THE LIST MAKER AS CRITIC // Tate Shaw

30 Nov 2015 9:00 PM | Anonymous

It’s the year-end when critics compile best of lists that take stock of the passage of time while reflecting upon genuine artistry where one found it. Photobooks have this down pat, see photo-eye’s blog, for one example. We need these pointers and filters now more than ever. I don’t think year-end lists of book artworks exist. If you know of any, please comment or post your own for 2015.

While reading the reports on the events in Paris two weeks ago, I wondered where are the critics connected to book artworks who will provide me a list of titles to help me feel better right this moment? Childishly, I think I wanted something like this scene in the movie version of Nick Hornby’s novel High Fidelity. What I sought was a way to empathize while simultaneously justifying my life’s orientation. Otherwise, why am I thinking about books all the time when awful stuff like this is going on in Beirut, Paris, Syria, etc.? Alas, I didn’t know of such a community so I visited my own shelves and took some solace in Josely Carvalho’s book version of Diary of Images: There is Still Time to Mourn and Anders Nielsen’s The End. What is your list of book artworks that offer some solace for grief?

“So what is it about the list,” asks Michael Hampton in his recently published Unshelfmarked: Reconceiving the Artists’ Book? “In short, the list is often the first line of organizational defense in the battle with the incomprehensibility and furor of daily life in 2015; an unbeatable memory device.” Hampton’s own list book is a welcome approach that expands critical inquiry by using the notion of family resemblance for things with “genuine authorship” as book artworks. This is how Hampton can include The Lindisfarne Gospels circa 700CE, a mobile app of Tom Phillips’ A Humument, and a video of Guy Begbie turning circles while holding an ornately perforated book that emits orange smoke as rumba music romps in the background. 

Hampton’s list book recalled for me other great list book resources like The Book on Books on Artists Books organized by Arnaud Desjardin and The Perverse Library by Craig Dworkin. Tell us about other list books you know about.

Hampton also points to the great and thankless work Sarah Bodman does consistently editing and disseminating the Book Arts Newsletter (BAN)Two hundred years from now, what are historians going to gain from more: BAN’s intense lists, which are the real time-capsule of the activities of the whole field, or any one person’s idea of a canon or history of current activity?

Another great new title, The Dynamic Library: Organizing Knowledge at the Sitterwerk—Precedents and Possibilities, published in English this fall by Soberscove Press, also has a list maker, Daniel Rohner, at its core. Rohner compiled a remarkable but curious library of about 25,000 volumes on art, architecture, design, and photography that is now the majority of the Sitterwerk Kunstibibliothek. When the library was made public it was classified such that every volume has a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tag so users can document their research via a table that senses what rests upon it. Images, and even a magazine printout, can quickly be made of this fluid analog research, all captured via digital tools. It’s thrilling to know more about this pioneering, interdisciplinary work making a collection accessible and unique to each user, individually. How do you document your research in book art collections? Or tell us how you have your private library organized. By genre? Concepts? Autobiographically?


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