The very next post I’m going to write will have images of the building of the huge popup book, the one that starts at 12 x 12 and then opens up (hopefully) to something like 30′ long and 4′ high (it’s being built a little at a time, so I won’t know til it’s done how big it is). But I thought I’d write a few notes before I post all that, just explaining some things I’ve learned about popups, artists books, etc.
So first off, one of the very first revelations I had while working on this project is that an artist’s popup has to conform to very different rules than a commercially produced popup, and vice versa. While a popup you buy at Barnes and Noble has to withstand being opened and closed a million times, little kids playing with it (probably roughly) with sticky fingers and that sort of thing, an artist’s version of a popup doesn’t have to deal with any of this. The artist’s book sits on a pedestal or vitrine and is something to be touched by relatively few people.
Meanwhile, one of the challenges I immediately faced in building this book is that while a commercially available popup sits on a shelf and is only opened for minutes at a time per page, and artist’s book has to remain, well, “popped-up” for the duration of the exhibition – a month or more. This creates a whole new challenge, as gravity quickly works on paper and makes it sag; a popup section that looks terrific on a Monday starts to ache by Wednesday, and by Friday you’re lucky if any of it is still popping up at all.
As a response to this, I decided to make this project a blend of two “traditions” – one being popup and moveable books, and the other being one that’s new to me: papertoy. If you want a real treat, just do a Google image search on “papertoy” and all sorts of amazing things come up (a good example is here). It’s basically a blending of origami, urban vinyl, and the ongoing Etsy/craft craze, where fans make up different creatures that can be assembled out of paper; often, they make the patterns available online for free download so that anyone can cut, glue, and make their own.
I’m not making creatures per se, but the idea of working with a pattern that creates a three-dimensional thing is what got me. It seemed like the perfect solution, so that’s now what I’m making a few of the components from.
Meanwhile, the other thing that really comes to mind regarding commercial vs. art popup books, is that while a commercial book’s main goal is to delight and fascinate the reader (no small feat in that), the role of an artist’s book is quite different. The book itself works as a metaphor – in this case, of an ever-expanding universe that seems so small at first but then is vast and wonderful as you spend more time with it.
And what’s more, I like the way that books imply interactivity, even if – from a realistic standpoint – this isn’t always practical in a gallery setting. For instance, there is something about the way that a painting sits on the wall that it just is – regardless if anyone stops by to look at it or think about it, it just sort of exists and can always be seen out of the corner of your eye as you pass by. For a book to be seen at all, it has to be engaged – the reader has to actually hold the thing and turn the pages and, in a moveable book, move all the various little elements. It’s not really seen until it’s activated in this way; we all know you haven’t really looked at a book if it’s just sitting on a shelf closed, and so the reader becomes an active participant in completing the book as an object or work of art. In this case, by adding these 3-d elements that need to be assembled to get to the story, I’m really playing up that interactivity – the book I’m building simply cannot be read in any manner without someone there to do the work.
Anyway. Hopefully this will all make more sense later today when I post the pictures…