This coming Saturday!
Thursday, February 25, 2021
Friday, February 19, 2021
In 1866 Fyodor Dostoyevsky published “Crime and Punishment”. Towards the end of the book, his hero, Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, has a feverish dream. This strangely prophetic text, quoted and used as the narrative line in this book, is from Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky’s 1992 translation, published by Vintage Classics. Here is the brief text:
“He had dreamed that the whole world was doomed to fall victim to some terrible, as yet unknown and unseen pestilence spreading to Europe from the depths of Asia. Everyone was to perish, except for certain, very few, chosen ones. Some new trichinae had appeared, microscopic creatures that lodged themselves in men’s bodies. But these creatures were spirits, endowed with reason and will. Those who received them into themselves immediately became possessed and mad. But never, never had people considered themselves so intelligent and unshakeable in the truth as did these infected ones. Never had they thought their judgments, their scientific conclusions, their moral convictions and beliefs more unshakeable. Entire settlements, entire cities and nations would be infected and go mad. Everyone became anxious, and no one understood anyone else; each thought the truth was contained in himself alone, and suffered looking at others, beat his breast, wept, and wrung his hands. They did not know whom or how to judge, could not agree on what to regard as evil, what as good. They did not know whom to accuse, whom to vindicate.”
During the early days of the pandemic, the news media and print and online media, started producing illustrations of what a coronavirus looked like. This came from an understandable public thirst for information about how this deadly virus and how it worked. Many of the images produced were stunning: surprisingly lush and jewel-like. The colors used were often saturated and seductive. But of course, those beautiful colors and that beautiful subject matter, the virus itself, has already killed almost half a million people here in the US and millions around the world.
At the same time that I was collecting all of the images on the internet, (more than 120 edited down to 36,) columnists and essayists started publishing references to previous historic pandemics that humanity had survived. We looked to these stories of the past for solace and hope. Many had not heard about even the most recent global epidemic, that of the great influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 that had killed many of our grandparents or great-grandparents including the grandfather of the 45th president of the USA. We read these articles and books to create context for the current spread of COVID-19. There were many examples cited of the numerous plagues of medieval times like the bubonic plague also known as the Black Death, which killed half of Europe. But the historical record went back much further, with classical references to the Great Plague in Athens in 430 BCE and the Justinian Plague of 542 CE. Newer books like Albert Camus’ The Plague, and recent movies like Contagion and Outbreak scared us and were objects of fascination.
But the text cited above, one small paragraph from perhaps the most famous of Dostoyevsky’s novels, struck me as the most startling if for no other reason than its prescience. As I was looking for a text to use for the visual book I had started working on, this one seemed the most powerful and apropos.
The manipulated images I used were collected from the web during the first four months of the pandemic. As I mentioned above, they were originally made as small web illustrations to show the public what the coronavirus looked like. The original illustrations were then significantly manipulated and changed in color, and by being converted to large half-tone patterns. This was done by separating the four CMYK layers into discreet channels, converting each file into different dither or halftone patterns, and then reassembled them back into a new file with the four process colors.
The narrative text is driven by Raskolnikov’s delirium, his fever dream. I wanted the large full-bleed images to be the theatrical visual accompaniment to that short text: hallucinogenic and furiously color saturated, and using the highly lurid language of a feverish nightmare.
I have long made use of manipulated CMYK images using various swapped separation colors and different halftone patterns. Indeed my 1979-1980 MFA Thesis work at Visual Studies Workshop was in two parts, a written text book that I edited called Options for Color Separation (VSW Press), and a large portfolio series of screen-printed portraits called Portrait Constructions, that used large half-tone and other patterns. Later I made several other artists' books that used enlarged and/or swapped multi-channel process color methods. This included Civil Defense (1982), High Tension (1993), Long Story Short 1997), Paradise Lost (2013), and Ojalá (2015).
My obsession with patterns and half-tone dots comes from way back. I learned traditional photographic printing darkroom and photo-mechanical work in grad school in the seventies doing my own artwork and then working for the Visual Studies Workshop Press. I served as Chip Benson’s assistant when he did a two-week offset darkroom workshop at VSW. I then trained as an optical color-separator in 1979-1980 with Harry Christen of Christen Lithographic Lab in Rochester. Then I worked as the darkroom camera operator at Open Studio, an artists’ press where we did work for Aperture, most of the galleries in New York and Boston, and Howard Greenberg Gallery in Woodstock, doing 300 line duotones and tritones. And I had my own business for eight years after that doing all sorts of pre-press and design work.
Delirium is printed in 2020 by archival pigmented inkjet onto Mohawk acid-free paper, 60 pages, in an edition of 30, handbound by the artist, and signed and numbered. The book comes in an archival, protective, phase box. The dimensions are 37cm x 28.5cm x 1.5cm (14.5" x 11.25" x 5/8").
The font used for the text is Northwoods, by Cultivated Mind Foundry in Vancouver, BC, Canada. It was picked because of the way that it looks both like type used in a late 19th century schoolbook primer, yet still appears quite modern. Like many of their digital fonts, it was originally created with the careful strokes of a sign-painter’s paintbrush.
The book is not inexpensive, but it uses over $225 dollars in just archival pigmented ink and archival papers and book cloth for each volume. In addition, each book requires approximately two days of labor to print, handbind and finish.
ISBN: 978-1-63649-669-6 ; $650.
© 2020 Philip Zimmermann.
Wednesday, February 17, 2021
I neglected to post a link to a virtual visit that I did with Canadian book artist Louise Levergneux from this past Fall. Louise and her husband have been doing a grand tour of North America, visiting various other book artists and their studios. Originally they were to visit me in Tucson at the end of March, but the pandemic hit that month and everything closed down.
They ended up stranded in Casa Grande, near Picacho Peak, for six months and were never able to physically make it down to Tucson. So Louise posted this virtual visit on her blog and generously showed some of my work and some pictures of my studio.
Thank you, Louise. I hope that you will be able to come through Southern Arizona again sometime and that we can get together in person then.
Wednesday, September 30, 2020
Here is the result: The Ice Plant (Los Angeles) and Spaceheater Editions (Tucson) announced the co-publication of Swamp Monsters on September 21, 2020, just three and a half weeks after these photographs from the 2020 Republican National Convention were taken.
Many thanks to Clif Meador of the Studio of Exhaustion for suggesting the title.
Monday, April 22, 2019
I had read that the fair had grown a great deal since it's beginnings and was starting to rival the New York MoMA-PS1 fair in terms of the number of vendors and attendance. Max Schumann, the Director of Printed Matter told me that this year's fair in LA had the greatest number of vendor table of any fair so far, over 390.
On the backside of the building was a very large mural by Barbara Kruger that had just been installed recently.
Here are some images from the book fair itself:
It turned out to be a really fun four-day trip. It’s so nice to have a cheap hour-and-a-half direct flight rather than the usual hassle of traveling to NYC. The main expense was the hotel for three nights and the very good meals that we had, not-to-mention the large number of books that we got, but worth it. We stayed at a Japanese chain hotel in Little Tokyo called Miyako Hotel, and we were among the very few non-Japanese tourists staying there. The best thing was that the hotel was literally one short block away from the Geffen Contemporary at MoCA where the fair was held. It was so nice to be able to walk back in less than five minutes and dump book loot in our hotel room.
It was nice seeing Skuta (below), who was at the LAABF making sure that the Artbook/Steidl bookshop area at the fair was running smoothly. When we were at the Hauser + Wirth complex we were impressed with the Artbook Bookshop there. It was only a short ten-minute walk from the Geffen Contemporary and Little Tokyo. He also told us to be sure to stop by an ice cream shop right next to Hauser + Wirth building. It is called Salt and Straw, and he claimed it was the best ice cream in the US. Of course we had to try it, and it was extremely delicious.
The book fair itself is in a much nicer locale than the NYABF and MoMA-PS1: really large rooms with super warehouse style high ceilings. Everything seemed so much less hot and claustrophobic, with none of the little warren-like rooms of PS1. It was so much easier to navigate and find ones’ way back to areas or specific tables. In short a much much nicer experience. However, most of the book vendors and publishers that I talked to said that they sold far better in NYC than LA. Some people made the mistake of getting a table in the equivalent of the PS1 ‘Zine area of the fair where tables were $160. They don’t call it the ‘Zine area in LA, but it was the same sort of vendors on the whole, though not quite as flea-market-y as at PS1. One of the things that I noticed there was that EVERY table in that section of the book fair was full of Rizo-printed crap. The Rizo phenomenon has clearly peaked. I would say that 80% of it was pretty bad. Of course, I shouldn't generalize, there are some phenomenal Rizo book pieces out there like those done by Tricia Tracy, Bridget Elmer, Emily Larned, Clif Meador and some others, but a great deal of it is pretty bad. [ Full disclosure, I am not a huge 'zine fan. ]
Some of the many other people that we ran into were these: I talked for a long time to Paul Zelevansky, who is back living in NYC. I had never seen 24 Pictures About Pictures. Also, Aaron Cohick had a table in that 'zine area. It was great seeing Kate Albers, our former colleague at the University of Arizona, who is now teaching at Whittier College in LA. Also Tricia Tracey and on the last day, right before we left, we ran into Inge Bruggeman, which was a very nice surprise since we thought we were going to miss her since she was going to be there only on Sunday, the last day of the fair.
The crowds were large but not sure if they were the same as last year. Supposedly in 2017, they had 35,000 people in LA, very similar to NY, but it seemed like far fewer. I think that that might be due to the much larger spaces that the book fair occupied. Many vendors were the same as in NYC. It was nice to be there Friday morning, before the general public, the hours set aside for buyers and collectors only, just like the NYABF.
The books we bought were a combination of design and photo/artists' books. We finally got a few smaller books from AnticHam since I always feel bad that I can’t afford their screen-printed books.
This is the full haul, minus a few books that we ended up ordering online since we couldn't carry them back on the airplane back to Tucson.
There are also a couple of books that I really like from Gato Negro in Mexico City. The Aperture book in the second photo, Feast for the Eyes, about food in photography, sounds like a crappy book, but it’s actually really great. A wonderful read with all sorts of amazing food photos from the 19th century through today. It’s a great read.
Wednesday, February 13, 2019
Insight on Artists' Books: A Panel Discussion in Special Collections at the University of Arizona Main Library
If you would like to attend the panel lecture, they are asking interested people to RSVP.
My co-panelists at the February 26 evening event are Professor Karen Zimmermann, my wife and Assistant Director of the School of Art, who will do a presentation on typography and it's use in artists' books. Our third panelist will be Charles Alexander, recently moved back to Tucson from Texas. Charles Alexander is an American poet, publisher, and book artist. He is the founder, director and editor-in-chief of Chax Press, an independent press which specializes in innovative poetry and the literary book arts. The panel will be moderated by Roger Myers, Associate Librarian and Archivist in Special Collections.
I will be giving a short general history of the artists' book as creative medium, and then focusing on how traditional 'art books' and 'photo books' differ from artists' bookworks where the book itself is a creative medium and not just a holder of reproductions of text or images. I will mention some of the identifying characteristics of each using as reference the Graphic Continuum Chart that I developed in 2016.
If you are in the Tucson area, I hope you will attend.
Thursday, February 7, 2019
Here are two photos of the installation, both photographs are courtesy of Julie Chen, Curator.
This year I decided not to go to CODEX, the biannual artists' book show in Richmond, CA, organized by Peter Koch. I had been to every previous one except the first one. My main reason to go is for social reasons: it's a great way to visit with good friends like Julie Chen, who I stay with, Sandra Krupa who also stays with Julie, and Toni Nelson, Julie's good friend from Salt Lake City. And all of us, along with Clif Meador and Barb Tetenbaum, always go to have at least one meal at Chez Panisse, always a big treat. Seeing the dozens of other friends who have tables at CODEX, or are attending, is also fun. Those include John Demeritt, Jack Ginsberg, Robbin Silverberg, Harry Reese, Rebecca Chamlee, Leonard Seastone, Alisa Golden, Bill and Vicky Stewart, and many, many others, depending on if they have a table or are attending that particular year.
CODEX itself has very high quality work and is always curated by Peter Koch. Although I really preferred the original hall where it was held, on the Berkeley Campus, the new location, the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond, is an old World War II tank factory, and is pretty great It is situated right on the water and the views out the windows are spectacular. But it is much harder to get to from anywhere else in the Bay area and has serious sun and lighting problems.
Over the years I have come to realize that only about ten or twelve of the tables at the CODEX Book Fair are of any real interest to me. There is some beautiful letterpress work there, but in the end, the New York Art Book Fair (or the LA Book Fair) is of more interest to me. Although I am definitely interested in artists' books that are not photographic, that genre is one of my primary interests, and there are usually only a handful of vendor tables that feature any photographic artists' books at CODEX. And the CODEX Book Symposium that is mounted concurrently (for an additional $300 fee) is almost never of interest to me. They are usually painfully boring. I am sure I will go to CODEX again though, most likely to the next one in 2021. It is so much fun to spend time with good friends that are part of the artists' book tribe.
The other show that I am in is called Politics of Place, curated by Alexander Campos and Monica Oppen, at the Center for Book Arts in New York City. It is open from January 18th to March 30th, 2019. A description of the show is on their website: "From the mechanisms of colonialism, to intractable wars, displacement has become a catalyst to a contemporary discourse surrounding belonging, homeland and nationhood. The Politics of Place highlights artist books, mainly from Australia and North America, both new world territories that share parallel histories, to explore the longstanding issues centered in 'indigeneity', enslavement, conflict-caused immigration. These issues reflect the undercurrent of political motives and decisions often de-centering and ignoring the voices of those displaced."
Wednesday, February 6, 2019
We started the planning in December of 2017 when we agreed to take over having the meeting site in Tucson. Karen reserved the Tucson University Marriott hotel accommodations and signed the contract, reserved the ENR2 Building on campus for the session and meeting location. The day before the meeting, January 3rd, was the day that the 20+-member Board would have an all-day retreat, and Karen was able to rent a meeting room at the Tucson Botanical Garden –with their catering company taking care of food.
We put together a great group of people, including local arts people involved in photography and the arts like Mary Virginia Swanson, (known to all as Swanee), folks from the Center for Creative Photography like Emily Weirich, Roger Myers from Special Collections at the Main Library, doctoral students like Molly Kalkstein, and a number of other grad and undergrads students, plus local arts people like Maria Lee, all of whom would be indispensable.
The first full meeting of the Planning Committee was in April and after a fair amount of discussion we decided to try to get the very well-known Spanish photographer and artists' book maker, Cristina de Middel to be our keynote speaker. She is constantly traveling around the world for Magnum, the photo agency, so we didn't know if we could afford her travel budget, let alone her speaking fee.
[Photo credit: Bruno Morais]
Cristina was very kind and agreed and said that she would reserve the date and offered to do the keynote speech for a very generous amount, given her national and international reputation.
We started to ask various campus entities about having book shows that would be in addition to the very large one that I was planning for the Joseph Gross Gallery in the School of Art. The Poetry Center volunteered to curate a show for their beautiful building, called Artists' Books: Focus on Photography. Roger Myers in Special Collections put together a really interesting show that is still up until May, called Artists' Books: Photography and Imagination.
[One of the cases in the Poetry Center.]
In early May, when the semester was over, we started to plan out the program, with activities, plus the session subject matter that would tie-in to the conference theme. We also started contacting possible panel leaders to see if they were willing to participate. If you are interested in how the program finally evolved, you can still see it by going here.
I started working on the book show that I curated for the Gross Gallery, 50 Years of The Photographic Artists' Book, in early June. I spent about 4 or 5 months going through about 1000 books that I thought would work for the show. By early September I got final budget numbers and knew that I would have to limit the show to eight large vitrines. With fewer cases I knew that I could use another area of the gallery to place video monitors. This would allow me to show more books as well as show some of the books that were in the cases with the pages being turned. I used a 4x8 piece of plywood (the size of each of the cases) to plan out each of the cases. I took photographs of the books in each numbered case so that I could recreate them during installation. I reduced the number of books in the cases to about 310 or so, plus shot and edited another in 123 videos for the monitor displays. The show was installed (cases built in situ) and books and labels placed, plus vinyl signage put up, from Nov. 15 to Nov. 19. Here is the banner that was out on Speedway Avenue to advertise the book show:
The Fall was a blur: organizing the CBAA event itself, making sure the printed program had no typos; coördinating the way-finding signage and tour group flags. It's too tiresome to list all of the loose ends here. The university closes down from December 23rd until January 2nd, so we really had to make sure all of the computer technology, name tags and lanyards, etc were done or in place by December 23rd. We also had the tote bags screen-printed in early December so that we were able to have them ready to stuff with all of the program, swag stuff, etc that week before Christmas.
The tote bag sported an image from a Dieter Roth book. This book was in the show.
Here is the tote bag stuffing party on December 17th in the Book Art and Letterpress Lab. We also had to corner-round all of the printed programs.
One of the highlights for me was Cristina de Middel's keynote address. She spoke much longer than the 45-50 minutes we had anticipated and we were so happy that she did. She is such a charming and good story teller that she had everyone hanging on her every word. She got a huge round of applause when she finished, and I had several people tell me that she gave one of the best lectures they had ever heard. Sadly, later, I heard that there were a couple of very conservative, commercial photographers who were upset by Cristina's talk. I wish I had been able to talk with them, because I found that extremely hard to believe and wanted to know why. I know the name of one of them, but do not want to publicize them here, mainly not to embarrass him.
We were glad that the event went so well, and happy that we all survived it. One of the most fun things was that we had a whole house-full of old friends staying with us. Most of them stayed several days longer after the CBAA event, and we were able to go hiking and do some other sight-seeing things –as well as share some great meals together.
Sunday, February 3, 2019
Since the University of Arizona is famous for it's Center for Creative Photography, it's artists' book collection in our Special Collections Library, plus our nationally-known Poetry Center, we thought that the theme for the CBAA meeting should be the photographic artists' book, have shows in all of the above, plus I would curate a show at the School of Art's Joseph Gross Gallery.
I wanted to put together a show that would expose the CBAA members to the huge variety of artists' books that use photographs. Of course many of the members know the classics like Ed Ruscha, but there are so many more that are not on their radar. Clif Meador and I have had many talks about why this is, and we have conjectured that it is partially becasue many of the members are letterpress people and letterpress is not that great a medium for photographic images. On the other side of the coin, I wanted to show the photographic community here in Tucson that there is a huge world of photographic artists' books that go beyond Ed Ruscha or Paul Graham.
This (above) is the mailing postcard.
The show that I curated ended up being a huge effort, primarily because I had thought that we had book vitrines to show bookwork in. It turned out that the University Museum of Art used to have cases, but due to their deteriorated condition and lack of storage space, they had been thrown out. The main library had book cases, of course, but they were in use. They might have been able to lend me one, but that would not have sufficed. I had hoped to mount a very large, inclusive, show that could act as an overview of photographic artists' books from the late sixties on, and one case would not have been nearly enough. I wanted to concentrate on books that were truly 'artists' books' and not just photobooks and traditional monographs, assemblies of single images.
I realized that I would probably have to build simple secure cases for the books in the show. I could not afford to have the books just open on sheets of unsecured plywood since many of the books were very valuable and there was a high risk of having books taken from the gallery. The gallery has one student monitor but that person sits at a desk far above the gallery itself and cannot be a guard for small objects below in the gallery space. A number of books like Francesca Woodman's only artist's book, Ed Ruscha's Twentysix Gasoline Stations and others from artists like John Baldessari, Marcel Broodthaers, and Keith Smith, were far too valuable and irreplaceable to risk theft. I came up with a construction plan for ten cases for about $4,000 and that would be just for the materials.
But that would also mean that we would have to do the construction ourselves, plus raise that money since it was not in the CBAA budget. In the end I was able to raise enough money for eight cases, instead of the ten. The Director of the School of Art, Colin Blakely, and the Dean of the College of Fine Art, Andy Schulz, gave us $1500 and the CBAA Board agreed to give us a little over $1600 to allow us to purchase the materials. I was able to get an incredible price on the cast acrylic plexi by ordering directly from a manufacturer in New Jersey and having them trucked here.
I was most fortunate to have a Creative Writing grad student, Will Stanier, help me move the lumber and 1/4" plexi to the gallery, and two other fantastic people, Lisa Watanabe and Brett Starr, actually help with the assembly of the vitrine cases and the support legs. I never would have made the deadlines for installation without Brett and I am especially grateful to him.
Because the plexi tops were fixed on the case tops, there was no way that visitors could handle the books. Because of both wear-and-tear, as well as security, this was necessary. Of course this is a terrible way to experience books, to see only one two-page spread of each book, and not be able to turn pages and see the books as the time-based art that they are. So early on, I had decided that I would also have to have videos, as many as possible, so that visitors could at least see the way the book pages turned and how the images and text were sequenced.
I talked to Brooke Grucella, the always-helpful director of the Joseph Gross Gallery, and she said that the gallery had some monitors that did not need a video or DVD player. All one had to do was put the looped videos on a flash memory stick and they could be inserted in the back of these LCD monitors and that would be all that was needed.
The hundreds of case labels for the books was another huge hurdle to overcome, and I was very lucky to have the help of both Maria Lee and Brett Starr in a marathon label-typing party we had one Saturday.
I ended up making 123 videos of books with the pages being turned from start to finish. About half were books from the show that I especially felt should be experienced by seeing a person turning the pages, and the other half were books that for some reason (lack of space, too large etc.) were not in the vitrines. I had over three hundred books in the vitrine cases and I had wanted to make videos of all of them, but it was just too much. I do think that this worked out overall though.
Here are some installation shots of the show:
I think that the show was a success. It was a little odd admitting that all of the books were from my own collection, but I have a very large one, and I think I had a really good representative selection that showed the different strains of photographic books in those fifty years. Although I did have a few books that preceded the 1968 date, the first book I bought that was in the show, Andy Warhol's Index Book (196), I actually did buy when I was in high school in 1968. Thanks to Harry Reese for making some suggestions, years ago, about titles that should go into a show that covered this time period. That was very helpful.
If you are interested in the checklist from the show, both books that are in the cases and on the monitors, please write me at