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August 15 - September 26, 2004 at Angels Gate Cultural Center, San Pedro

by Shirle Gottlieb

Terry Braunstein, "In Search of a World,"
1990, mixed media, 19 1/2 x 14 x 3".

Jim Machacer, "Making T,"
1999, mixed media.

Sue Ann Robinson, "Art
Life," mixed media.

Linda Ekstrom, "Effusion,"
altered Bible, 15 x 18 x 36".
You've heard it all before. "Without art there is no culture" is etched on every page of recorded history. "Art is not a mirror to reflect the world, but a hammer with which to shape it," said Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, referring to the power of both art and words.

Is it any wonder that in our Post-Modern, Post 9/11 world, more artists are creating artbooks as an expression of their innermost concerns? A symbiosis takes place when the "visual" techniques of "artmaking" combine with the "verbal" disciplines, attributes, and associations of "the book"--one that produces a different level of communication.

Just think about it. Art + book = insightful discourse through the use of both visual and verbal metaphors, symbols, signifiers, words and images. As such, artbooks exist in an imaginative range of styles and forms that are as different as the artists who made them.

Anyone who harbors preconceptions about bookart is in for a big surprise. Genie Shenk started out as a printmaker, before she turned to fiber art, which evolved into bookart, that allowed her to use every art technique she knew (paper, color, collage, construction, assemblage, printing, even writing her own text).

"Art is a path," says Shenk. "My art is about my life and that includes my dreams." Tied allows her to use her fiber skills (teabag strings) in one of the more unusual books in this show. 9/11: Their Dreams, My Dream expresses the bonds she feels with those who were killed and those who survived that unspeakable day.

"The artist's book is the ideal form to explore our complex engagement with life," says artist/educator Sue Ann Robinson. Through accordian formated books such as You Gotta Have Art and Art Life, Robinson creates poetic stories that visually construct her haunting sense of time, place, and home through layered forms, vibrant imagery, and transparent sequences of experience.

Multi-media photomontage artist Terry Braunstein injects an undercurrent of subtle satire, metaphoric wit, or gentle historical jabs into every thing she creates. Whether it's Adam and Eve roaming through eons of time, offered up in In Search of a World, or the madness of inhumanity (think Hieronymous Bosch) in Peace Perfect Peace, her meaning never misses the target.

The most intellectually challenging work in this exhibit is that of Linda Ekstrom, whose artbooks are enigmatic and astonishing. On exhibit are four examples of her Altered Bible series in which she shreds, pulverizes, decomposes and literally deconstructs the Bible's pages, then reassembles them into mind-boggling forms.

As an artist, Ekstrom explores the ritual dimensions of problems at the heart of Western religious traditions. As a biblical scholar, she is working with colleague Richard Hecht on a manuscript called Saved from Matter: The Religious Cultures of Contemporary Art.

That subject ("Saved from Matter") might help viewers understand her conceptual, controversial style. In Twined Bible, pages of The Book are pulverized, twisted, tightly wound and sculpted into the image of a ball of string. In Effusion shredded pages of Holy Scripture are piled so high they overflow onto the floor.

By extreme contrast, the free-spirit of the group, Katherine Ng, constructs children's books out of brightly colored legos. Standing on black shelves, the lego readers bear such playful titles as My First Book of Vowels and My First Book of Expletives.

Carolee Campbell is the sole proprietor of Ninja Press, a prestigious enterprise where she designs, illustrates, hand-sets, prints, and binds artbooks that mainly relate to poetry. A stunning example of her elegant one-of-a-kind works is Mirror, an illuminated moon-shaped book with pages that open horizontally through the center. "In this mirror I am enclosed and just as real as you imagine the angels," reads the binding.

Another sole proprietor (the owner of Flying Fish Press) is Julie Chen, instructor of Book Arts at Mills College in Oakland. Her stunning book, The Veil, represents her personal reflections on the unresolved political situation in the Middle East. Created in circular carousel form, this unique work unfolds by means of magnets imbedded in its cover. Behind The Veil are intricately sculpted pages of abstract images that are beautiful and sensuous, strange and disquieting.

Keith Lord explores the perception of space by hollowing out reference books and replacing their contents with the illusion of miniature worlds. A peephole through the hard cover of World Famous Paintings, for example, captures attention. When viewers peek inside the book they see a vast expanse of space that Lord has created with tiny mirrors.

Other Metaphorical Books that curator Jean Clad assembled for this superb exhibit are by Slater Barron, Salomon Illouz, and Jim Machacek.