In the 1960s, books were revived in the form of an independent genre, i.e. the artists’ book, with goals such as availability, ease of production, and to bypass the commercial art system. Due to several communication options today, books have ventured into contemporary art territory through self-publishing activities.
Within a few decades since its existence, this visual-verbal phenomenon has traveled a multimedia path. The artists’ book “is a book with no obligation to explain or describe, or even to illustrate anything; it has rather turned into an independent medium that pursues a new type of art, one that is indeed created and perceived by virtue of the book structure and during the time sequence of reading.”
The manifestations and publications of the avant-garde movements of the early 20th century paved the way for the emergence of artists’ books. The modernist enthusiasm of the Italian futurists, the revolutionary commitment of the Russian constructivists, the knowledge-based activities in the Bauhaus, the genius of the Dadaists and surrealists, and the art movements after the Second World War such as pop art, Arte Povera, etc. all led to the production of books, original graphic works, multiples, etc. in limited or unlimited circulations. Correspondingly, a new life was breathed into the artists’ book or, in other words, the new art of making books through the development of its capacities in a free system of symbols.
The publishing activities of various artists and groups enabled a vivid, dynamic medium for reading the thought process of artists; from movements such as Vorticism with its famous publication, Blast, directed by Ezra Pound; the Dada Magazine, edited by Tristan Tzara and with the cooperation of people such as Kurt Schwitters and Raoul Hausmann; the Letterism Movement established by Isidore Isou combining Dadaism and surrealism; the Situational International Movement led by Guy Debord; to the activities of the Fluxus, and finally, conceptualism and minimalism art.
The crucial challenge of the art and museum systems aggravated from the 1960s with the increasing expansion of media. The boundaries between artistic activities unbelievably dissolved and, according to Dick Higgins, the fusion of different media brought intermedia into being. Now, in a more general concept, “artists’ publications” are acknowledged which include any form of expression published by the artist with the intention to be reproduced. This can be generalized to any work of art that is meant to be reproduced, propagated, and published. Artists’ publications include artists’ books, Multiples, book-objects, Zine, graphics and Xerox copies, sound art, multimedia, video art, net art, digital art, etc.
From the mid-1980s, at the same time with the change in the orientation of artists’ publications, along with tendencies towards individualization, the production material was also transformed based on the context of art currents; and the combination and connection of different disciplines and media, with the disturbance of the function of some concepts, allowed a free selection of different forms of expression.
The “Book as House” exhibition is, in fact, the second specialized exhibition focused on the artists’ book, held in Aaran Projects location with artists from different generations and different tendencies as its guest.
In one part of the exhibition catalogue it is written that: “The book is a substantial personalized element of a structure. It is a construction — a 'house' perhaps. Opening (or not opening), entering, pausing, rooms-spaces-pages, moving forward, backward and jumping a few, spaces are reordered. This abstract geometry, with a private narrative, is an experimentalist building that the necessity of self-expressivity has structured its skeleton. […] The 'Artists' book' is making — an activity of remix or recombination of the segregated elements; perhaps it is the making itself that is important. House-books are a compositional abstraction of plural space.”
Mehdi Hosseini, researcher and painter, has created an exquisite Shanameh, inspired by Baysonghor Shahnameh, in 22 scenes with Qalamkar (textile printing) technique. The main verse of each story, as selected by the artist, is sewn on the scene with Nastaʿlīq calligraphic hand. Hossein Valamanesh, painter and sculptor living in Australia, presents a book-object leaned against the wall. His allegorical approach, the optical incident along with the physicality of a tangible book, is a contradictory, yet engaging concept in The Book of Ideas. Saed Meshki, graphic designer and publisher, has created an album of Memories in an intimate and indeed personal experience. The pages of a phonebook have created an opportunity for wandering about in the personal and social world of the artist. The diversity of the colorful pages in contrast to their black cover, aside from the spine, permits rambling in the comic-regretful world which is sometimes sad, yet of course ambitious. Saeed Ravanbakhsh, painter, turns the installation of a table covered with documents into a sorrowful, sometimes sentimental situation of being in three geographic locations. Through the patches and fragments, Immigration Status becomes a mental concern that retrieves the identity of immigration in a new order.
Milad Parvaz, photographer, challenges the question of “appropriation” of a work through a software-coding process of a photo-book. The personal account of one of Bukowski’s poems with an algorithmic structure by Homa Delvaray, graphic designer, transforms a pattern into an authentic context in order to demonstrate the visual experience of a poem by a designer. Sina Seifee, digital and performance artist living in Germany, presents two books that are in fact the manuscripts of two speeches in a multi-media structure. In Difficult Forests, he considers the digital memory of the Kinect camera used on his journey to the Amazon as an opportunity for two aspects of the reality: the reality perceived by human-beings and the medial reality. Sheikh-e-San’an, the rereading of a poem by Attar of Nishapur, is a conceptual-written montage in various intellectual contexts. Foad Farahani, visual artist and graphic designer, performs The Clouds Study with a distorted perspective in three books and three weight. In The Cosmic Testament, Maryam Farshad, painter, portrays the cosmological theories with a poetical approach and the book becomes a mythic journey with a scientific tool. Resolution by Behzad Motebaheri (graphic designer) seeks to discover the identity (-ies) of the artist as an artistic action in an archival manner. Using the structure of photo-book as artists’ book, the artist turns ambiguity into a theme for a personal account of seemingly arbitrary pictures. In The Layers of Being, painter and print artist, Elmira Mirmiran, shares her most pure and personal moments with the audience through different layers by referring to concepts relevant to the book and the experience of reading in an installation.
Sometimes advocating the bookmaking tradition and sometimes rebelling against it, the artists’ books have gained an independent identity beyond the common definitions that varies from manual to offset printing, from original works to limited editions of handmade books, from solid figures and installations to electronic and hypermedia works. However, regardless of the format, the book shares a specific view and feeling in a direct experience with its audience or, according to Ezra Pound, “the book should be a ball of light in one's hand.”
Bury, Stephen. (2007). Artists' books: The book as a work of art, 1963-2000. London, UK: Bernard Quaritch Ltd.
Drucker, Johanna. (1995). The century of artists' books. New York: Granary Books.