Pressing On

When I think about the printing press, I picture a room filled with beautiful pieces of machinery that literally documented history and wrote it into books. I found the film Pressing On: The Letterpress Film to be quite an inspiring account of the history of the letterpress and how it has impacted American history and literature. Perhaps most interesting about this film was how it demonstrated that the modern world was born on a printing press, but it is now in danger of being lost. In addition, I found it fascinating how the film explored why letterpress has survived in the digital age.

There are so many different directions one could go in exploring the significance of the letterpress, but what most stood out to me is how artists and printers involved in letterpress describe how letterpress feels to them. Earl Gee a designer, partner, and creative director of Gee + Chung Design says, “These amazing tools and techniques, which have survived for centuries, connect art and craft, designer and printer, and paper and impression. Letterpress has the extraordinary ability to make a lasting impression by enabling people to appreciate the artist’s craft in both a visual and tactile manner (Gee).” 

Printing Press Letters | Prints, Letterpress printing, Letterpress
[ Image Description: A variety of printing press letters that were on display at an Antique Flea Market in Brimfield Massachusetts. Credit: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/178807047675121854/ by Rachel Scroggins ]

The most intriguing characteristic of the printing press is type. I am completely fascinated by the process in which text can be transferred from movable type to paper or other platforms by ink. In learning about the printing press, I have gained a whole new appreciation for this system-both for its contributions to literature and its creative publication and evolution to the world. 

I found it inspiring how many of the people interviewed in The Letterpress Film emphasized that printing presses are meant to be used, not just looked at in museums. In addition, they argued that the best way to preserve them is by actively using them, and I could not agree more with this statement. I believe that preserving heritage items such as printing presses are essential because they are a fundamental piece of our history that should not be forgotten or disregarded just because we have new advancements in technology.

Works Cited

Gee, Earl. “The Beauty of Letterpress.” PaperSpecs, 19 January 2016, https://www.paperspecs.com/spotlight/beauty-letterpress-art-making-impression/.

Pressing On: The Letterpress Film, 2017, https://www.letterpressfilm.com/. Accessed 12 October 2021.  

 

The Journey of an Accordion Book: A Creative and Critical Response

What makes an object a book–well as established by Borsuk, the essence of a book is defined as something beyond the object itself. Most simply, my book takes on a rectangular shape that is bound by a course yellow string that wraps around the off-white fabric cover on each of its sides. When titled from side to side, the reader encounters a definitively rough material that clings to the spine of each bend fastened between the outside hardcovers. When titled another way, the reader can see that the pages contained within this piece are prominent and three-dimensional. Upon opening this book, the reader is welcomed by a diverse array of colors and materials that signify an antique appearance. However, further examination allows the reader to recognize that this object is an accordion book. Borsuk provides a detailed account of the origins of the accordion book, which began in China during the eighth century, and describes how paper’s strength and malleability at the time led to the development of sutra-folded books (p. 36). This technique was then applied to scrolls which were folded back and forth in even widths to create an accordion.

In composing this object–which takes on the form of a book, I found that the purpose of my piece is quite far-reaching. Most simply, this book functions as a representation of the journey of life and my desire to travel the world. I like to think of this piece as unfinished and one of many volumes to come–because the journey of life never has a final destination, and I have so much left to explore. I find in inspiring how Borsuk states that books are fundamentally interactive reading devices who meanings are far from being fixed and arise at the moment of access (Borsuk 147).  

I chose the materials for my accordion book carefully as I wanted my book to illustrate a vintage theme. In composing my accordion book, I used scrapbooking materials and pieces of traveling remnants from some of my most favorite travel adventures. I wanted my book to embody a sense of comfort and familiarity. My book represents a kind of calming and creative conformity that surrounds my life and encompasses my personality.

I imagine the reader of my book to be open-minded, creative, and someone who can envision beyond the words stated on a page. The ideal reader of my book is someone who can interpret the language and style of my piece in a non-conforming way. My book reminds me of a pop-up book much like the one’s Borsuk describes in chapter 3 of The Book. Borsuk says that we see the book’s depth most readily in pop-up books, which unfold to fill each opening with material that pulls itself up off the page (Borsuk 149). My accordion book incorporates many three-dimensional characteristics that are intended to expand ‘off the page’. Moreover, I want my piece to be interpreted in many different ways and explored in many different respects. There is no singular key to understanding my composed accordion book; instead, it is meant to be an exploration of my life that is not “finished” and is intended to be calming and enjoyable. 

Work Cited

Borsuk, Amaranth. The Book. Cambridge, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 2018. 

A Response to Reflection

The beauty of artists books’ arises from the ability of the author to connect with their audience. Therefore, when we examine artists’ books, we can better understand how contemporary digital books relate to their original historical forms. In Amaranth Borsuk’s book, The Book, I believe Borsuk intends to point to the purpose of artists books’ as being a kind of medium for artistic expression and inspiration. Borsuk says that these books remind us that books are truly interactive reading devices whose meanings arise at the moment of access and are far from fixed (Borsuk 147). After reading through Borsuk’s book, I applied the observations she made about artists books’ to the pieces of art I came across on the Women’s Studio Workshop site and found a mesmerizing piece titled Transparency Reflection Light Space: A Response.  

[ Image Description: A contemporary twentieth century pamphlet book that features saddle stitching with hard covers and is printed on letterpress in addition to photocopying and laser printing. Credit: Leah Mackin and Adreena Cook.]

This piece was simply captivating and beautifully constructed. While this piece is intriguing for many reasons, the most fascinating thing about it is was the way it was constructed based on the absence of vowels in the artists’ answers in the catalog publication. This piece was created as a response to a 1971 exhibition catalog interview with the artist, Larry Bell. However, before the catalog was published, Larry Bell removed all the vowels from his answers. I remember reading about consonant-vowel combinations in chapter two of Borsuk’s book, and I found it quite fascinating how she discussed them as linear A and linear B. Moreover, I find it interesting how the Egyptians and Greeks relied on consonant-vowel combinations, which meant alphabets then required larger character sets to express that vocabulary. Specifically, scholars established upward of ninety sets in the Minoan script, which they called Linear A (Borsuk 23). In another set, scholars established seventy-five in its fourteenth-century Cretan successor, which was called Linear B (Borsuk 23). 

I find it interesting how Borsuk points to how consonant vowels signified a movement from orality to literacy, which played a central role in the development of writing to produce literature to readers; however, this piece of art adopts a kind of pre-literature tendency that ends up creating an amazingly complex response. 

The artist Leah Mackin produced a unique codex pamphlet that is saddle stitched with had covers and printed using letterpress and laser printing. Leah Mackin read Bell’s obscure responses as inherently gendered in the context of the masculine art historical legacy of Minimalism (Mackin 2017). This artist describes Bell’s words as unpronounceable noises, which I found very interesting as I could almost hear what she is describing in my head. However, the most inspiring thing I learned when reading about this piece was how her response to the work represents the remaining vowels, which served as a kind of harmonic vocalization since vowels give shape and rounded-out sound to the English language (Mackin 2017).

Works Cited 

Borsuk, Amaranth. The Book. Cambridge, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 2018. 

Mackin, Leah. (2017). Transparency Reflection Light Space: A Response. Women’s Studio Workshop. Retrieved September 24, 2021, from https://wsworkshop.org/collection/transparency-reflection-light-space-response/.

The Bends Between Adventure

In reading more of Amaranth Borsuk’s The Book, I connected some of the ideas she discussed regarding the composition of the accordion book with those posed in my studio arts lab and designed a few unique ideas for creating my own accordion book. Borsuk provides a detailed account of the origins of the accordion book, which began in China during the eighth century, and describes how paper’s strength and malleability at the time led to the development of sutra-folded books (p. 36). This technique was then applied to scrolls which were folded back and forth in even widths to create an accordion. 

The instructor for my studio arts lab presented a demo that explored the different ways in which form and content can uniquely coincide and make a beautiful piece of artwork in the form of an accordion book. The composition of an accordion book is a compelling piece of art that enables the artist to design a truly unique piece of work that closely connects to the form and content of the book. In doing further research into the significance of the accordion book, I found a new respect for how this form contributed to the evolution and creation of what we now consider to be the book. One of the most intriguing features I discovered about the accordion book is that it can be constructed out of virtually anything, which provides an endless realm of creative opportunity for the artist. The most captivating accordion project I came across was a completely handcrafted fabric accordion book that was inscribed with beautiful stitching and creative embellishments. 

[ Image Description: A handcrafted fabric accordion book that is inscribed with beautiful stitching and creative embellishments. Credit:
https://www.clothpaperscissors.com/blog/how-to-make-fabric-accordion-books/ (Art by Laura Cater-Woods and photos by Larry Stein) ]

Upon completing some diverse research into the composition and formulation of an accordion book–I found my options were quite limitless. However, after considering many different options, I was able to construct a unique design for my accordion book that highlights my personality–adventure. I decided to create an accordion book that flows with a sense of adventure. I want to design an accordion book that features many different stories that are all connected by all the bends in between them, which bring the piece together, much like the adventure of life. The picture below inspired me to pursue a travel-themed accordion project.

[ Image Description: A travel journal that opens to reveal accordion-folded pages with pockets and envelopes. Credit: https://www.latimes.com/books/la-ca-book-making-20110814-story.html (Glenn Scott / Quarry Books) ]

Works Cited

Borsuk, Amaranth. The Book. Cambridge, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 2018.

The Creation of Bamboo Books

In reading Chapter 1 of Amaranth Borsuk’s book titled The Book As Object, I found that the section titled “Scrolls and the Advent of Paper” stuck out to me most. Specifically, I found it interesting how Borsuk discusses how the earliest forms of the book were developed by the Chinese, who used an abundant plant fiber of bamboo and named jiance. Borsuk draws attention to how this form then provided an excellent model for the idea of grain and how it encompassed the direction in which a sheet of paper’s fibers lay (Borsuk 25). In addition, many traditional Chinese writing styles, such as the assortment of writing from top to bottom with a column of single characters of text continuing to the left, come from the book’s materiality, which developed from the origins of jiance (Borsuk 26). Ultimately, I find Borsuk’s response to the evolution of the form and content of the book intriguing.

After doing some further research, I found that a lot of attention is directed towards Cai Lun and his contributions to the form and content of papermaking in 105 CE. Specifically, one source stated, “In the book, The 100 – a Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History by Michael H. Hart, Cai Lun is ranked as the seventh most influential person in history due to his invention or discovery of papermaking (Alft 2018).” In addition, I discovered several contemporary artists who work with the jiance papermaking form. Specifically, Japanese bamboo artist Nagakura Ken’ichi explains how his passion for beachcombing and fossicking in nature, combined with an appreciation for the work of twentieth-century modern sculptors, has resulted in his composition of natural amorphic shapes that suggest human forms (Crothers 2018). Nagakura is known for creating pieces that express natural amorphic shapes that suggest human forms. For example, in 2014, he produced a ‘beautifully balanced work Women,’ which displayed one long piece of bamboo split into many fine strips excluding the last few centimeters, which was then interlaced to create one finished form. He completed his piece by rubbing a mixture of lacquer and powdered clay into the weave to give it an organic finish that gave it a natural appearance rather than a manufactured object (Crothers 2018). In conclusion, it is incredible to see how the early forms of the book were influenced by materials such as bamboo, which continues to be implemented by contemporary artists today. 

[ Image Description: A photograph of a bamboo book that displays its binding and contents. This specific book is titled The Art of War and is part of a collection at the University of California. Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bamboo_and_wooden_slips#/media/File:Bamboo_book_-_binding_-_UCR.jpg (Written by Sun Tzu and transcribed by Qianlong Emperor) ]

Works Cited

Alft, Lori. “Cai Lun.” Paper Discovery Center, 31 December 2018, http://www.paperdiscoverycenter.org/halloffame/2018/12/31/cai-lun. 

Borsuk, Amaranth. The Book. Cambridge, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 2018.

Crothers, Wayne. “Bamboo: Tradition in Contemporary Form.” National Gallery of Victoria, National Gallery of Victoria, 6 July 2016, http://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/essay/bamboo-tradition-in-contemporary-form/. 

A Fruitful Discussion of Silence

I find it fascinating how a single word has the power to transcend beyond any single definition while also withholding to be defined by any one particular meaning. For example, when we hear the word silence, we each interpret the meaning and expression of the word differently. Thus, the work silence has the unique ability to transform any single definition and impact our impression and response to its application. In Jorge Luis Borge’s writing “On the Cult of Books,” Borges directs readers toward exploring how silent reading enables readers to connect with themselves on a deeper and more personal internal level while pursuing intellectual thought. 

[ Image Description: A inspiring resemblance between the significance and value of a book and of a human being. Credit: www.FilosofiaEsoterica.com (Galileo Galilei, quoted by JLB) ]

After reading some of the passages in “On the Cult of Books,” both silently and aloud, I found that reading them silently-although more impersonal, provided a unique ability for contemplation and superior intellectual thought. Reading a text silently allows the reader to consider and reflect upon their perceptions and points of discussion. While silent reading appeals to a more personal learning pursuit, reading a text aloud introduces an entirely different set of relationships and experiences for the reader to explore. The most profound difference I found when reading the text silently verses aloud was how reading the text aloud made me feel. Specifically, it made me feel as if the reading was more ‘real’ in a sense because it seemed to take on a personality of its own that expanded beyond the confined pages. Collectively, reading the text aloud appears to give the reader more confidence which aided in their ability to understand and interpret the text beyond an internal interpretation.

Borges points to the ancients’ view and their belief that the written word was nothing more than a substitute for spoken word, which consequently is what made the strange art of silent reading so strange to them. Furthermore, more evidently, Borges points out that it was customary to read aloud during this time because there were no punctuation marks, or a division of words, and there was a scarcity of manuscripts. While during the ancient and early ages, silent reading was, in the strictest sense-looked down upon, a significant emphasis was also placed on the understanding that ‘what is written remains.’

It is improbable to suggest that we could accurately and precisely assign certain books or content-specific labels that determine whether a text should be read aloud or silently because every reader interprets and reads texts differently. Therefore, how a text is to be read should be left up to the readers’ own transgressions. We can uncover support for the idea that it is improbable to assume an assigned reading status for reading a text by examining Augustine’s responses in Borge’s work “On the Cult of Books.” Specifically, Augustine points to the idea that Ambrose does not restrict access to anyone coming in while he is engaged with his silent reading. Augustine then says, “For who would dare to burden him in such intent concentration?” In fact, in his Confessions, Augustine writes about how he was still troubled by that extraordinary sight of a man in a room, with a book, reading without saying the words. Finally, Augustine summarizes the discussion of silent reading by bringing attention to the beauty it brings to life, which points to the intellectual growth a reader attains from stimulated challenges posed by internal reflection and reading.  

Works Cited

Borges, Jorge Luis. “On the Cult of Books.” Selected Non-Fictions. Translated by Eliot Weinberger, Penguin, 2000, 358-363.