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The artist's book is first and foremost a book whose content determines the appropriate media for its creation.
In the virtual exhibition Artists' Books: Bound in Art, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) presents for the first time a unique collection of artists' books dating from the early 20th century to today. The exhibition brings together the best examples from this collection of rare books that are as exceptional and imaginative as their creators. Some are stunning book objects; other pieces, while more traditionally crafted, are true works of art, as unique for the watercolours, drawings, prints and photographs that enhance them as for their bindings.
Artists' Books: Bound in Art showcases LAC's interest in and commitment to this aesthetic movement that is part of the history of the book. Many factors were considered in the preparation of this exhibition, such as featuring artists from across Canada, and highlighting changes in styles over the years as well as the various approaches that are characteristic of this genre.
Since its emergence, whether in volumen or codex form, the book-as object has customarily been subordinate to the text that it conveys. This happens to such an extent that, in people's minds, the primary purpose of a book—to provide an easy-to-use medium for communicating information—is relegated to second place1.
Le 6 avril 1944, by Jacques Fournier.
Through the artist's book, the book as object reclaims its original function—to communicate both textual and visual information—in an entertaining and unique way.
The intent behind the artist's book is expressed in the way the piece is put together, the way it is handled, the sequential way in which a person moves through it, and the reading experience it offers—all strategically designed by the artist and specific to the book as object.
sazxcvbnm, by Gaston Petit.
While these books share the common characteristic of having been created by artists, that alone is not enough to make them artists' books. Guidance can be found in the words of American painter and artist Edward Ruscha. "I merely wanted a cohesive thing," explained Ruscha in 1965, commenting on his landmark book Twentysix Gasoline Stations. The artist's book is more than the sum of its visible and readable parts. The intent behind the artist's book is expressed in the way the piece is put together, the way it is handled, the sequential way in which a person moves through it, and the reading experience it offers—all strategically designed by the artist and specific to the book as object.
Du coin de l'œil, binding by Odette Drapeau-Milot.
The creators of artists' books come from various backgrounds and, inspired by their respective disciplines, they help to broaden the very concept of the book in unique ways. The people involved in the craft of bookmaking, for example, will invent techniques that reflect their own areas of specialization: a bookbinder will focus on how the book is put together and handled; a typographer will find ways to break standard layout conventions; and a printer will look for new materials on which to print.
Paroles visibles, typography by Roland Giguère.
Le poids des mots = Between Hands, printing by Karen Trask.
True Patriot Love, exhibition catalogue by Joyce Wieland.
Sometimes, the most innovative ideas come from artists outside these fields. Whether these artists are painters, sculptors, performance artists, video artists or photographers, they find in the book a format and particular distribution process that differs from conventional exhibitions, so that the artist's book emerges sometimes as a complement to a work and sometimes as a completely independent piece.
String games : improvisations for inter-city video, exhibition catalogue by Vera Frenkel.
In the shadow of the forest : Auschwitz-Birkenau, independent work of art by Marie-Jeanne Musiol.
1 Hence the need for Ulises Carrión, an artist's book theorist, to emphasize that a writer does not write books, but rather texts.