I’ve long been fascinated with books – the tactile nature of them; the feel of the pages, the glimpses of thread in the creases, the smell, the corners of the cover – either crisp and covered with glossy paper, or worn and frayed cloth, threads parting to show the color of the stiff paper underneath. Maybe it was because the old books and manuscripts that hung around in our house as part of my dad’s research work, or the Nancy Drew books from my mom’s childhood I found at my grandfather’s house. Maybe it was the books in my grade school library I couldn’t get through fast enough, or the 3 years of new books every semester in junior high (oh, the smell of new books! I love sticking my nose in a new book and inhaling the smell).
A dear friend shared what she learned at her folk-high-school one year – making a book from scratch. Complete with a spine, and strips of cloths holding the folded sheets of paper together, sewing, and fabric-covered covers. I was so excited! Ever since, I’ve been longing to take a proper book-binding class, and learn first hand about the art of creating books.
I finally got that chance this semester, and I knew I was going to love this class when the teacher taught us how to do a pamphlet binding – by having us put together the syllabus for the course!
The pamphlet style of binding is an easy way of binding, and quite an old one. It has just one group of sheets of paper folded into a signature (which is the name for sheets of papers folded – books are typically made up of lots of signatures), and then sewn together. The pamphlet originated in the Medieval times, as a way to spread ideas and opinions – often of a religious or political sort – to masses of people, in a time when supreme royalty and the Church didn’t exactly encourage alternate viewpoints.
So far in my class, the books are all blank though. We’ve mostly just been practicing different techniques, and combination of techniques – like the dos-à-dos binding in the picture above, a combination of an accordion folding of the “covers”, with two pamphlets sewn in back to back (which is what the french term also translates to).
Another technique we’ve tried is the tunnel-book. It consists of multiple pages, connected at two sides by a folded accordion-style strip of paper.
These styles are more often used as children’s books, creating three-dimensional spaces to peer into; and for artist’s books. I’m still not entirely comfortable with what an artists book is, but I understand it as using the book-form as a tool for artistic expression. It turns the book-object into an art-object, and it seems like it can range from freeform typographic representation of written words, through more sketch-book like creations, to a deconstruction of the book of object itself.
From wikipedia’s page on artist’s books there are a couple of images I find intriguing as examples of deconstructed books – toying with the viewers notions and perceptions of what a book is.
George Brecht’s WaterYam, Wikipedia
The pages of the book isn’t even bound – they are just loose pages in a box. Is it still a book?
Denise Hawrysio’s Killing III, Victoria & Albert Museum
This work reminds me so much of Meret Oppenheim’s fur covered coffe-cup and saucer, as they both work with fur to take away the traditional functionality of the objects.
Hmm, after that little impromptu art history digression, I have to say – I can’t wait for the rest of the bookbinding classes this semester!