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Dissections and Excavations in Book Art

May 23 – July 6, 2013


Increasingly, contemporary artists have been exploring the interplay among the function, structure, and format of books. Rebound: Dissections and Excavations in Book Art brings together the work of five mixed-media artists from around the world who, using books as a point of departure, sculpt, scrape, bend, and carve to create astonishing compositions. Doug Beube, Long-Bin Chen, Brian Dettmer, Guy Laramée, and Francesca Pastine transform various types of literature and/or printed books through sculptural intervention. Despite the individual and exclusive perspective of each artist, there are remarkable connections in the themes and ideas they respectively mourn and celebrate. The fascinating range of examples, as diverse as books themselves, offers eloquent proof that—despite or because of the advance of digital media for sources of information—the book’s legacy as a carrier of ideas and communication is being expanded today.

For generations, our society has been lamenting the loss of natural beauty and the dwindling of Earth’s resources to the rising tide of industrial and technological “progress,” all in the name of greater efficiency and luxury. With this emphasis on technology, the relevance of physical books in our culture is diminishing. Books as a vessel for accessible and easily communicated knowledge are becoming somewhat antiquated. The tangible, permanent information presented in books is quickly being replaced with digital media and the Internet, which exemplify fluidity and constant change. In our ever-evolving digital present, we see a variety of once cherished technologies losing their importance and luster at an increasingly rapid rate.

Because of the confusion and sense of loss that emerges from this state, the artists in this exhibition have created their own responses. Some, like Chen and Laramée, directly address the parallels between the disappearance of natural spaces and books as an outdated mode of expression; as a result, they carve landscapes from the pages and bindings. Deep crevasses, hidden caves, and awe-inspiring phenomena and landscapes emerge from chiseled pages. Alternately, some artists, like Beube, Pastine, and Dettmer, seek to find a place for books in the future, by digitizing or technologizing them. Here, images are created that are reminiscent of topographical maps, weather maps, readings from seismographs, or cross sections of the “bodies” of the books. These works are treated as surgeries or dissections; scalpels and needles are used to carve away the books’ exteriors.

Brian Dettmer’s precise excavation of books, page by page, focuses on taking something that already exists and introducing alternate histories and memories that reveal and illuminate new relationships. Long-Bin Chen combines the cultures of the East and West in his blend of sculpture and literature. Through this, we are prompted to examine the eternal vexation of communication and the social relationship we enjoy with books. Guy Laramée’s work plays heavily on the idea of erosion, in that knowledge could very well be an erosive process rather than an accretion. In that light, he brings up the human fascination with the content of consciousness. In turn, he examines not what we think about, but that we think. Utilizing the glossy publication Artforum, Francesca Pastine reveals the visceral topography of art trends by means of an unsolicited collaboration with the magazine and the cover artist. Doug Beube explores the book as an object, a seemingly antiquated technology that is still purposeful in the digital age. He accepts its limited capacity as a personality flaw, but, moreover, acknowledges its elegance.

The importance of the book is remarkably ingrained inhuman psychology. It may be a simple carrier of information, yet even today it is treated as an object of great value. Books represent our desire to record, organize, and preserve the details of our existence. Through each artist’s interventions, the book becomes even more sacred. For many of the artists, the historical and narrative value of the chosen material drives the pieces, and, by intimately getting to know the book they are working with, they are able to return it to a new life without destroying it.

In the face of unsettling changes, these artists appeal to a sense of monumentality in their work. The references to nature, religion, science, or cultural complexity allude to the idea that only concepts of the greatest importance stand the test of time. Despite the emphasis on the precariousness of human invention, these works do not display a completely bleak outlook on society’s changes. The variety of color, form, and openness of composition among the works also celebrates the ingenuity of creating something new from something old. Books may seem under siege, but they are more realistically at a moment of transition. The artworks in this exhibition simultaneously celebrate and forewarn the viewers of the fine line between monuments and ruins.

Karen Ann Myers
Assistant Director
Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art


Rebound: Dissections and Excavations in Book Art is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. This project is sponsored by BiblioLabs and is a featured presentation of the Spoleto Festival USA.



Dissections and Excavations in Book Art

Rotunda of the Addlestone Library

The Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art has commissioned Rebound artist, Long-Bin Chen, to create a site-specific sculptural work that will be on view in the Sanders Rotunda of the Marlene and Nathan Addlestone Library concurrent with the exhibition within the Halsey. Chen will create the work during a residency May 1 – 23.

Rebound: Dissections and Excavations in Book Art is sponsored by BiblioLabs.

The Friends of the Library at the College of Charleston are sponsors of Long-Bin Chen’s residency and installation.

Set in Stone:
Zen Garden Installation by Long-Bin Chen

Directed by Dave Brown
Original Soundtrack: Nathan Koci
Producer: Karen Ann Myers


Community Partners 2017