Below you’ll find the most recent artists’ book reviews and interviews. See the submissions page to find out how your book can be featured.
12.5 × 12.5 in. closed
Single-section softcover pamphlet
Digital inside with letterpress cover
Owed to The Mountain is a lavish tribute to Mt. Hood, which, on clear days, is still visible from Portland, where artist Diane Jacobs resides. The years-long project includes three versions of the book — an elaborate sculptural box set, a fine press edition, and a longer-run, digitally printed edition. This review will address the digitally printed version, whose exceptional production quality leaves little to be desired. Jacobs presents a kaleidoscopic view of Mt. Hood by transcribing and illustrating stories from indigenous people in the area, ranging from minimalist myths to conversational oral histories. Each story stands on its own, but together they form a longer arc about reciprocity and healing. In the title’s playful homonym, Jacobs sets a new standard for fine press publishing in the Anthropocene. She presents not just poetry, but a call to action.
Before focusing on the digitally printed edition of Owed to The Mountain, it is worth addressing some features of the sculptural version. Inside each of the four sides of the box is a print depicting Mt. Hood from one of the four cardinal directions. The box unfolds into a square cross with these four views surrounding a cast paper model of the mountain. The mountain comprises three nested layers, representing different geological strata. The book per se — or, at least, the printed codex — slips out from beneath the model mountain. This brief description leaves out numerous features of the deluxe edition, which raises interesting (but here unanswered) questions about the ontological boundaries of “the book.” Nevertheless, the digitally printed version I am reviewing retains many of the same themes in its structure and layout.
Even without a sculptural reading environment centered around a three-dimensional Mt. Hood, the book’s physical form echoes the mountain. The book is square, its four even sides referencing the four seasons, which play out within, and the four directions, each of which Jacobs renders with a different print process. While the tactile subtleties of these print techniques, ranging from relief processes to lithography and screen printing, are no doubt lost, the digital production preserves remarkable detail and visual texture. Rather than remaking the book digitally, Jacobs has created a facsimile of the fine press edition. The resolution of the scanning and printing is so high that the letterpress-printed text remains crisp and there is a discernible difference between the original book’s various papers, although the digital version is printed on the same stock throughout.
Though simple, the book’s engineering also contributes to its success. The nine-hole pamphlet stitch keeps the book stable, and the paper drapes nicely without feeling delicate. At over two feet wide, the book is best read at a table, and fortunately lays open completely flat. Its large size makes it hard to take in the imagery at the same time as the text, lending it the feeling of a children’s book whose text is meant to be read aloud to someone who is enjoying the images. This orality seems especially well suited to the texts, which are transcribed from spoken word. The conversational, sometimes stream-of-consciousness quality of the stories emphasizes the vital present-ness of the indigenous storytellers. Though originally hand set in metal type, the stories in Owed to The Mountain are unfussy and contemporary — from a pandemic parable by a seventeen-year-old to the wide-ranging reflections of a Paiute Elder.
Just as Jacobs approaches the mountain from all four directions and peels back the layers of its unseen history, she joins the multiple perspectives of her book’s contributors into a cohesive message about the ethics of interconnection. Of course, the bound codex format lends cohesion to the stories, as do the design constraints of hand-set metal type, but it is Jacobs’ illustrations that tie everything together. The book is just long enough to unify its wide variety of media and mark-making while maintaining a sense of variety and surprise.
Animals, printed using solar plates, retain the fluid, transparent quality of Jacobs’ original Sumi ink drawings. Meanwhile their environments, especially the flora, are printed using sharper, more opaque processes. The animals may be rendered more softly, but their gaze is piercing, implicating the reader as an ethical subject. More than any other aspect of the book, the animals moved me to consider my impact on the environment. Yet even as they raise concrete questions about one’s actions in the world, so too does the presence of black and white animals in a color environment create a mythical or imaginary space, perhaps belonging to more than one time.
Indeed, the book’s temporality is spiral more than linear, circling the mountain as Jacobs does. Many of the indigenous stories bridge the inconceivable gap between human and geologic time, which so often stymies climate action. “All the mountains were once people,” begins a story by Myra Johnson-Orange and Átwai Geneva Charley of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. At the same time, we witness the mountain change from one generation to the next, its (mis)management by the US Forest Service and grassroots efforts to encourage youth to become stewards of the land. The idea that we have reached a tipping point where humans must actively manage the environment to avoid catastrophe is not a new one — “Thousands of years ago,” Johnson-Orange reminds us, “…people took care of the earth, so that the animals and birds would have a beautiful and safe place to live and to take care of their families.”
So, when Jacobs labels Owed to The Mountain a call to action, it is because there is still time left to act. It is an ode, not an elegy. And while I must admit that the book left me more contemplative than moved to action, that may just be the result of reading as a reviewer. For her part, Jacobs has committed 2.5 percent of proceeds to the Columbia River Institute for Indigenous Development. It is in this regard — the way Jacobs approached the project — that Owed to The Mountain is a call to action, a gauntlet thrown to other artists and publishers. Jacobs’ philanthropy is commendable, but what really matters is how she enacted the book’s ethics of reciprocity throughout its creation. The stories Jacobs presents are the result of thoughtful collaboration with members of the Warm Springs community, and she is meticulous in her acknowledgements.
One reason I set aside my questions about where “the book” resides amid the various iterations of Owed to The Mountain is that the richness of the relationships that enabled the project, from Jacobs’ collaborations with indigenous storytellers and fellow artists to her connections with the more-than-human world around her, exceeds any book object. If I am moved to action, it is to pursue a publishing practice rooted in reciprocity, one that can only be seen from many perspectives and, even then, never completely.
Copy No. 1
Edited by Vanessa Norton and Steven Trull
6 × 7 in. closed
74 pages plus a single-sheet insertion
Copy No. 1 is the first issue of a new periodical, a “magazine of recycled materials,” published by Wasted Books. As a celebration of plagiarism in all aspects of creative production, this debut issue includes art, poetry, music, pop culture, and profiles of notorious copycats. It concludes with a manifesto-style letter from the editors — a diagnosis of this late capitalist pandemic moment where every activity is monetized, and every object or relationship is commodified. There is no introduction; a book of copies about copies is sufficiently self-explanatory.
In the spirit of copying, the cover of this first issue of Copy is taken from the first issue of another periodical: Semina. Editors Vanessa Norton and Steven Trull have swapped out the title text from Wallace Berman’s 1955 Semina cover, which features a photo of the artist known as Cameron (Marjorie Cameron). Berman’s 1957 arrest for obscenity seems to foreshadow Copy’s own brush with censorship — an erratum reproducing a printshop’s refusal to reproduce artist Johnny Ray Huston’s contribution, A Look at Nighthawk in Leather, is slipped between the blacked-out pages where Huston’s work should have been. Copy’s spine is taken from yet another publication, Paul Virilio’s Popular Defense & Ecological Struggles, but with “wasted” pasted over the MIT Press logo. Along with the editors’ manifesto, one can perhaps locate the politics of Copy between Popular Defense & Ecological Struggles and Semina.
Visually, Copy reminds the reader that the word copy shares an origin with copious. Starting with the inside covers, it is bursting with full-bleed text and image. In a few cases, text is swallowed by the perfect-bound gutter, but most of the critical content is easily accessed. The maximalist aesthetic enhances the wide variety among the issue’s ten contributors. Amid the chaotic copiousness, each contributor is clearly announced with a name and title in black text on a white verso. A brief synopsis of each contribution is also included toward the end of the issue, which is especially helpful given the range of disciplines represented. However, the authorship is (fittingly) less clear when it comes to the profiles of forgers, copycat criminals, and other artists, which serve to expand the cultural context of copying from art per se and make connections between the issue’s contributors and other artists. Cribbed, naturally, from Wikipedia, these profiles may be key in shaping future issues of Copy to address different aspects of creative plagiarism.
For this first issue, Norton and Trull show their commitment to unoriginality by opening with a contribution called Copy by Stewart Home. Home’s Copy is a copy of pages 62–66 from a book called Copy by Chus Martinez, a collective pseudonym adopted by numerous artists and activists. Distributed authorship, whether anonymous or attributed, is a key feature of Copy No. 1. An obvious example is Norton’s After Michael Mandiberg, which rephotographs Mandiberg’s rephotograph of Sherrie Levine’s rephotograph of Walker Evans’ Alabama Tenant Farmer Wife. If the piece elicits an eye roll, it also provokes deeper questions about appropriation and originality. A similar dynamic is at play in contributions by Derek Beaulieu and Eîlot Tuerie, both of whom appropriate turn-of-the-century composer Erik Satie’s composition Vexations, which was first published by John Cage in 1949.
A more surprising dynamic is introduced by the editors’ profiles of an entirely different order of copying. Forgers like Lee Israel and Mark Landis perhaps bridge the gap between artistic copycat and criminal, but we see a darker side of imitation in references to the Tylenol Murders, the Manson murders, and other so-called copycat crimes. Copying, it seems, is something done by people who are not in their right mind. The dismissive reaction that often meets uncreative works is not unrelated to this deep-seated mistrust of copying. Plagiarism is seen not only as unethical but as an affront to an entire culture that prizes originality and self-sufficiency. The artist Elaine Sturtevant, whose work is featured on the back inside cover of Copy No. 1, upset the art world as much for rejecting the avant-garde mandate for originality as for (intentionally imperfectly) imitating iconic artists who embraced that ideology.
It is this unsettling of the usual values of the art world — originality and commodification — that drives Copy and connects its contributors with more established artists like Levine and Sturtevant. The artists seem united more by what they oppose than by any particular aesthetic program. Indeed, the letter from the editors is mostly a manifesto of what Copy will not do. Copy is not, strictly speaking, a pandemic project, but it positions itself as a diagnosis of and logical response to the various intersecting crises that characterize 2022. Copy gives an account of why plagiaristic practices arose in these cultural and economic conditions and how they contribute to contemporary art. The editors not only sidestep any futile “is it art?” debate, they remind the reader that copying remains provocative in the broader culture beyond the art world.
At the same time, though, Copy No. 1 is undeniably self-reflexive. It is a work of piracy and plagiarism that explores the potential and limitations of appropriation and distributed authorship. It is no surprise that the first issue of a periodical would stake out its territory and reflect on its own methods. The future success of Copy rests in its ability to be about more than copying and more than art. If Norton and Trull continue to position their contributors within, against, and outside of the discourse of contemporary art, Copy will fill an important gap in a publishing landscape that is overly concerned with brand identity and monetization.
This first issue shows the importance of producing and distributing such a publication, even if it only remixes existing works. The dialogue among contributions clearly illustrates the intertextuality that underpins uncreative art practices, while the spat with the printer shows that every copy introduces friction, entropy, and chance. What remains to be seen is what comes of the connections the publication will forge among its readers, contributors, and publishers.
8 × 11.5 in. closed
Offset inside with foil-stamped cover
Edition of 500
We expect ghost stories to scare us. Whether they’re shared on screen or around a campfire, we expect our surroundings to be dark, making the eeriness even creepier. Ghost stories should leave us looking over our shoulder, keeping all the lights on. But not this one. Curry presents a passive, spectating ghost that is the embodiment of the memory of a past life and relationship. As readers, we are invited to reflect on what ghostly memories are following us, and what role we have as spectators.
A Ghost Story: Photographs is a photobook that represents and documents the 2017 feature film A Ghost Story. In it, we get photographs of the set, crew and their equipment, cast both in and out of character, and stills from actual scenes, most of which are close-up or medium shots. The book can stand alone, but reading a short synopsis of the film provides helpful context to the characters. This tangible version of the film is heavy even for its coffee table size, but is relatively short. There is plenty of whitespace to show off the thick, semi-gloss paper. Interspersed are black pages with short quotations from Virginia Woolf’s A Haunted House. The only other text, besides a short introduction by the film’s director David Lowery, is a few single-page excerpts from the screenplay. The layouts vary, with one or two images per spread; some include a full page of whitespace and others feature images that reach over the gutter onto the second page.
Although the black cover is reminiscent of the darkness with which we surround ourselves to make ghost stories scarier, the playful cover image of a sheet ghost by Casey Affleck, who plays the ghost, and the glitter in the bookcloth hint at the tone of the book. Instead of jump scares and a violent backstory, this book reveals as its ghost a past companion that looks in on our protagonist with longing and love. I opened this book expecting a single ghost story. But the further I read, the more I felt myself to be the ghost, invisibly observing the contents of the photographs as if floating through the house myself alongside the protagonist’s deceased husband. Like the viewer, he watches the protagonist without being able to interact with her.
The calm domesticity of these images recalls the opening scenes of many haunted house movies, where the family (or, in this case, a single woman) moves into a perfectly lovely house and everything is going well until it isn’t. But Bret Curry’s photographs stay softly lit, devoid of the shadowy fears we expect from the genre. Even in the darker black-and-white images, the shadows serve more to enhance the lighted subjects. The domesticity of the images is further enhanced by Curry’s use of closeups; the intimate framing puts us right in the house with our protagonist. We become ghosts who watch her. A great haunting movie typically makes me dread all the unexplained sounds in my house, turning them into ghosts and ghouls creeping around the corner. Instead, after reading this book, the ghosts I see in my apartment are the memories I’ve made here. This book is no horror story, after all, but a romance between a ghost and his widow.
This one-sided relationship between the ghost and the protagonist is as painful as unrequited love, as the ghost is literally invisible to the person he desires. Still, his presence in the house is light and playful. In a typical ghost story, it is often guilt, greed, and abuse that haunt a home, but this ghost is the memory of a loving, gentle husband, a manifestation of a memory wrapped up in the sheets of the former marital bed.
The ghost itself is both serious and silly. The tone of the photographs — depicting closeups of abandoned objects and unsmiling subjects — is often serious. But the somewhat-cartoonish ghost is a fully-grown adult under a sheet with eye holes, much like the Peanuts characters out for Halloween. The death of the character is tragic, as are his forced passivity and disconnection as a ghost, but we can also see him as a person in costume, particularly when we see the film crew adjusting his sheet or otherwise interacting with the actor. Throughout the book, scenes from the movie are interrupted by scenes from its production, where equipment and crew members remind us that what we are seeing is staged.
These crew members haunt the house more as poltergeists than as passive sheet ghosts. The film’s characters are fully unaware of these watchers, but they actually have control over the situation, manipulating not only their equipment, but the characters themselves. We sometimes see the crew, but more often see evidence of their presence: their equipment set up to better see and document the characters they control. The crew members’ invisibility then comes from their control over the situation instead of adding to their powerlessness. Like the sheet ghost, the crew is both serious and silly. The high value of their equipment and the detailed nature of the setup is juxtaposed against someone playing dead in a T-shirt printed with the cover drawing.
As readers, we have only a small bit of control over our experience. We can flip back to various points in the book and decide how long to spend on each spread, but Curry dictates the book’s sequence — and its contents. In fact, we don’t even get page numbers to better orient ourselves within the book, and instead float through the pages almost timelessly.
What we are left with at the end of the book is a glimpse into production as well as a produced work of art in itself. After spending time between these pages, I cannot help but think of the memories in my life that have become ghosts following me around in my apartment, and whose houses the memory of me haunts.
5 × 7 in. closed
Edition of 100
There really isn’t much to say about death. Each metaphor for it feels imprecise; each explanation of its mechanics or significance says too little or too much. Where consciousness ends, so too do art and science or any other way we have of making meaning.
Of course, we can’t stop talking about it anyway. That final experience is perhaps the only one we can truly term “universal,” and the fact none of us among the living can crack the mystery makes it all the more compelling.
Lawrence Levi’s Necrology manages to say a lot about death — and about the variety, beauty, and absurdity of the life that precedes it — by not saying much at all.
The book’s premise is deceptively simple: Levi, an editor at The New York Times as well as a photographer, sequences decades of photographs from that paper’s obituaries, presenting one or two images per page. The pictures themselves are cropped tightly and primarily feature neutral backgrounds and facial expressions, clearly taken for documentary more than sentimental or aesthetic purposes. While they are good photographs, surprisingly if subtly expressive, it is their arrangement rather than their content that makes this an artists’ book.
Contextual information for each image consists of its original caption, usually providing only the name of the deceased. The few longer descriptions provoke more questions than they answer: “Walter S. Taylor in 1978, before the accident that crippled him” or “Anthony J. Giacalone, who was said to be in organized crime.”
Nothing further about the subjects is shared until Necrology’s last few pages, allowing (or requiring) the viewer to make their own interpretations regarding meaning and sequencing. The fact that these subjects are all but anonymous, unless the reader happens to recognize a name or two among them, incites a desire to study them more closely.
After spending a bit of time with an image, getting lost in the little idiosyncrasies of a given face, I come to feel as if I know the subject. At first, this sentiment is sweet, a bit of connection between the viewer and the rest of humanity.
However, the knowledge that all these people are dead and the association of their photographs with death adds a different resonance to the images. Every picture of a model on a gallery wall is motionless, but here Levi correlates the stillness of the medium with the stillness of death. The subject I felt I knew intimately becomes alien, separated by an impenetrable barrier.
This is not to say Necrology is solely a dreary, ruminative work. As the crush of images grows, the reader begins to consider the universality of the human face, the amazing similarity of shape between any one and another. Differences of appearance that play outsize and oppressive roles in the land of the living — ethnicity, gender, visible disability — begin to feel less significant. As the faces themselves become generalized, the viewer begins to differentiate individuals by other means: the shape of a tie knot or hairstyle, the thickness of eyeglass frames. This often has a humorous, softening effect: after my first viewing, I couldn’t remember every face in Necrology, but I clearly recalled the two cowboy hats on display.
The text that fills the last few pages of Necrology, while minimal, opens up additional meanings and methods of grappling with the photographs. A short — usually one sentence — biography is provided for each individual pictured. The biographies and the photographs are not presented in the same sequence, making the viewer put in a bit of work to match a name to a face. This almost game-like quality further emphasizes the book’s subtle humor, highlighting the laughter in many of the faces and the absurdity of many of the facts.
Levi further underscores this humor with some of the biographies themselves: “Alan Dugan was a writer of stinging poems who won the National Book Award twice and worked for several years in a plastic-vagina factory”; “Rodman Rockefeller was a Rockefeller.”
The endnotes also provoke consideration of the potential for a disconnect between a face or other aspects of a person’s appearance and the facts of that person’s life, in ways ranging from amusing to upsetting. Theodore McCarty’s mild, aged appearance is a stark contrast to the hard living and frequent early deaths of the blues and metal musicians who made his Flying V and Les Paul guitar designs into icons. The jovial, grandfatherly man smiling broadly on Necrology’s cover was a French politician who came to associate with that country’s far-right National Front.
Sometimes, this effect is reversed: Arthur “Spud” Melin, with his broad smile, tanned face, and comparatively long hair, does look the most likely of all these people to have headed up the company that popularized the Frisbee.
Even taken in isolation from the pictures, the simple biographies say something about the universality of death and the near-infinite variety of life. While all of these people were notable in some way, the breadth of that notability is vast. Some were at the center of sweeping changes, such as the first democratically elected president of Azerbaijan or a psychiatrist who worked to end the American Psychological Association’s classification of homosexuality as a mental disorder. Most, however, were a bit more ordinary: poets, cowboys, scientists, gangsters, and priests who in one moment or another did something truly wonderful, terrible, or strange.
Lawrence Levi does not tell us what death is in Necrology, nor what to do with our brief lives. What he does is give death a face — or more accurately, forty-six faces — to express just a bit of its mystery, its power, and its grim humor. Even to the last page, Levi invites us to play with and explore death rather than dreading or ignoring it, ending with an author photo formatted identically to the obituary images and a poem excerpt from one of Necrology’s subjects:
as if the mouse’s fingers…Alan Dugan, “Funeral Oration for a Mouse”
could grasp our grasping lives, and in
their drowning movement pull us under too,
into the common death beyond the mousetrap
 Because the individuals pictured are selected from a pool a major US newspaper deemed ‘notable’ upon their deaths, many of them some years ago, white men are quite overrepresented. Perhaps an assemblage featuring the many people eulogized in the Times’ ongoing Overlooked project would broaden this universalizing effect.
6.25 × 9.25 in. closed
Edition of 500
Against Decorum is a work of uncreative writing, which forges poetry from the condition descriptions in rare book catalogues. These fragments of technical terms speak to age and injury and, ultimately, love and obsession. Hampton’s remix method epitomizes the publisher’s mission: information as material “publishes work by artists and writers who use extant material — selecting it and reframing it to generate new meanings — and who, in doing so, disrupt the existing order of things.” Against Decorum converses with conceptual poetry but also older practices, like commonplacing. The latter reveals an abundance of writing about reading, but Hampton’s contribution is the move from distant reading to close reading. So close, in fact, as to skip the text altogether and focus on the book as an object. When those interested in artists’ books think about the haptic exchange between a book and its reader, they mostly focus on how a book (and its creator) move the reader. Against Decorum shifts attention to how a book might be altered by its reader, and what that means for future readers. The author is dead, but the books survive — a little worse for wear.
In an introduction by poet and critic Craig Dworkin, Hampton’s shuttling between close and distant reading is situated within ongoing debates in book history, literature, and digital humanities. Against Decorum poses thorny and necessary questions about what we value in the history of books and reading, and what is lost when we prioritize authors and texts over readers and books. Where literary scholars address a placeless, ahistorical text, Hampton examines the individual book — or rather, he reads and rearranges the descriptions of someone who has.
A foreword by the scholar Adam Smyth notes the same trends in bibliography and book history, but also reading and writing practices. Smyth references practices as diverse as Walter Benjamin’s quotational methods and the infamous altered books of Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell. Where Dworkin is taken with Hampton’s movement between distant and close reading, Smyth notes the traffic between high and low culture, archives and kitchen tables. Books are commodities, scuffed and dusty objects that bear the traces of everyday activity.
Against Decorum comprises three sections: Register A, Register B, and Scrapbook. Register A collects twelve monthly pieces, created from December 2019 through November 2020. These pieces are derived from different book catalogues, and each has its own designation: fragments, off-cuts, granules, snippets, and so on. Hampton thus highlights the many ways books are used and not merely read. Each piece is an evocative litany of defects. Wrappers are stained, covers are scuffed, pages are creased. There is “foxing” and “browning,” “pencilling” and “worming.” Amid the scuffing and rubbing, Hampton accentuates the (often erotic) exchange of bodies. Books are “thumbed” by readers, and have their own heads, feet, spines, and joints. With “deletions” and “erasures,” books are “wanting” and “lacking.” This reciprocity is further explored in Register B, which is written in the same manner but is meant “for reading aloud by two performers.”
The Scrapbook section gathers passages about books, libraries, and reading from a variety of sources, from articles and Amazon listings. Mostly though, it reveals a preponderance of books about books. These seem to favor curiosities and cataclysms: Malicious Damage, Bizarre Books, Lost Libraries. Others are more surprising, though, and the Scrapbook offers an illuminating glimpse into Hampton’s research. Each quotation is far more tantalizing than a typical “further reading” list, and the outliers and oddities will no doubt inspire makers and readers of artists’ books. These excerpts are signposts that stake out a zone of activity where books are contingent, material objects that record their own interactions with the people who use them.
In recording these interactions, Against Decorum centers the longest phase in the life cycle of a book, which is too often overlooked. After books are conceived, created, published, distributed, read, and written about, they persist. They pass through many hands and fall slowly victim to the conditions so meticulously detailed in booksellers’ catalogues. In Against Decorum the authors who write these books are as anonymous as the readers who fold and stain and inscribe them. It is the catalogues that are named, and the cataloger who is exalted. Catalogues are inherently ephemeral, but thanks to Hampton, they outlast the books they list as well as their readers.
Hampton’s monthly writing process sharpens the contrast between the human time scale and the book’s duration. He celebrates the ephemeral catalogue and the traces of past readers’ fleeting gestures. There is a sense of the sublime in the push and pull between close and distant reading, between “thumbmarks in lower corners” and the experience of reading about them in a catalogue, which is, in turn, excerpted in a book. Against Decorum does not lament this mediated access to an authentic original or pit information against material. Hampton truly embraces information as material. The poetry, with its combination of absurd repetition and marvelous neologisms and technical terms, is every bit as moving as the embodied relationship with a book. It is because both strategies push and pull so powerfully that Against Decorum approaches the sublime.
Against Decorum offers a way to make sense — and make use — of the information with which we are inundated. Book history is only a microcosm of our postmodern Anthropocene, a world where data (the vast majority of which is no longer intended for humans) multiplies endlessly while physical space and material resources dwindle inexorably. As the creation and processing of data increasingly harms the environment, we desperately need to move from information to knowledge — and wisdom. Hampton shows that this is a job for artists, and Against Decorum provides a method and a sourcebook for future inquiry.
8.25 × 11.5 in. closed
Edition of 20
Completed in 2021, Escape Book is a direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The colophon makes a statement to that effect, but the book is otherwise wordless, which allows Patrikiou to reflect on escapism more broadly. The screen-printed book combines photographic images on thick, toned paper with silhouettes of plants on drafting vellum overlays. Patrikiou describes the book as part childhood photo album and part herbarium. The translucent overlays extend the possibilities of the book’s thirty-two pages; the reader can reveal and conceal elements and play with composition and color as they thumb through the book. This active and immersive reading is the propulsion system on this escape vehicle — but the book is more than a distraction. Escape Book, like the pandemic itself, turns our attention to our relationship with nature, our isolation from one another, the importance of travel and migration, and the power of memory and imagination.
Patrikiou gives the sense that she is thinking through these issues alongside the reader — and thinking in her preferred medium of screen print. The cover includes expressive drops and smears of ink, and many of the pages retain a registration mark (though the photographic images are printed only in black). Meanwhile the silhouettes of plants luxuriate in electric colors, often more than one in a smooth gradient. Patrikiou is not just re-presenting photos from her collection, but consciously manipulating them through screen patterns, contrast, and scale. The reading experience recapitulates the artist’s process, experimenting with composition and free associating among juxtaposed images. It is also multisensorial; the rattle of the drafting vellum, the softness of the paper, and the smell of ink all help transport the reader.
The material and sensorial presence of the book heightens the contrast between the photo album and the herbarium. Where photographs rely on visual representation, the plant specimens in an herbarium are physically present on the pages. In a sort of compromise, the silhouetted plant forms in Escape Book appear to be printed from plants exposed directly on the screen, like a photogram. This tension runs throughout the book. If the photographs are distant, the plants are close. The photographs are past, the plants present. The photographs are representations, the plants reality. As the reader manipulates the vellum overlay, the past is quite literally viewed through the perspective of the present.
This effect is especially striking in the absence of people in most of the images. What were likely attempts to preserve the “natural” beauty of a landscape by excluding fellow tourists from the frame now read as eerily depopulated landscapes, reminiscent of early COVID-19 lockdowns. And it is not only the past that we witness through this fog. Patrikiou works out possible futures as she remixes her collection of photos and flora. Vacation snapshots are as much about imagination as memory, about the construction of an idealized escape. Images of palm trees swaying in the breeze evoke a different sort of nature than the plants printed atop them. The urge to travel somewhere exotic and reconnect with nature is, after all, a projection of the alienation that characterizes culture.
Projection also enables the empathy that Escape Book instills, and Patrikiou cultivates it with various visual strategies. Many of the photographs are presented as snapshots, relatively small objects surrounded by white space on the page. In these, the small size and coarse screen pattern obscure details and allow the reader to imagine their own scene — a beach or street or horizon from their own travels. Presented as objects, these images grant an evidentiary (or perhaps souvenir) quality to whatever remembered or imagined scene the reader projects. The silhouetted plants work similarly. The reader knows that a real plant was there but must imagine its color and scent. At the same time, the vibrant colors no doubt influence the reader’s ruminations. Escape Book is far from a blank slate, and Patrikiou’s own feelings of isolation and disorientation come through clearly.
An entirely different form of projection operates in images that occupy the full page (or in one case, the full spread). These place the reader into the role of the photographer, using one-point linear perspective to exaggerate the effect. In this vein, a sequence of three photographs seems to explore themes of mobility and agency. In each image, the reader (in the place of the photographer) is on a path. The first follows a hiker down a wooded slope. The second places the viewer behind a dog, holding its leash. The third shows a train track underfoot, receding into the distance. Patrikiou offers three ways of moving through the world, with more or less freedom to stray from the path and connect with one’s surroundings.
Thus, escape is never entirely possible. Our attitudes toward nature — whether the fantasy of unspoiled nature projected in travel photography, or the myth of mastery through classification behind the herbarium — have already shaped the world into which we might escape. Notably, the enlightenment (and colonial) ideologies that accompany the herbarium and photo album also drive habitat destruction and globalized trade, which make pandemics like COVID-19 more likely. Escape Book enacts this collision between fantasy and reality, between distant, abstract concepts and individual plants and people. Which is not to say that it offers no escape. It is a truly beautiful book that creates a sense of connection between the reader and the artist. Escapism is not delusion or abdication. We can escape from immediate danger to a place where we can see these, and other connections, more clearly.
4 × 5 in. closed
Risograph inside with thermography-finished cover
Edition of 150
A collaboration between Maria Brito and Bruno Neiva, Ballroom Etiquette is a slim, pocket-sized pamphlet, but it distills two books — True Politeness: A Hand-book of Etiquette for Ladies (1867) and Kill or Get Killed (1976), published by the US Marine Corps. The text comes from the Victorian etiquette guide, while the images come from the hand-to-hand combat manual. Brito and Neiva use the book’s structure to heighten the humor of these juxtapositions, with images, printed black, on every verso and text, printed red, on every recto. Ballroom Etiquette exemplifies the one-and-a-half-liner (which I mean as a compliment) — what could be merely ironic pairs of text and illustration rise to the level of trenchant commentary on gender and violence in contemporary society.
A successful one-and-a-half-liner must exceed the reader’s initial expectations, and Ballroom Etiquette does this with its modest production. At forty-eight pages, there is more content than a mere one-liner would require, yet the book can still be enjoyed in one sitting. The book’s Risography and thermography conjure a subversive origin in a copy shop somewhere, belying its thoughtful design and materials. The inside paper is a smooth cream stock, and the red cover paper matches the text. The text, in turn, is carefully set to balance with the image across each gutter, each of which retain the grainy appearance of their source material. Brito and Neiva perfectly calibrate the book’s materials, production, and design with the scope and tone of its ideas.
Ballroom Etiquette also succeeds as a one-and-a-half-liner because the comical distance between its two elements — etiquette and combat — is only apparent. The juxtaposition reveals that the two are, in fact, related. The humor works on both levels, absurd contrast and poignant commentary. The wildly different stakes between the two accounts for a third aspect of the book’s humor, as in the warning, “If possible, do not enter a room alone.” The imperative mood makes no distinction between the risk of impropriety for a Victorian lady and the risk of bodily harm for a Marine. This strategy is especially fruitful because of the colorful language in the original etiquette guide. Metaphors like “wounding another’s heart” take on new meaning when paired with an image of a man taking a baton to the neck.
Such wordplay also demonstrates how commonly figurative language uses space and movement. Even familiar phrases like “the circles in which you move” are made strange when the reader must sort through the literal meaning as it might pertain to dancing or fighting versus the intended reference to social circles. Brito and Neiva are equally clever in their visual jokes. For example, a line about wearing gloves is paired with a close-up of a hand delivering a knifehand strike to a throat. These careful pairings punctuate a slew of vaguer images in which two men grapple, their struggle eroticized by the corresponding text on courtship or dancing.
Brito and Neiva queer the hypermasculinity of the combat manual and the rigid heterosexual roles of the etiquette guide. The book reveals two realities: gender is fluid, but patriarchy is stubborn. Men may no longer sport snowy, perfumed handkerchiefs, but women are still told not to refuse a man who asks nicely. In addition to gender, Ballroom Etiquette examines how little attitudes about class have changed since the Victorian era. Propriety and private property are inextricably linked, and women are cautioned against public balls. Brito and Neiva use the term détournement for their strategy of turning proscriptive texts into a critique of the systems those texts once upheld. The book is also a détournement in a more general, but equally important, sense — what was once information is now art. The artists’ specific critique of patriarchal violence shows the potential of appropriation and juxtaposition for almost any issue.
The book’s strength as a model for future works may be its greatest contribution, but its strategies are not without risks. The fact that Ballroom Etiquette is genuinely funny is critical to its success. Brito and Neiva show keen comic instincts at every step of the project, from choosing source material to design and production. The artists also demonstrate a deep understanding of the book form.Even with the rigid separation of text and image and the repeated format of each spread, Ballroom Etiquette relies on the book form. The détournement of two other books is integral to the project, but perhaps more importantly, Brito and Neiva orchestrate their comic timing through the book’s structure and the amount of content they include. Ballroom Etiquette doesn’t ask too much of its reader or overstay its welcome — but it’s no one-liner.
8.5 × 10.75 × 1 in. closed
Case-bound, sewn on tapes
“Tis education forms the common mind, Just as the twig is bent the tree’s inclined.”Alexander Pope, Epistles to Several Persons
In How to Draw Tornadoes, Michael Darcy explores his early education through the longstanding analogy between the growth of a tree and the development of a child. All puns intended, the memoir is rooted in two incidents from elementary school and then branches out into a reflection on community, diversity, and epistemology. Education, it seems, has not evolved as much as tree science since the time of Alexander Pope. Darcy wonders what education might look like if it reflected how we now know trees flourish — by cooperating and communicating rather than competing. How to Draw Tornadoes adopts these values in form, content, and structure. It demonstrates how artists’ books can produce knowledge that challenges binaries and embraces diverse perspectives and modes of expression. Perhaps Darcy’s progressive vision is a return to an earlier time, before Alexander Pope and the Enlightenment, when John Heywood first warned us not to miss the forest for the trees.
Darcy begins How to Draw Tornadoes by recounting how an elementary school teacher objected to his scribbling and taught him the “correct” way to draw a tornado. This absurd intolerance for individual expression is, ironically, part of a hyper-competitive, individualistic education system where students compete against one another on daily multiplication quizzes. It is against this competitive, intolerant, shame-based pedagogy — in school but also in family and society more broadly — that Darcy poses his alternative. Now free from narrow-minded schoolteachers, Darcy transgresses all manner of boundaries in How to Draw Tornadoes. The case-bound book’s relatively strait-laced cover gives way to colored papers, fold-outs, hidden flaps, die-cuts, collaged elements, and sewn designs. Most notably, tornadoes are scribbled into pages with a sewing machine.
Alongside his own stories, Darcy borrows from Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass and a Radiolab episode about the ways trees cooperate to benefit the forest. The imagery is also largely appropriated. Family photos accompany Darcy’s opening reflections on his childhood while a variety of found photos of trees illustrate the latter half of the book. Other found visuals, from family trees to diagrams of linear perspective, speak to the long entanglement of education, art, and rationalism. Darcy’s tissue of texts embraces multiple authorship, even as his sewn embellishments assert an expressive individuality. Acknowledging the forest does not mean neglecting the tree.
Recognizing the community around the individual means more than crediting collaborators. Darcy paints a stark picture of the white, religious, masculine milieu in which he was raised. In family photos, men tote guns, wave flags, and play football. Perhaps the family trees, Catholic school ephemera, and handwriting guides call for an in-depth psychoanalytical interpretation, but it seems sufficient to note that Darcy’s chosen medium of the sewing machine is itself a rejection of heteropatriarchal gender norms. He also quotes Sabrina Imbler’s article on “botanical sexism,” which explains how USDA guidance to plant only male trees in cities backfired and worsened allergies since there were no females to absorb the excess pollen — literally toxic masculinity.
Darcy leverages the analogy between people and trees to erode boundaries between nature and culture more broadly: human perspective and bumblebee vision, classroom hierarchies versus rhizomatic root systems. Such connections are more than metaphors, they reveal deep structures that shape how we perceive and understand the world. The book itself is biomorphic. Spreads are composed to highlight its bilateral symmetry, and an image of hexagonal honeycombs echoes the book’s coarse halftone screens. Darcy’s wit emerges in these playful visual sequences and juxtapositions, though there is a hint of humor in his otherwise earnest writing. The point is not to correctly decode every reference but rather to see the interconnectedness of things and the value of multiple perspectives. The written narrative drives the reader forward in a linear manner, but the imagery prompts additional readings in no such order.
How to Draw Tornadoes doesn’t just tell the reader to embrace diversity and cooperation, it shows the benefits of doing so. The artists’ book is polyvocal, multi-modal, non-linear, and interactive. Its narrative is personal yet relatable, educational but entertaining. It appeals emotionally and intellectually and engages multiple senses and ways of knowing. This flexibility is not because the book is an empty vessel. It is because Darcy understands how the medium fits into the systems he studies. Books can create and communicate — but also limit — knowledge. Darcy harnesses the affordances of the book, but also works against its conventions to convey his message.
Fittingly, Darcy’s sewing proves especially challenging to the medium. The book’s sewn binding and expressive stitching erase the boundary between structure and content. So too does it abolish the page as a surface; sewing makes marks in and not on the page. The turn of the page no longer conjures a blank slate but highlights the continuity of the thread, integrating the verso and recto. This emphasis on the material presence of the page sharpens the irony of paper printed with photographs of trees. To celebrate the wisdom of forests, How to Draw Tornadoes has had to kill a few trees. Does this discredit the book? If we take Darcy seriously, it shows how deeply nature and culture are entangled, and how indebted we are to those other beings who make our work possible.
Hogarth’s Copycats: 300 Years of Artistic Piracy
11 × 8.5 in. closed
Hogarth’s Copycats: 300 Years of Artistic Piracy is one of three books about William Hogarth by the independent scholar (and musician) Jeremy Bell. The three books, along with their online paratext, form a fluid ecosystem of interconnected and self-referential scholarship. Taken together, the reading experience reflects research in the age of hyperlinks and Wikipedia rabbit holes. As a guide through this material, Bell is impish yet erudite. Along with Bell’s writing style, the design of Hogarth’s Copycats captures this spirit in printed form.
From the outside, Hogarth’s Copycats could be mistaken for a children’s book. It is a slim, horizontal-format paperback with a glossy, full-color cover. The inside overflows with color illustrations on every page, illustrations which quickly reveal that the book is probably not for children. Nor does it fit comfortably in the genre of children’s books for adults, since its form also draws on and subverts other genres: art historical monographs, museum publications, online research, and even Hogarth’s own satirical art.
Bell’s compendium of artworks that reference, rip off, and appropriate Hogarth is organized by project (Marriage A-la-Mode, A Rake’s Progress, and so on). Headlines announce the project or theme, but there is no table of contents or index for the reader to navigate. Hogarth’s Copycats is an immersive tour led by Bell in first and third person. Bell jumps in without an introduction: “Let’s begin with some humorous face-swaps of Hogarth and his dog named ‘Trump.’” This tour guide tone continues throughout the book. On page forty-five Bell writes, “I hope you are enjoying this collation of artwork that has been inspired by William Hogarth.” Stops on the tour reflect the wide-ranging influence of Hogarth on centuries of art, illustration, and satire. Bell covers piracy by Hogarth’s contemporaries (which led to the Engraving Copyright Act of 1734), twentieth-century film adaptations, public service announcements, contemporary art, and more.
Even as Bell samples the breadth of Hogarth-inspired works, his own research interests emerge. Building on his first book, William Hogarth: A Freemason’s Harlot, Bell examines the role of Masonic imagery in Hogarth’s work. Likewise, Bell revels in Hogarth’s low-brow body humor, continuing lines of inquiry from his second book, The Fine Art of Dick Pics and Selfies. Since the references to Hogarth’s originals are explicit in the works Bell discusses, Hogarth’s Copycats is less speculative than A Freemason’s Harlot. It does, however, rely on the same methods — visual analysis and iconography.
Bell’s iconographic approach is almost paranoid, revealing secret Masonic symbols and faces hidden in shrubbery. While some assertions are more convincing than others, Hogarth’s work lends itself to such sleuthing. The artist certainly used symbolism and veiled references in his satire, and Masonic themes have been documented in his work. Hogarth’s visual puns and references to other works likely explain much of the appeal for other artists to riff on his work. Bell is hardly an objective observer himself. He celebrates Hogarth’s ability to hide things, from symbols to entire narratives, in plain sight.
Having abandoned neutrality for something more like fandom, Bell presents himself with a humorous, fitting mix of self-aggrandizement and self-deprecation. Bell credits himself with new discoveries hidden in Hogarth’s work, but also thanks his research assistants, “Miss Google” and “young Master Wiki.” He also thanks “The Trustees of the British Museum and other sites that allowed downloads of their artwork.” For Bell, original research requires only access to art and attention to detail. Whether this is read as satire of a certain type of connoisseurship, or a defense of close looking in an age of big data, “distant reading,” and digital distractions, art historians should take note.
A similar self-deprecating ambiguity results from the book’s mix of scholarship and crass commercialism. Throughout Hogarth’s Copycats, references to Bell’s other books are delivered like sales pitches as much as scholarly citations — an irreverence that matches that of the copycats he studies. The Chapman Brothers, for example, show a deep understanding of art history, but were criticized for painting directly on works by Goya for their series, Insult to Injury. Hogarth himself blended nuanced political commentary with misogynistic and homophobic tropes and produced grand history paintings alongside bawdy illustrations. He also pilfered from the likes of Albrecht Dürer. Ultimately, Bell’s enthusiasm for many of the contemporary copycats like Cold War Steve and Henry Hudson shows the same reverence for art that led Hogarth to write books about beauty even as he produced grotesque works like The Four Stages of Cruelty.
Bell seems to celebrate the creativity of the uncreative. He also demonstrates that Hogarth’s formulas are endlessly generative, even as politics and aesthetics change over centuries. Bell’s analysis is almost structuralist in its focus on the roles and relationships in Hogarth’s work. The phenomenon of copycats shows that corrupt politicians, sycophants, and hypocrites are a feature of every time and place. Bell highlights this meme-ready modularity but also shows what is lost when copycats (and art historians) miss the details that make Hogarth’s work anything but generic.
In showing that Hogarth still matters today, Bell also shows that the basic tools of art history remain effective. Hogarth’s Copycats has an internet aesthetic in many ways, but at its core it is simply an illustrated art history book full of side-by-side comparisons, details, and diagrams. Bell is well-versed in the life and times of Hogarth, but his own scholarship is primarily a matter of close looking. This method is especially fruitful given Hogarth’s penchant for hidden details and double entendres, but by no means limited to him.
Bell makes art history accessible and entertaining. He even provides intriguing avenues for future research. At the same time, he deploys structural, visual, textual, and paratextual devices to undermine his own methods and message. The book’s self-referentiality and the unreliability of its narration places Hogarth’s Copycats in dialogue with artists’ books as well as the art it discusses. The self-reflexivity of artists’ books often excludes general audiences, but Bell’s humorous handling of the medium will welcome new readers to artists’ books and art history alike.