or less significant objects and relationships.  And it may be that a good deal of the anxiety attendant to contemporary western urban life is due to the burden of choice and the degree to which these choices define us in the eyes of others.

visit the blog.  And more pictures of the exhibition

Link to the pre-panel conversation between John Preus, Lane Relyea, Kevin Henry, and Shannon Stratton.

On Furniture
“…the writerly text is ourselves writing, before the infinite play of the world is traversed, intersected, stopped, plasticized by some singular system (Ideology, Genus, Criticism) which reduces the plurality of entrances, the opening of networks, the infinity of languages”  -Roland Barthes

Musical performance by John Preus, Theaster Gates, Matt Joynt, and Tadd Cowen.

Most of the time furniture just sits there against the wall looking stupid (or beautiful, or cluttered, or un-dusted, or harrowed and long-suffering, or much too polished, or all-dressed-up-with-nowhere-to-go … )  Furniture has (at least) two states of being, as a thing to be looked at, and a thing that performs some essential function more or less efficiently, which in furniture’s case is to obscure, camouflage, cover up, support, enable … the performance of some other task.  It is alternately in service and in view.  There is the face (mask, appearance) it presents, and something that happens in, around, upon, or because of the thing.  It is often the case with furniture that when something is happening on it, (sitting, writing, reading, eating…) the piece of furniture becomes invisible.  Its appearance disappears into service.  It becomes too close to see.  You have to stand up from the chair to see it.   You have to leave the building to look at it.  This division between function and appearance (symbol and structure; form and content, what is said and what is done…) is text, the space between the lines that we read to determine if form suggests a function that it cannot deliver or presents a facade that is incongruous with its interior.  This reading gives rise to thought about authenticity, honesty, belief, commitment, intention, earnestness, identity, rhetoric, meaning what you say…

Two Chairs built by Kevin Reiswig

Indeed, there may be nothing outside of the text, in which case reading is as inescapable as breathing, and the staging of a reading room simply invites a particular kind of attention to a structural framework in which the book in hand is simply the most obvious interpretive activity that we are all currently performing.

A design charette took place at 6916 south Dorchester Ave, and included brief presentations by John Preus, Charlie Vinz, and Rebecca Mir on their work.  Students and faculty then discussed available materials, function, narrative, poetry in relation to the build out.

Objectives of charrette
◆    to develop an interesting and engaging design for the reading room using furniture and materials that have outlived their usefulness in their current form.  (namely desks and chairs)
◆    to redeem, or re-en-value said materials by introducing them into a new context by re-imagining their function.

Charrette will take place over 2 weeks and will result in the design and buildout of the Reading Room.

Primary considerations for charrette participants.
◆    Designing with the bookends of material source and final resting place as central concerns in the design process.
◆    Designing based on an existing and fairly rigid set of imposed or inherited material parameters.
◆    Inviting poetic and narrative elements into the process of design

Panel Discussion:  On Furniture, with John Preus, Shannon Stratton, Lane Relyea, and Kevin Henry

Broader underlying considerations
◆    How can development and building projects invest deeply in infrastructure, in individuals, and in the collaborative process of resilient community as part of its fundamental mission rather than an addendum to standard business practice?
◆    How can independent initiatives partner with larger institutions for support, human resources, and for shared pedagogical missions, while maintaining an independent voice?
◆    How does skill-sharing and collaboration impact community involvement and perception?


Day 1-May 23rd? (whenever the end of term is) at the Dorchester house.   presentations by participating faculty
discussion of design parameters
Day 2-material acquisition from Recycle Plus -Load truck and transport materials to     the gallery.
Day 3-Design day in the gallery.
Day 4-10- build and install objects in gallery space.

Poetry Reading by Kenyatta Rogers

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