01 Nov 2016 12:00 AM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)

A salient characteristic of artists' books is the way in which the physical elements—binding, paper, type, image-are creatively united within a conceptual framework. This distinguishes artists' books from non-artists' books—either standard books, on the one hand, or the livre d'artiste on the other. Innovation within the area of artists' books can be physical (new material usages, new binding techniques, etc.) or conceptual (new ways of thinking about a book).  

The more the emphasis on conceptual innovation, the looser the adherence must be to traditional forms: books have become sculptural, they have become mass produced, they have become unbound. They usually remain haptic, though, so performance, film, and musical composition are not commonly conceived of as conceptual extensions of the artists' book, but as distinct forms unto themselves.

How vital is the haptic aspect of a book to the artists' book enterprise? Can the conceptual innovation extend out so far that a book might lose its form entirely and become an idea rather than an object? Or perhaps more pertinent, what role might digital technologies play in extending the boundaries of what we understand to be artists' books?  

I am drawn to this question for a couple of reasons: 1) code can bring together text, images, and interactivity in a way that is more book-like than any other non-haptic medium. 2) with the rise of tablets and ebooks which function as containers resembling standard books, mightn't we as a community subvert this technology for artistic ends?

In 2013 I gave a CBAA talk at Mill's College entitled, "What is a Digital Artists' Book, Anyway?" (subsequently published in JAB 32) in which I encouraged familiarity with the Electronic Literature Organization because such rich developments involving text, image, and interactivity are coming from this quarter. More recently, the 2016 CBAA members exhibit in Nashville, TN featured a work by Ian Hatcher and Amaranth Borsuk that was tablet-based and other CBAA members have been involved in hybrid projects as well, so I am not suggesting this as entirely new ground.  Rather, I am interested in widening the discussion. 

I recognize that for many in the CBAA community, leaving behind the tactile quality of the book for a cold electronic device which so many of us associate with attention draining social media might be a hard sell. Luckily, I'm not a salesman though. Rather, I am interested in this nascent technology for its parallel with the development of the book as a communication device which we artists then adapted for our own ends: the artists' book. Clearly, a different set of tools is required to develop an app than creating an artists' book. However, just as an artists' book can be a powerful tool for creative expression and formal experimentation, so too can this new technology be. And many of the conceptual concerns that go into creating an artists' book are inherent to generating creative work in this new technology as well. As an interesting note relating to what is haptic, despite the virtual quality of web-based media (eg, intangible), touch screen devices, interactive screen-based media now have a strangely tactile quality—but are they haptic?

As food for thought, I am posting three links that exemplify how artists' book-like this screen-based form lends itself towards. These web-based examples span from the late nineties to the early 2000's, since much of this type of work now is app-based due to the technology shift from desktop to mobile devices. The first project, oooxxxooo by Juliet Martin (1997)*, I specifically selected because it is low-tech (rather than having an intimidatingly slick interface), because of the way that the browser we are all familiar with has been approached creatively in a way very different from commerce/information-based web sites, and because of the innovative formal experimentation using text and native code-based imagery. The second piece, Peter Horvath's Life Is Like Water (2002), is not interactive as in Juliet Martin's piece, but rather is an innovative example of how the web-based form can be usurped for artistic purposes. Lastly, Alan Bigelow's This Is Not a Poem (2010) is a very successful conceptual work using text, image, sound, and interactivity.

*Juliet's piece is no longer on her website; however, because it is purely HTML based, I have it on my website for teaching purposes.

I welcome your thoughts, comments, insights….


  • 23 Feb 2017 8:39 AM | Alice
    I agree that the haptic aspect of a book can be readily translated into technology. After all, I would be the first to advocate that reading on my Kindle is just as enjoyable, engaging, and easier to carry than a physical book. This haptic element was also evident to me in the artist’s book oooxxxooo by Juliet Martin. Clicking through the different screens, I felt like as if I was flipping through the pages of a choose-your-own-adventure book. Despite the low-tech interface, I was surprised and appreciative of the beautiful word arrangements and play.

    There is one thing however that concerns me about this technological exploration of artist’ books. For me, a defining aspect of books and artworks is their respective abilities to remain timeless. When I think of reading a good book or looking at an inspiring work of art, no matter how many times I have read or seen the piece I would be happy to read and look at it again. When I tried to open Life is Like Water by Peter Horvath, a window popped on my computer screen that said I was missing a software. When I tried to download the said software, another window popped on my computer screen saying that the software I was trying to download was no longer compatible with my computer. To say the least, I was disappointed by this barrier in viewing the artist’s book. That is why I say that I am worried about the legacy of technology-based artists’ books. As technology advances and races forward as it does, I am worried that artist’ books that rely on certain software and code will be lost as these forms of technology get outdated. In a sense, the ability of these books to be accessible to anyone may also be a limitation in the future, inhibiting the haptic nature of such artists’ books.
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  • 09 Dec 2019 3:43 AM | Anonymous
    A book is articulated for the width and block for the mid of the calculation for the signs. It is done for the role of the for all reforms for the citations. It is done for the ray of the hope for the contentious outlook for the citizens.
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