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Thoughts and  Sentences Dedicated to Artists' Books

I'm far from using the language of structuralists, semiologists and hermeneutic specialists for arranging and expressing my thoughts. Poetic experience, lyrical sensation, space of associations - these are the terms not really "professional", nevertheless, from my point of view, sufficient.

Clearly visible drama of a form, its tension and visual meaning conveying deeply human sense, sign of searching, touch of painful labyrinth - this is enough for me who practises fine arts and is experienced in such a practice. In their esoteric stratum, in their substantial recording the pages of Finnegans Wake manuscript can be a potential element of artistic structure of a book. The content is of less importance to me, since I can learn it from a translation - the most salient here is, noticed earlier, extremely expressive look of the text. One can evoke Antiwritings by Barthes, Movements by Michaux, or On the grave of Dominique the Greek, a glorious painter handwritten by Picasso, on one hand and on the other, to keep balance, beautiful, light rhythm of Rome Triptych poetry written down by John Paul II. Finally, it is worth to remind here the etymology of Greek "graphikos" (relating to writing).

The typography applied nowadays, used consciously and intently, "organizing" the content in a clear form, can be amazing too, although its beauty is of somewhat different origin than the one of letterpress, and so far from a certain state of attempting to draw letters, words, sentences, text of a book and ultimately maybe an entire library.

I have been practising for almost thirty years this not easily defined, somehow exotic art and I say, I the author of more than one thousand works belonging to this realm ("classic" books, book-objects, objects with ready-mades, book-like works, space arrangements, almost installations using books), I say this realm has always been for me a mystery and always very touching intellectually. Only "ex post" some of those imponderables have become a bit more clear: intuitions, hypotheses and interpretations - only some of them are as if out of use. This situation make no obstacles in my work. Specific eclectism and syncretism of this fascinating form are open, ambiguity and incoherence of the definition of a book - as a "vehicle" for text - has been constantly inspiring. This is proved by the increasing number of new authors, although they often work half-heartedly and without a command from inside, produce numbers of tautological and reiterated entities, create situations of clear redundancy. But, does anybody today ponder about raison d'etre of surrealistic objects, for example? And if so, one considers their exegesis and not their defined substantial shape. We're dealing with a discipline "in statu nascendi" - there are more question marks than satisfying answers.

Tens of years ago not many painters and graphic artists were involved here in creating unique artists' books - they were mainly personalities from the borderland between literature and visual arts. According to me Zbigniew Makowski takes priority over the others, an erudite and wonderful visioner, author of one-off, autonomous books of rare beauty of form and rich, multilayer, esoteric content - in this very moment I'd like to thank the artist for thrills and raptures that I could experience for so many years. I can notice now less interest in this type of hand-made, painted, reflective book existing only in one, unrepeatable copy - definitely the new means of copying and reproducing, photography, computer, digital printing, multimedia influence strongly both the way artists articulate their thoughts and a different sensual shape of art pieces.

I remember some difficulties to find right terms to describe this phenomenon; anyway, probably the first text about my books published in 1979 (at that time I had the "output" of 50-60) and written by Cecylia Dunin-Horkawicz used the term "graphic books". Looking back we can say now that this term refers properly only to a certain type of books, usually of very limited edition and composed of a set of prints, mainly woodcuts and other relief prints (think about the connections between woodcut and book history, please do). Quite instinctively, not anticipating the future vastness of the phenomenon, I worked applying various graphic, drawing and painting techniques, collages, assemblages, even a kind of "actionism", recording real and imagined experiences, sharing my works with some other persons and so on - searching everywhere "an idiom", my own "hand-writing". It was the beginning of the way with no well defined aim. We knew nothing about postmodernism, all the more about virtual reality. As far as I remember I felt quite free and independent from the regulated circulation of artistic values, yet official and existing objectively. This somehow ambivalent feeling of isolation, separation and alienation, a paradoxical guarantee of freedom inspiring and sufficiently durable, I owe to my instinctive turn towards artist's book, that autonomous, mysterious and integral, simultaneous space.

The origins of artist's book are quite distant, however it has been present for not so long, including the experiences of art and poetry avant-garde from the beginning of the 20th century. Later experiments of so called (more or less accurately) progressive artists, as well as of the word and image artists writing down the text figuratively, of those ones coming form the realm of postconceptual art and so on; all these elements make clear and convincing presentation of the history of the not well defined but vital phenomenon. With no doubt Polish and foreign critical researches explain a lot, however they are rather useless - artist go on doing their own things. In the texts, critical papers, scientific researches, in articles mentioning my individual works written by Roman Artymowski, Stanisław Fijałkowski, Lucjan Hanak, Irena Jakimowicz, Jaromir Jedliński, Krzysztof Jurecki, Janina Ładnowska, Leszek Rózga, Piotr Rypson, Grzegorz Sztabiński and Janusz Zagrodzki I can find the abundance of various points of views and opinions, in each case separate and independent, but always bringing interesting elements of description and interpretation. The nature of things is obviously very diverse.

The open possibility to act in the field of artist's book, on one hand intellectually vast and giving chances to accumulate the meanings, on the other hand materially sensual and due to this attractive, in spite of chaos because neglecting the function of printing (for example) and in spite of unduly proliferating art pieces too similar to each other - it articulates new questions and problems. When leaving aside the verbal-pictorial notation on paper and "conventional" but unforgettable library, the maxim "habent sua fata libelli" [(and) books have their own fates] can be understood in a new way. Maybe an artist's book, like a digital text recording is but next stage of this fate?

Questions without answers, many answers consistent "ex definitione" - these are the signs of the situation which can be define as a territory with no relative variability. Changeability, lack of homeostasis, characteristic "formalistic" and humanistic feature of human attitude - these are essential qualities of artist's book, whatever anyone would like to think this term means.

As long as there is a delight and the prospect of a new and new representation of serious spiritual experience is but expected, the moment of explicit critique and really erudite conclusion is postponed. Most probably its time will come, maybe it will be a normative one, with no doubt it will come from outside - the artists themselves, as if not knowing what they are doing and merged in their own world, will be continuously affected by hypnotic state contiguous to mystery.

The 7th edition of "Book Art" this time called "Wandering" brings once again the great abundance of book forms - traditional and having structures very distant from the accepted stereotype, of forms that seem to have very little to do with the common image of a book. At the outmost they use some universal elements of form and structure (for example rhythm) incorporating them in the semantic field of a book, although - as universal - they refer to any art.

Among the items sent to the organizers there are: tablets with inscriptions (poetry), scrolls, ribbons and stripes, various leporellos (accordion books), book-objects, space arrangements, "book-like" objects, ready-mades incorporated in book morphology, manuscripts (with quotations and texts written by the artists), typography games (often using a computer), works referring to mutual relations between the text (handwritten and printed) and image (drawing and graphic both traditional and computer), truly artist's prototype of the catalogue for the exhibition of artists' books, "ut pictura poesis" kind of works looking like avant-garde visual poetry, only covers ("from cover to cover"), book covers, academic manuals, wise professional dissertations with pretty illustrations by authors themselves, works applying Braille script in opposition to perforation, portfolio with prints or rather collection of facsimiles of historical prints, collages and assemblages, stick-in pictures and applications, even similar to fumages, works filled with autonomous pictures and illustrations to texts, made using different graphic techniques for example embossing, a few small works called "books animated with silicon stamps".

There are books in codex form, also "in folio", with loose pages, one-off, unique, in limited edition, memoirs, diaries, cadastres and notes, thick and thin, mini-libraries, books of drawings, of prints, of pictures, of texts, labyrinths, collections of photographs, interferences of realistic, semiabstract and abstract pictures, allusive to common look of the world and pictograms, books about script (handwriting) and exploiting a kind of typography referring to the essence of script, toy books, books for manipulating, boxes, cases and suitcases, event a laptop (or its dummy), miniature and huge, of different provenance and charm, with reproductions and iconographic quotations, books referring do various epochs, trends and styles.

They are made with various manual, reproducing, copying, printing techniques, on different media using great abundance of materials: beautiful handmade papers lavishly coloured and decorated with processed plant fibres, noble and ordinary papers, brought home from long journeys and covered with incomprehensible foreign text, cardboard, wood, textile, leather, tracing paper, plastic, foil, metal, stone, sand, clay, rope, etc.

A real "silva rerum". We are wandering through the forest of things asking ourselves a question about the aim of our journey. The landscapes are with no doubt picturesque and attractive, but are they representative for the area called artist's book realm? It seems so. However I feel the lack of certain radical art experiment achievements; if they were, this interesting view would be more intriguing.

Wandering, journey, way, path, pilgrimage - these almost synonymous notions, besides topographical-geographical sense, are deeply rooted in symbolism, religion, mythology, history, culture in general. It's enough to take a look in any dictionary and we can find there a limitless space of senses, allegories, metaphors, connotations. There are no reasons to discuss minutely this abundance in this very moment.

We are looking for the aim of our wandering tramping the road regardless any obstacle and the aims can be different: spiritual and artistic. If creating is the function of human spirituality, then art - any art discipline - is a wandering. It is a toil, effort, striving and desire of transformation - metabolism of one things into the others and metabolism within a thing itself. Every true creation, also the "book" one, occurs within a symbolic space in spite of its mimetic achievements, but even they are interlaced with a symbol.

While selecting my books for the exhibition "Wandering" I was surprised having noticed how many of them referred to this topic. In various ways: sometimes naturally and directly, for example as an account of distant and near journeys, sometimes metaphorically in different times and spaces, for example unlikely unreal time of a supposed encounter of two great poets Khlebnikov and Kavafis on pages of one book thanks to a poetic rule of joining possible with impossible.

Thus - in the forms already mentioned and in those omitted - the book's space-time is being filled with metaphorical wandering through history.

Andrzej Bartczak
Łódź, March 2003
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