On a wet, wintry February day, students from our advanced level book arts course, The Printed Book, made the trek out to visit the Cary Graphic Arts Collection in the Wallace Center at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). As “a library and archive of books, type specimens, manuscripts, documents, and artifacts related to the history of graphical communication (wiki)” this trip was of particular significance for students in this course, which explores the printed book, with an emphasis on the critical action of publication—from fine press to artists’ book to democratic multiple—within the scope of contemporary and historic publishing practices. Basically, anything you could think of wanting to pull for context in the realm of artistic [publishing] and [book] production was at the ready and in mass.
Books, as objects that are and occupy physical space, require interaction in order to understand them. The action of interaction is imperative to its reception, whether it be a journal, a chapbook, or an artists’ book (a term which encapsulates, in some cases, the aforementioned, but expands all the way to and beyond the Fluxus box—one could go down the rabbit hole and talk about digital space, but will digress). However, more often than not, students must often view selections of works that have been photographed, then projected onto a screen, or printed up in a handout, or—worse yet—merely engage with a citation and description. This is not exclusive to books, but all printed matter. This creates an interaction several times removed (amputated, in the case of the latter), void of the crucial action of interaction with the book as space, ultimately resulting in a less successful “read” of the ideas and materials they are expected to be understanding and working with.
As such, in every course at the book arts center, the viewing and handling of actual materials has been imperative before embarking on a new project. This class visit to the Cary Graphic Arts Collection preceded work on their second project: a collaborative artists’ book, wherein students would generate content, design, and produce a letterpress-printed book utilizing expressive typographic methods.
Due to the broad scope of publication methodologies covered throughout the course, the specimens pulled for students ranged from work demonstrative of not only expressive typographic and collaborative productions that spoke to the work they’d be creating, but also to alternative poetic/artistic publications utilizing various production methods. In addition to providing the collection with a list prior to visiting, both Amelia Hugill-Fontanel (Associate Curator, Cary Graphic Arts Collection) and Kari Horowicz (Librarian for the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences) added their own additions—giving the students a dense, rich, and exciting experience over the course of two hours.
Works ranged from: a facsimile of Dada Zeitschriften; multiple works from Imma Gerlovina and Valeriy Gerlovin’s Collective Farm project; George Brecht’s Water-Yam; a facsimile, translation, and original copy of Vladimir Mayakovsky and El Lissitzky’s For the Voice; Fortunato Depero’s Depero Futurista;—to—Barbara Kruger’s No Pleasure in Progress; Dieter Roth’s Picadilly Postcards; Margaret Kaufman and Claire Van Vliet’s Aunt Sallie’s Lament—to—Bern Porter’s The Manhattan Telephone Book, and multiple works from Wedge Press and Assembling.
(One funny aside was the copy of Ed Ruscha’s Twenty-Six Gasoline Stations, which had actually been in general circulation at the library, and rebound for durability over the years. It’s safe to say Ruscha probably would not have been unhappy with this (what now would be considered) clerical error of putting a work of “art” into mass circulation, and subsequently giving it greater accessibility for a period of time.)
It is without question that the resultant collaborative book this class produced (The Grid. Walked.) was more successful having subsidized their readings with this materially informed visit.