Me with my current work in progess, I don’t really have a working title, unless maybe “my pregnant statue”

It’s been a while since I gave you guys who like the written word an update on what I am working at but I am planning to show you some of my current work in progress in the next week(s). In case you don’t know yet: I post quite regularly on instagram these days, and there you can find plenty of work-in-progress images. Here I figure, is the place for some thoughts about the work in addition to just lamenting about the slow process.

As you’ll know, I started about 14 months ago to work with paper mache. Back then and still now I want to view these works as book art. But some are more “bookish” then others, and while I find it easy to insist for my “talking heads” that they are books, I find it harder to insist for “my pregnant statue”. I am currently working on a variety of different projects that all use paper mache, and all are works about pregnancy and/or pregnancy loss.

Usually I define book art as a piece of art that requires reader interaction to be enjoyed (open it, turn over pages, move a scroll along), and has some element about it that we usually identify with books in any form (like reading, or looking at pictures). That excludes, by the way, audiobooks. But in this context that seems correct to me. Sometimes we refer to “books” as the content of a book. Like when you said: “I wrote a book”, you usually don’t mean that you sat down and by hand wrote a book. Instead you mean you have generated contents that will (hopefully) be published in a book format. In that sense an audio book might count as a book, but that’s not really my concern here. Ebooks could be somewhat of a borderline case, but I am not here to give super clear definitions in that regard, and am happy with a bit of a grey zone in that area. However, when talking about physical objects, then that’s what I make, and I feel I should be clear about whether I think I am making books or not.

“in conversation” book art by H. Kurzke, 2018

The “talking heads” (working title) are going to be 5-8 (I have finished three at this point) heads, similar to those used for “in conversation”. At this point I imagine they will be hung in a (semi-) circle and “talk” to the viewer through scrolls from their mouths, similar to and in continuation to my work “in conversation”. This work has strong elements of installation. But I do see the paper mache head at least in part as a sculptural scroll case. It is true that reader interaction in this case is very minimal, and the presentation is very important for the piece (whereas normally for a book it doesn’t matter how and where you seat yourself to enjoy it). But still, I tend to insist it still is book art, even when it lives in the borderlands.

different paper mache hands

Now my pregnant sculpture… It will have text, that is a bookish element. I am going to cover her first completely in paper mache (so the newpaper pieces will disappear from view), and then the final layer will have paper pieces again. Maybe I’ll leave the contents open for now, so that I have something to look forward to undisclosing in the future. But I dare say so much: It will both feature found text, and the poem “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers” by Emily Dickinson (in a worked-with form).

I don’t know whether you can see it from where you are (it was difficult to take th photo this morning), but there’s a hole in her pregnant belly, and there will be a surprise inside.

What there won’t be is my own text or imagery. There are no pages to turn, and although it has elements of books (it can be read), and requires some effort (like walking around and looking at it all), I do struggle to see it as something different than a sculpture.

What do you think?

3 replies on “Is this (still) bookart?”

  1. I love that she is life sized. When I first looked at the title on the photo I thought it was “My Pregnant State.” Might be the title? Or something that echoes the content might be better. Maybe something that refers to the surprise inside. Usually by the time I’m done with something I know the title.
    On the book question – I would say it doesn’t matter. Do you really feel you need to put her in a category? Or do you think she needs to be categorized for other people? If I were jurying a show of book art I would include it. The definition of book art seems pretty broad to me. This could be either book art or sculpture.

  2. I think that, while definitely a sculpture, it is also a book. You say it will have the text of Dickinson’s ‘Hope is the thing with feathers’, so it has written content which is a ‘book’ thing.
    Also, if you are a ‘book artist’ and you say you have a book, that’s a qualifier as well.
    ; ]

  3. Thank you, Cathryn and Judith, for chiming in and helping out!

    “my pregnant state” 🙂 I can see how one could read that, and since for proportions I looked at myself maybe not even so wrong 🙂

    Indeed I want to categorize it in part to know to what kind of show I might be able to submit it. So it is good to know that you both wouldn’t think it mislabelled if I did try to enter it into such a show, and don’t object to calling it a book.

    But I also think that categorizations can help understand a work, and that includes looking at our own work. Maybe I’ll have to ask again in the roung once it’s finished, because obviously you are juding half-bling here. It’s just that while adding final touches, that I think more deeply about what I exactly want to say with it, and whether this becomes clear enough or needs clarification through added details.

    And I do follow Cathryn’s thought here: If the artist says, something is a book, then we should interprete the work as one, rather than discussion about whether he or she was wrong labelling it as such. But that’s exactly why I am concerned with the question. (Thank you for helping me see that!)
    So the question for me morphes slightly into: Should I call it a book, and if I do, how does that change the work and how it will be perceived. – I will have to give this some more thought.

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