Artists’ books intricately link the reader with the author of a book. They reinforce the idea that reading is, primarily, an exchange, a codification of ideas and discourse that simultaneously encourages active engagement. Artists’ books, perhaps more so than any other form of book, lay bare the connections between text and art, neither of which fully encapsulate the whole of human experience, but which do so more fully in tandem with each other. Moreover, as Amaranth Borsuk posits, “artists’ books continually remind us of the reader’s role in the book by forcing us to reckon with its materiality and, by extension, our own embodiment” (Borsuk 147). Yet, so, too, can artists’ books expand beyond materiality and embodiment, as is the case with Natalia Zapella’s book, Nights, the Cosmos, and I.
From its very title, Zapella locates the human person in a realm far greater than any individual being. The placement of “I” at the end of the title both downplays our significance in the face of the cosmos and also emphasizes humanity and our even-staccato-esque individuality. The book’s form is also significant. As an accordion book, the book is “a sequence of spaces” that “implies its capacity for animation” (Borsuk 157). Yet, as a sequence of spaces, an accordion book also implies an “other” beyond the physical page – such as the cosmos. Similarly, the tiny white font contrasts with the vastness of the dark page and destresses our importance in the entirety of the universe. The neutral colors of the thread also highlight simplicity, even as an accordion book – and artist’s book in general – is usually a more intricate form of book than a traditional codex.
Zapella also, however, purposely designed the book so that the threads could never be completely hidden away. In doing so, she makes space for finitude and limitation, qualities which are very much human qualities – even as the threads are used to construct images not of humans, but of galaxies and stars, for example. She therefore blends the human, earthly dimension with an interstellar cosmos far beyond human grasp. Likewise, the text intermingles personal and cosmic. The speaker first writes that they “can’t sleep” and that, at night, they “can finally see the stars” (Zabella 2, 7). Yet, they also direct the readers’ attention towards the constellations and galaxies (Zabella 8, 9). Thus, the text is a microcosm of the whole book (as object and content combined), which inextricably links human and cosmic elements. So, too, though, is the whole book a microcosm of human emotions, such as awe, placed atop an interstellar scale that spotlights the smallness of all things human.
Borsuk, Amaranth. The Book. Cambridge, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 2018.
“Nights, the Cosmos, and I.” Women’s Studio Workshop. https://wsworkshop.org/collection/nights-the-cosmos-and-i/, accessed 22 September 2021.
Zapella, Natalia. Nights, the Cosmos, and I. Rosendale, Women’s Studio Workshop, 2015.