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

What does seamfulness look like, and how does it function? How does it read? How can it encourage the reader to “look hard?” How does that attention place them back into the world?

It seems best to try to answer these questions by writing about a specific artwork. Divya Victor’s 2014 book, Natural Subjects, [1] is an excellent case study for this particular context: it is a book (poetry, but it deploys text and image), it is conceptually and formally sophisticated but still accessible (in other words, it’s really good), and it deals with identity, speech, language, migration, and immigration. I’m not interested in trying to parse whether Natural Subjects is or is not an artists’ book. The category is not important. What is important is that it is an approach to writing (rigorous in craft and concept, shaped as a whole, conscious of the materiality of the text, the shape of the page, and the form of the book) that those of us engaged in the book arts can look to as a model.

Natural Subjects is a book about power, about the languages and documents that power constructs, and about how that language and power affects real people in their real lives. The abstraction of text can be used to define, limit, and trap the actual body:

Or it can be used to dissect and examine an indeterminate body—perhaps an animal, perhaps a human treated as an animal, perhaps a human treated as only a body or a problem:

The activity of writing naturally hides its seams. The writer can easily insert text from another source, and the reader only recognizes it as such if that text is given its appropriate markings—quotation marks, separation as a block quote, a footnote, italics, etc. The writing in Natural Subjects uses these conventions in certain instances, but they are not applied consistently and “properly.” Even when the conventions of marking quoted text are not used, the seams in Natural Subjects remain legible—they become legible in the reading. The legibility of the seams leads to other legibilities: of the source texts, of the experience of encountering those texts in lived situations, of the structures that generate and control such texts, and/or of the mythologies that permeate the interpretations of such texts. One such moment occurs on page 24:

Is this a checklist? Is this an oath? Who is “I,” and why is “I” separated from the expected flow of speech? The seams, those moments of disruption and collage do two related things for the reader: first, they defamiliarize the “official” language of the U.S. government and reveal (though it is always in plain sight) its function as an instrument of control. Second, they place the reader in the position of being subject to, the subject of, the text and the functions of power/control that it exerts. That list is followed, after two blank pages, with a more extreme moment of collage/disruption:

The blank pages are a seam. The shift in size is a seam. The all caps is a seam. The use of italics is a seam. The cutting off of the word “happiness” is a seam. The repetition of the last line is a seam. There are more seams on that page than “straight” content, and the reading is the reader tracing those seams.

Natural Subjects is an extended act of “looking hard” at various texts, systems, and experiences that continue to actively shape (or distort?) the world. Natural Subjects gives us a picture, but also the frame, and shows the seams where the two parts connect.

“As I write this, I can’t help but think that ‘aesthetic of interference’ also has metaphorical resonance in our contemporary age of resistance… perhaps that’s a whole other blog post.”

Tracing the seams leads the reader to an awareness of structure. The book arts are about structure. This means book structures in the literal sense, as well as in the spatial, temporal, metaphorical, and conceptual sense. Books are a series of overlapping, intersecting, and interconnected spaces that the reader moves within and through. Books mirror our experience of time and the world. Books actively shape our experience of time and the world. That reflection/shaping of our experience of time is one of the most important ways that artists’ books can bring our attention to the world, and allow us to “look hard,” be present in it, be present with others, reground, and regroup. An “aesthetics of interference” must also be an aesthetics of attention to the world and to others, and by extension of those relationships—an aesthetics of compassion.


1. Divya Victor, Natural Subjects (New Orleans: Trembling Pillow Press, 2014). The first image is part of page 29. The second image is part of page 92. The third image is part of page 24. Images four and five are pages 24 – 27. All images are scans made/assembled by Aaron Cohick.


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