Conceptually Bound the Mohr Gallery, Community School of Music and Arts — By Julia Bradshaw

A little off the beaten track for San José residents, but worth a trip, is an interesting exhibition of artists books at the Mohr Gallery at the Community School of Music and Arts in Mountain View.

Assembled by Nanette Wylde, this is the third iteration of Conceptually Bound – a curatorial program that actively seeks out artists books where the binding plays a function in the meaning of the book.

Some books were only available in display cases, a necessity considering the gallery’s proximity to the music school. But well worth spending time with are the books available on pedestals and shelves for visitors to peruse and hold at close quarters – gloves are provided.

I gravitated towards the books with rich internal content of which there is a high proportion in this exhibition. Wylde has selected well, choosing artists who both have an understanding of the book as an artistic and sculptural medium, as well as having a developed sense of content and meaning.

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Diane Cassidy’s Taxidermy

An exceptional marriage of intelligence, wit, freedom of materials and poignancy can be found in Diane Cassidy’s book titled “Taxidermy”. This large-scale, thick book combines screen-printed covers of pegboard, outsized square cardboard pages and makes an imaginative use of duct tape as the binding material. The book is 18” square and 5” thick. Recycling a socio-documentary project of silver gelatin photographs of taxidermists at work – made over twenty years ago – Cassidy has married these documentary-style pictures with text and pen-drawings redrawn from a small ‘how-to’ book on taxidermy published in 1943. The photographs are mounted on the left-side pages and the appropriated text and images are drawn directly onto the cardboard on the right-side pages. Visibly apparent are the artist’s pencil lines as she squared up her pages for centering her imagery and text. Thus, despite the crudeness of the materials, there is strong evidence of the artist’s precision. Sandwiched between the each photographic page and the text-page is a thick plastic film embedded lightly with dirt and hair. Cassidy describes this material as a simulation of parchment – but it is less romantic than that – it reminds me more of gelatin in some unfamiliar flexible form; but none-the-less the material implies an animal by-product.

The text and photographic imagery are very matter-of-fact. Despite the cover imagery of a deer in the center of a target, the project appears non-judgmental at first. Cassidy obviously built a rapport with the taxidermists she photographed for her project. Indeed, each taxidermist allowed her to photograph at close range certain steps in the procedure, and you gain some understanding of the care and precision that this craft requires. The text is also straightforward, although the transcribed sentences can be very vivid such as: “peel the end of the nose out carefully to retain the nose linings, spilt the lips to their edges. Go slowly.” And we are advised “Do not begrudge a fair price for first-class head forms.” … as if we would. However, as one reads through the book, the combination of the photographs, the factual statements about the process and then the oh-so-very happy looking rubber stamped images of gamboling deer that decorate some of the pages becomes disconcerting. The artist is not being quite so straight forward.

At the end of the book, it is the inclusion of the poem “Imaginary Menagerie” by Barbara Tran with permission, first published in the New Yorker in 2006, that sums up the artists intent with this work, read the poem here: http://www.betasquared.net/barbaratran/poems/imaginary_menagerie.html

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Magdalene Laundries by Dorothy Simpson Krause

At a smaller scale, but never-the-less similarly powerful, Dorothy Simpson Krause used a small news item and a film as the spark for her project. A small dense book bound using a black leather Coptic binding with red leather accents, hand-sewn headbands and papyrus pages treated with a variety of collage and drawing methods, Krause has created a precious item that at first sight appears to be a hymnal or a bible. Krause’s book ‘Magdalene Laundries’ was inspired by her learning that “in 1993 when property held by the Sisters of Charity in Dublin was to be sold, unmarked graves of 133 women were found.” Each page of this thick, intense book is hand-inscribed or hand-printed with text or facts or makes use of found photographs to express the poignant histories of some of the girls who were imprisoned against their will. In its entirety, the book feels like a prayer to the God of Never-Again.

Less dense factually, but equally rich with visual symbolism is Kent Manske’s ‘Finder: (Map A, B, C & D)’. Using a map-fold technique, Manske has created four 2-sided folded maps of imagery contained in a hard-sided case. As a viewer you become engaged in unfolding each map, rotating it to its correct orientation and then holding it out in front of you at arm length to view each image. Manske uses a variety of printmaking techniques – pigment printing, mono-printing, screen-printing and lithography – to build up surfaces and symbolic imagery in his prints. We see figures and figurative outlines, empty spaces that once contained a figure and an outline of a dog walking away. There is a suggestion of mapping in the form of a graph, and line drawings that look like surgical illustrations. On one of the maps, Manske resorts to text – perhaps understanding that a viewer needs some key to his symbolism – the word humanity is inscribed alongside the word response. The coherent nature of the colour palette of the folded-prints lends a suggestion of suppleness and softness to the imagery. This was one book I wanted to handle without gloves to be sure I fully understood the part texture played in this book-format.

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Kent Manske’s Finder: (Map A, B, C, & D)

Approximately forty books are on view at the Mohr Gallery in the Community School of Music and Arts in Mountain View. You are able to handle about a third of the books using gloves provided by the gallery. However, the majority of the books have been displayed in such a fashion so that they can be understood fairly fully without handling. The show is on view until May 25th from 9am – 7pm Monday through Friday and on Saturday from 9am to 3pm. 230 San Antonio Circle, Mountain View, CA 94040.

The curator, Nanette Wylde is an associate Professor at California State University in Chico. In the interest of full disclosure, Wylde included my artist books in her exhibitions Conceptually Bound I & II at the 1078 gallery Chico in 2001 and at Butte College in 2002.

Mohr Gallery: Info@arts4all.org

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