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Murmur Study, one of the works on exhibit at Open Book, EMU University Gallery, Ypsilanti, MI

Open Book Exhibit Reviewed

A survey of experimental books

by Grant Mandarino

From the May, 2010 issue

They say you can't judge a book by its cover. What about when a book has no cover, or does not resemble a book at all? This is just one of the questions posed by the exhibit Open Book: An International Survey of Experimental Books on view through June 15 at EMU's University Gallery. Employing the very loosest of definitions, curators Leslie Atzmon and Ryan Molloy have assembled a selection of twenty-eight works that explode conventional notions of the book by imaginatively re-visioning the printed word.

The works incorporate a wide variety of materials, everything from computer animation to glass. The most successful deal with books as physical objects, like Noriko Ambe's A Thousand of Self. Ambe makes skillful cuts to a book of portraits so that a face becomes a landscape of deep fissures, a bundle of eyes that is simultaneously disturbing and exquisite. Brian Dettmer accomplishes a similar effect with Philosophiae, a scientific tome transformed by the intricate removal of text into a diorama of equations and geometric designs. Javascriptorium, a video by Ariel Malka, takes the book-as-landscape metaphor to a literal extreme. In this piece historical and biblical writings become mountainous digital landscapes revealed over time. We seem to float through a world made entirely of text.

Other artists explore more recognizable models. Catarina Leitao, for instance, has created an artistic variation of the ever-popular children's pop-up book. Uplift appears to be a sci-fi adventure tale, portraying a journey to an alien planet or life in a post-apocalyptic city. But rather than provide a recognizable narrative, Leitao supplies only a few, choice scenes composed of finely detailed drawings and blobs of Japanese sumi ink. The incompleteness of the story allows viewers to essentially make up the tale however they see fit.

This kind of interactive reading is a theme that runs through the entire show. With the rise of e-books and the proclaimed death of print, traditional ways of reading may give way to more participatory

...continued below...

ones. Jason Nelson's i made this. you play this. we are enemies. presents one possible outcome: he turns the book into a video game. A more compelling transformation is achieved by Christopher Baker's Murmur Study, a real-time transcription of Twitter posts on eight separate printers aligned on a wall. Viewers are able to follow the mundane conversations of people as well as review past conversations by scavenging through the collected printouts on the floor. Baker takes a momentary means of communication and conserves it into a story. The result is subtle, profound, and alone worth a visit to this captivating exhibition.     (end of article)

[Originally published in May, 2010.]


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