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The Agility of the Book in the face of the Digital and the Censor

Tim Tate: Video book artist

I have shelves of books, some that trace back all the way to my childhood. A few others were passed on to me from my grandfather, through my father. I expect my long relationship with books will continue throughout my lifetime. However, the book seems to be in transition, and it’s not clear if the current package can survive the challenge of the digital. As a non-volatile storage medium, the book has many virtues, and currently provides substantial value. In the shadow of this looming threat, the book has inserted itself into my thoughts recently through two upcoming shows:

San Francisco Center for the Book
Banned and Recovered: Artists Respond to Censorship 

In the Gallery: Fri Aug 15 – Wed Nov 26
Opening Reception: Fri Aug 15, 6-8pm

Donna Seager Gallery
The Art of the Book
Third Annual Exhibition of Handmade and Altered Artist Books 
April 25 – May 31, 2008
Reception for the Artist: Friday, May 9, 6 to 8pm

The Center for the Book show will feature artists reacting to the act of censorship and the recovery of texts and thoughts. The show at Donna Seager’s  gallery features artists exploring the form and expanding the meaning of what it means to be a book. When artists engage with books at this level, there is a profound conversation that occurs outside of language. It’s an excellent reminder that substantial thought can occur across many modes of expression.

The artist book is generally singular; it’s not meant to be mass produced as an inexpensive package for text or images. In that sense, it’s the opposite of what has made the book successful as a form. The digital is no threat here. The artist book is singular and original, the digital is a copy at its origin. The leaves of an artist book aren’t limited to text and images; and the book form itself explodes out to its boundaries and beyond. We’ve lived with the classic form of the book for so long that it’s become part of us. A show like “The Art of the Book” reminds us that even with a familiar object, an infinite realm of possibility abides in every moment. And the book reveals itself to be an agile species changing its form to adapt to new artistic landscapes.

The question of banning a book in the age of the digital is an interesting one. One might ask if it’s even possible. Certainly we’ve seen books banned by governments, by school systems, religions and other social collections. And yet, it’s not the form of the book that is being banned, it’s the ideas and stories that are considered dangerous. All books aren’t banned, just certain ones. The digital and the network make it much more difficult to stop ideas through the banning a particular package and delivery method.

Our country’s history of banning books is a series of markers on our trek toward a more perfect union. As we contemplate the banned book, we need to look both backward and forward. In the future, it may not be the book that is banned—and interestingly, that could provide a new opening for a kind of book to route around the ideologically filtered network.

The work at the top of this post is by Tim Tate, and is called “Page 100 of Each Volume of the 1954 World Book Encyclopedia.” Mr. Tate has created a compelling vision in which a book is revealed through cast glass, electronics and video. As the book traces its evolutionary arc, it emerges here for a moment or two as an interesting kind of amphibian.

 

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