01 Aug 2016 12:00 AM | Deleted user

With this post, I would like to revisit a conversation that began over five years ago at the 2011 CBAA Conference in Bloomington, Indiana. At that conference, in a presentation entitled Relational Continuum: The Book as "Lasting Encounter," I departed from Nicolas Bourriaud's theory of Relational Aesthetics and asserted the critical importance of considering book art through a relational lens. At this moment, with the American presidential election looming and with potent evidence of collective discontent erupting across the globe, I find myself returning to that assertion.

This time around, I'd like to free us from Bourriaud's oft-contested jargon. As Daniel Grant explains in his recent New York Times article, "defining social practice is no easy thing." For the sake of reigniting this conversation, I will ground us in the following definition, offered up by the Art and Social Practice MFA program at Portland State University, in a blog post about their weekly Likewise Fridays events.

"Art and Social Practice is an artistic approach that emphasizes collaboration, shared authorship, public participation, site-specificity, and interdisciplinarity. It is often presented in non-art locations, and has no media or formal boundaries."

Since my original inquiry in 2011, I have been interested in how our field intersects with this artistic approach, as many of these emphases are so often relevant when considering the book as an art form. As such, I am driven to compile examples of book art that can also be considered as social practice.

With the intention of building a bibliography to continue this inquiry, I will share a few projects that exemplify my understanding of book art as social practice. Beneath each project, I provide excerpts quoted directly from the artist(s) describing their work. The sources for these excerpts can be visited by clicking on the title links included for each project. I invite comments, including those that interrogate my choices and those that suggest additions to this growing list.

Books by Sheryl Oring
"Sheryl Oring examines critical social issues through projects that incorporate old and new media to tell stories, examine public opinion and foster open exchange. Using tools typically employed by journalists (the camera, the typewriter, the pen, the interview and the archive) she builds on experience in her former profession to create installations, performances, artist books and internet-based works."

Book Bombs by Mary Tasillo and Michelle Wilson
"BOOK BOMBS re-contextualizes public spaces, particularly park benches, empty lots, and abandoned buildings, drawing on the history of guerrilla art, graffiti traditions, and the artist multiple. Our site-based interventions highlight the social and environmental issues of a location, such as homelessness and endangered and invasive plants ecologies, through explorations of handmade paper, wheat pasted prints, and zines."

Combat Paper
"Transforming military uniforms into handmade paper since 2007. . . Through papermaking workshops, veterans use their uniforms worn in service to create works of art. The uniforms are cut up, beaten into a pulp and formed into sheets of paper. Participants use the transformative process of papermaking to reclaim their uniforms as art and express their experiences with the military."

Publications by Temporary Services
"Publishing has been a regular part of our practice since we began in 1998. We have provided a large number of our booklets, books, poster-booklets, newspapers and other publications for free during exhibitions, in public situations, and below as PDFs for you to download. In 2008 we took steps to make our publishing economically viable and to be able to provide greater support for artists, groups, and their work. To this end, we started Half Letter Press a publishing imprint and online store."

Streetopia by various artists, published by Booklyn
"Streetopia (the book) is an assemblage of works by twenty-four current and former San Francisco artists tentatively associated with the San Francisco Bay Area "Mission School" or "New Mission School" Art movements. It serves as a stand-alone extension of the Streetopia exhibition at the Luggage Store Gallery in SF in May and June of 2012."

Unbound by Jessica Peterson
"Unbound is a limited edition artists’ book which honors the veterans of Prince Edward County’s 1959 school lock out. All 100 copies of the book were letterpress-printed on handmade paper in a single month, produced collaboratively by community members in Farmville and faculty and students at Longwood University. The book was conceived and designed by artist Jessica Peterson and recounts the closing of the public schools in Prince Edward County, Virginia, from 1959 to 1964. Unbound tells this story of these events with timelines, archival evidence, and collected narratives from the veterans of the closings. Gold stars flow through each page, one star for each person whose life was permanently altered by the school closings."


  • 02 Aug 2016 6:47 AM | Anonymous
    If words made of ice set up to melt is book art, or words in snowglobes and on underwear, then Nora Ligorano and Marshall Reese fit into this category: ; ;
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  • 22 Feb 2017 4:34 PM | Claire C
    It may be a few years old, but I believe that Werner Pfeiffer's book "State of the Union" could fit into this category due to its pointed social commentary. The quotes that fill the book range in origin from centuries to just a few years old, but taken together, Pfeiffer's book is a potent comment on American culture, especially on our (lack of) empathy for the less fortunate. The book is also a beautifully engineered piece of work, with separate parts fitting together so neatly that they appear to be one cohesive whole: a simplified American flag.
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