Thursday, April 15, 2010

Bookbinding Exhibit

The latest exhibit at the Whitehorn Library in Victoria City is on the art of bookbinding. Curated by Miss Incunable Sorbet, the exhibit shows some of the 18th and 19th century highlights of the craft, as well as its more modern applications.

The notecard given upon arrival reads:
In the 18th Century, Mr. Laurence Sterne experimented with typography in his famous book, "Tristram Shandy". Towards the end of that century, William and Catherine Blake developed illuminated printing. In the 19th century, cover designs on books went from a simple title stamped in gold to multicolor graphic illustrations designed by well known artists. These examples expand our ideas of what a book is supposed to look like. In this exhibit we will endeavor to trace the evolution of artistic bookbinding, and speculate on how it may evolve in the future. Works include Louis Mileman's tabloid circle book, Incunable Sorbet's animated Penny Dreadfuls, and Trilby Minotaur's "Book Oasis."

Bookbinding is the process of physically assembling the book. The exhibit focuses on unusual illustrates uses of the book production process, such as Laurence Sterne's The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. The book, which John Barth has called the first postmodern novel, published between 1759 and 1767, is ostensibly Shandy's own recollection of his life, but is far more a comic series of digressions about society and its mores. Sterne incorporated not merely prose but also visual aspects to his writing, as illustrated below:

Another example involves William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience, published in 1794, and illustrated by the author.

Songs of Innocence mainly consists of poems describing the innocence and joy of the natural world, advocating free love and a closer relationship with God, and most famously including Blake's poem The Lamb. Its poems have a generally light, upbeat and pastoral feel and are typically written from the perspective of children or written about them.

Directly contrasting this, Songs of Experience instead deals with the loss of innocence after exposure to the material world and all of its mortal sin during adult life, including works such as The Tyger. Poems here are darker, concentrating on more political and serious themes. Throughout both books, many poems fall into pairs, so that a similar situation or theme can be seen in both Innocence and Experience.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Blake illustrated his poems using a technique called "relief etching."

The process is also referred to as illuminated printing, and final products as illuminated books or prints. Illuminated printing involved writing the text of the poems on copper plates with pens and brushes, using an acid-resistant medium. Illustrations could appear alongside words in the manner of earlier illuminated manuscripts. He then etched the plates in acid in order to dissolve away the untreated copper and leave the design standing in relief (hence the name).

(Source: Wikipedia)

Modern examples of unusual bookbinding include those by Richard Minsky, such as his presentation of Robert Louis Stevenson's essay The Philosophy of Umbrellas, printed on a Tyvek umbrella.

Finally, the exhibit provides some examples of "virtual bookbinding" in Second Life, with works produced by Miss Trilby Minotaur and Miss Sorbet herself. In the adventure books shown below, the balloon gently floats up and down and the tentacles on the left wiggle. These are not editions for the faint of heart!

The exhibit runs through September 2010.

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