The Book as Place: Artists ponder space of books in Environmental Design Library exhibit
By Virgie Hoban
Berkeley Library News
February 6, 2019
Photos by J. Pierre Carrillo for the UC Berkeley Library
Julie Chen’s grand inspiration behind the College of Environmental Design’s latest library exhibit began with her long-rooted obsession with wheels. For three years straight, the artist would imagine new projects and fantasize about their potential as some great rotating affair.
“I’d think, ‘Is this the book with a wheel? No, there’s no reason for it to be a wheel’ — so I’d put it on the back burner,” Chen said. “And then I was thinking about systems of belief, and in my mind, belief is a cycle, and I was like, ‘I think this is the wheel book!’”
Chen eventually executed her vision into a book which also inspired the Environmental Design Library’s latest exhibit, “The Book as Place: Visions of the Built Environment.” The exhibit asks the question: How does a book represent a place, and how do you create that space within its binding?Featuring 25 book artists from around the country, the exhibition showcases various techniques and themes to harness this idea.
“The artists’ book form is a built environment in miniature, conceptualized using the same basic principles as in architecture: How will a person navigate the space — in this case, the space of a book — and, most importantly, what kind of experience will the reader have?” Chen said at the opening reception for the exhibit in February, which drew in a large group of artists, along with friends and family.
For David Eifler, environmental design librarian, that’s why the exhibit is perfect for the library, frequented by aspiring civil engineers and artists alike.
“We can talk to students about, what is design and construction in this particular format, the book?” Eifler said. “Now, we’re asking book artists to use that medium to talk about what constitutes place.”
Beyond Chen’s overarching theme to find “the right structure for the right idea,” various other messages are highlighted in the exhibition such as the comparison and unification of man-made environments in conjunction with the natural world. One project examines the world in the chaos of rising seas while another overlays patterns both man-made and natural, including the Nazca Lines in Peru, the network of synapses in our body, highway systems, and an atomic bomb testing range.
Chen’s piece, Wayfinding, includes an alphabet created out of human body positions and the eventual translation of those shapes to rocky structures made of meticulously crafted, rough paper.
Heather Peter’s The Shape of Longing Recalled and Robbin Ami Silverberg’s Memory Walk utilized books as a means to highlight the complexity of the human brain and memory. The former emphasizes the randomness of memory, as each page of the book is uniquely hand-dyed. The latter explored the idea of memory loss through the Greek concept of a “mind palace”—the imaginary structure in our brains in which we can place items to locate and recall them more easily.
In celebration of the exhibition, Eifler announced that the Environmental Design Library and The Bancroft Library would together purchase one of the books from each artist in the exhibit. The exhibit will be on display until May 17.