The University of Puget Sound’s Collins Memorial Library is currently hosting a traveling exhibit of unique artist’s books. These one-of-a-kind or limited edition books (or book-like objects) are a response to a 2007 car bombing that occurred in Baghdad on a street that was famous for its sidewalk book sellers. The bomb ripped through the heart of one of the Arab world’s intellectual centers killing 30 and destroying countless books. Destruction of books that contain ideas contrary to their own ideology is a hallmark of zealots through history. In response to this attack, San Francisco poet/artist Beau Beausoleil and British scholar Sarah Bodman asked artists from around the world to create artists’ books as a gesture of sympathy and solidarity with those slain and injured. Titled “Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here,” the show will be on view at Collins Memorial Library through Oct. 31 before it moves on to Portland, the next stop in its odyssey.
The show consists of dozens of artists’ handmade books kept in glass cases arranged just inside the library. Informative slips of paper beside each book disclose something of each artist’s thoughts, intent and process for their particular book. Some describe the process of their work in exquisite detail. For the production of her book, “Just another suicide bombing/I was there,” Kristen Hoops created a set of 40 pristine little books, set them on fire and then shot pictures of them as they burned. Her resulting “book” is a fragmented photograph of the charred remains of the books. The description of the process is more interesting than the final result. Artist Miriam Schaer’s process was as elaborate as that of Hoops but the end result is more visually successful. Shaer had the New York Times’ account of the bombing translated into numerous languages and printed on sheets of paper. These pages were all cut into the shape of a hand and bound together. The title “Witness” is stenciled on the front page. Flame was used to scorch and damage the hand-shaped book.
“Al-Mutanabbi Street” includes books with accordion folded pages, scrolls, broadsheets, and books with elaborate pop up sections. Julie Chen’s “Momento” is an elaborate, decorative box that includes a miniature book that is contained in a wearable locket. There is also a pull-out tray in the bottom of the box. Barbara Hosein’s “Waning Gibbous Moon” is an elaborate construction of triangular pages with neat print done backwards. Little round mirrors attached to the pages hearken to the moon and aid in reading the backwards writing.
Many of the books contain beautiful examples of printmaking and other graphic techniques. Some are rustic constructions and others are jewell-like little books that look both delicate and valuable. Christine Kermaire of Belgium made small, beautifully crafted little books bound with neat stitches.
Diane Scheel’s “The Cycle of Censorship” is elaborate and rustic: A circular container composed of triangular pockets holds folios of found pictures and slips of paper printed with script. Every slip of paper in each folio has been scorched around the edges.
In fact, there is much burning, scorching and torturing of books in this show. It seems a little ironic that the way many of the artists have paid homage to the victims of the bombing (both human and book) is by recreating the act of destruction. One artist, Christina Mitrentse of the United Kingdom, even went to the extent of taking “readymade” books and shooting them so that they have bullet holes running clean through them.
“Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here” began its tour last year at the Westminster Reference Library in U.K. Next year it will visit such locations at the Craft and Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles and the American University in Cairo, Egypt.
Several events related to the show are scheduled at UPS. Show co-curator Beau Beausoleil will give a talk Oct. 16. The library is also highlighting works received through the “Muslim Journeys Bookshelf,” a collection of books and DVDs on people, places and history of the Muslim world. For further information visit http://www.pugetsound.edu.