What makes a book a book? Should it be bound—paper between covers, neatly sewn or glued? Should the text flow in a particular order—chapter one, page one? Is it enough to call an object a book if it has a protective cover and contains written or printed information? Can it still be a book if it is a box containing a 3-dimensional landscape created from layers of carefully cut and printed paper with the segments of text stowed in a side slot almost like cargo?
Artist’s books challenge us to consider the very essence of what comprises a book and how ideas are presented. In Special Collections and Archives, we look at and collect artist’s books as an extension of the history of the book, both formally and textually. Michelle Ray’s recent creation, God Created the Sea and Painted it Blue so We’d Feel Good on It, incorporates the essence of historic sea voyages in a way that is far different from the weighty (often multi-volume) tomes that were typical for this genre in the 18th and 19th centuries. The individual segments of text present a non-linear narrative of an imaginary crew (as represented by their facial hair) who inhabit the watery “space without landmarks” where the days and views can become confused and blend together. Ray also pokes fun at staple descriptions in the sea voyage genre such as the quality of the cuisine in her segment called, “In Which the Crew Eats Rotten Dog Meat and Experiences a Visit From the Ghost of Erotic Ben Franklin”.
The formal artistic properties of the book also play with the idea of “space without landmarks”. The artist immediately asks us to peer within this space physically. Ray’s work opens to swirls of monotone waves created by printed and cut paper assembled to recede back into the box and imply a horizon that is beyond the cover of a title. The effect of using a book-like form to create illusion of depth through the pages is referred to as a tunnel book or as a peepshow book. This type of book dates from the mid-18th century and derives from the fact that many of these books were made to commemorate the building of the tunnel under the Thames River in London in the mid-19th century.
Special Collections and Archives actively collects artist’s books and other fine press materials as a commitment to the historic preservation of modern limited edition titles. For more information on these types of materials or to view items from our collections, feel free to drop by Room 314 of the Richardson Library or email us: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ray, Michelle. God Created the Sea and Painted it Blue so We’d Feel Good on It. Tallahassee, FL : [The Small Craft Advisory Press, Florida State University] 2013.
SpC. 702.81 R264g2013