About the Exhibition
“Books are a dynamic interface, a structured set of codes for using and accessing information and navigating the experience of a work. Books are immersive, absorptive, complex.”
— Johanna Drucker, The Century of Artists’ Books
What is a book? In the most basic terms, a book is simultaneously an idea and its means of conveyance—content and container in one. For artists who have adopted this medium, books present truly unique opportunities. Because of their ability to transmit ideas while retaining control of how that information is represented and received, book artists craft both the content and the experience of reading. It might be helpful to imagine the book form as a kind of self-contained, traveling gallery space, housing a painting or sculpture.
This exhibition explores the artists’ book as a radical agent of change. Throughout history, artists have exploited the remarkably experiential quality of books to convey revolutionary aesthetic, social, and political concerns. Some raise feminist, political, or environmental issues; others protest the very idea of what it means to be a book.
Artists’ books derive their power for change from the balance they strike between public circulation and private, intimate consumption. The simple fact that these books are multiples, existing in editions, speaks to the democratic nature of the medium. The range in the size of a print run is variable, from tens to hundreds of copies per book. But even while they may be widely distributed, artists’ books are not disposable propagandistic tools—each demands our close intellectual, emotional, and even physical participation. In short, they provide exceptional possibilities for activism because they render public, universal messages into striking personal experiences.
About the Carleton College Artists’ Books Collection
Carleton’s Gould Library Special Collections has been actively acquiring artists’ books for more than twenty years. Now totaling over 450 volumes, the growing collection reflects the context of a liberal arts institution by focusing on objects that can support work being done in the classroom. The curator collects books that have a pedagogical utility for a variety of academic disciplines—as often for courses in History, Biology or Anthropology as those for Art or Art History.