What is an artist’s book? In her history of this hard-to-define medium, Johanna Drucker points out that every book “is a metaphor, an object of associations and history, cultural meanings and productions values, spiritual possibilities and poetic spaces, and all of these are part of the field from which the artist’s book derives its identity.” Put another way, it is the seeming difference of artists’ books, their hybridity, that enables them to make visible networks of information that are otherwise unperceived by readers. First articulated in 1994, Drucker’s insights now are complicated by the changing status of books and reading itself in a digital epoch.
When Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos introduced the new Kindle e-reader at a 2007 press conference, he proclaimed that “Books are the last bastion of the analog.” Since then we have indeed witnessed siege warfare among publishers, bookstores, and the tech industry—a battle concerning historical inevitability as much as anything. Americans spend several hours in front of screens every day; by contrast, we allot about fifteen minutes to pleasure reading. Is the printed volume fated to become a fetishized object of Bookshelf Porn? Or is its cultural role simply changing? Already by 1995, art letterpress publisher Gerald Lange was suggesting how, “as electronic information transfer increasingly relieves the book of its informational responsibilities, the book is freed from its utilitarian obligations.” Freed for what purposes, we might ask.
ParaDigital consists of thirty artists’ books displayed at several locations on the SUNY Geneseo campus, navigable using the map on this website. Each of the physical objects is accompanied by a QR code that links to corresponding digital material viewable on most smartphones: aim your camera and click on the hyperlink. We navigate the space between corporeal and digital realms innumerable times every day, starting with all the swipes and clicks and pinches of our fingertips. And that’s only the beginning. The various projects here aim to explore what is lurking in this uncanny valley.
Image credits: header is courtesy of Eneas De Troya, Interior of the José Vasconcelos Library, via Wikimedia Commons; on this page, In the Library is courtesy of mendhak via Flickr.