CLOUD/CLOD // Rebecca Childers

15 Feb 2017 12:00 AM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)

Today is a fine day to talk etymology. You were expecting politics? Let’s go with something more rooted for now: the slip and slide of words across tongues and time. Take, for instance, the word “cloud.” Imagine you’re an Angle, Jute, or Saxon circa 1100 AD. Look up into the Old English sky, heavy-laden with rain. What do you see, etymologically speaking? A clud (mass of rock or dirt) but this one formed of evaporated water heaped on high. Later, in Middle English, skie became a lexical stunt double for “cloud.”

Cloud Study, John Constable, 1830, Tate Britain

The rhizomatic wriggliness of words illustrates our core nature as metaphoric beings. Everything reminds us of everything because—according to particle physicists and Object-oriented Ontologists—everything is everything. Consider a “book.” The term derives from Old English bōk, a document or charter; Dutch, boek; German Buch; and English beech, a wood on which runes were written. Contents may vary, but most consist at minimum of: paper, ink, thread. This means your average book might harbor traces of: forest (root systems, understory, wind in canopies, shade and shadow, snowfall, nightfall, and nurse logs); fields of cotton or flax (sunshine, seedpod, and, according to Emily D, at least one bee); and for ink, soot or bone (ribcage, femur, fire). Viewed in this light, books are compressed remediated habitats. Maybe that’s why I’m charmed by images of books reclaimed by insects or left in rain, the pages’ raw materials reshuffled in the natural order.

Some artists embrace such vibrant dis/order, collaborating with rivers, silkworms, or other “actants,” to borrow a term from Object-oriented Ontology, in order to create new “assemblages.” For River Avon Book, Richard Long dipped each page into the river’s mud, as if allowing it self-representation. In 1990, he published a series called Papers of River Mud, with cotton paper handmade with sediment from the Umpqua River in Oregon, the Rhine, Nile, Mississippi, and Amazon, among others. In today’s political climate, with the EPA under fire and the world flirting with another extinction event, we could use more artwork that accommodates the fundamental creativity of dirt.

River Avon Book, Richard Long, 1979

We think of soil as inert, as “dumb as dirt,” yet as any garden-variety farmer knows, it teems with life. Geoscientists dub soil the “skin” of the earth, and like skin it’s a living membrane that can be damaged and even destroyed. To raise awareness of this essential biome, the United Nations declared 2015 the International Year of the Soil. The University of Puget Sound’s Collins Memorial Library marked the occasion with an exhibit of artist books. Among notable exhibitors were Mare Blocker, Catherine Michaelis, Alex Borgen, Clarissa Sligh, and Jenifer Wightman.

Wightman’s project, Gowanus Canal, explores “the underbelly of NYC.” She collected mud from the canal, a Superfund site, and used “a 19th century microbiology technique to induce bacteria to synthesize pigment.” Exposed to light, the bacteria yielded “transforming colorfields from a variety of ecosystems,” which the artist documented using time-lapse photography. The resulting images evidence that “the underbelly…is alive and thriving, metabolizing wastes to make a beautiful livelihood."

Gowanus Canal, Jenifer Wightman, 2012

It’s encouraging to think that even in the most forsaken of places, a Superfund site, Earth refuses to play dead. All around us—under our feet, over our heads—small miracles are gathering mass and momentum, if only we’d slow down to notice. As Ilya and Emilia Kabakov point out, “It’s only when you are lying flat on the earth…that you begin to look at the sky.” Looking Up. Reading the Words, a project they made for Sculpture Projects Münster invites viewers to do exactly that. You encounter what looks at first like a transmission tower in a grassy field; then, from directly below, you see it is a love letter written in German addressed to anyone who pauses to look skyward. “My Dear One!” it begins. “When you are lying in the grass, with your head thrown back…there, up above, is the blue sky and clouds floating by—perhaps this is the very best thing you have ever done or seen in your life.” In other words, cloud/clod: everything is everything.

Looking Up. Reading the Words, Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, 1997


  • 22 Feb 2017 7:47 PM | Shira
    This exploration of taking back the raw materials, which the books are created from, and developing them into artist books adds a natural factor that I have not yet seen in any artist books which I have read. As someone who is interested in the sciences I admire the integration of biology and book-making that Jenifer Wightman used with the colorful bacteria. I have seen many examples of sciences brought into the arts but this is the first book I have seen that combines three of my interests: science, photography and book making. After looking up Jenifer Wightman’s Gowanus Canal, being prompted by this blog, I saw the use of the time-lapse and how progression shaped an astonishing book created by colorful bacteria that exist in the environment.
    Link  •  Reply
    • 16 Nov 2019 2:05 AM | Hunter Grano
      Rebecca is big story in 1983 and this story is won an oscar award and now the next version is with the children and this is also awesome everyone is must-read. This story is written by top famous writers if everyone wants to know about then visit page here mention all of the writer's name and they can also help the directors to write stories.
      Link  •  Reply
  • 23 Feb 2017 10:10 AM | Rebecca
    What a fascinating take on artists' books - where the focus is not only on the assemblage but on the origin of the materials used. Specifically, these books seem to make inquiries about the artificiality of books, as to whether they are human constructs in a technological, man-made world, or an extension of the natural environment we all live in.
    Link  •  Reply
  • 23 Feb 2017 5:59 PM | Trishna Mohite
    There were many interesting points brought up in this post. The idea that "everything is everything" especially holds true in the very interdisciplinary genre of art that is the book arts. This is espeaclly true with the books mentioned in this post as they incorporate environmental, biological, and artistic study. I am always on the look out for artists who incorporate biology into their work, mainly because art and biology are two fields of study that I love. It was also interesting to consider a book not only through its linguistic origins, also the origin of its materials.
    Link  •  Reply
  • 17 Nov 2019 9:08 PM | Anonymous
    Books are considered as our best friends and they are giving more ways to learn. On the contrary this link will support the further updates about the new books and their uses.
    Link  •  Reply
Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software