A new exhibit of artists’ books made by undergraduate art students has been installed in the Special Collections and Archives lobby cases, on the 5th floor of Langson Library. The artist’s books were made by the students as final projects in Professor Antoinette LaFarge’s Art 106C, Design for Print, class. Their challenge was to create a small book in the chapbook tradition as a personal meditation on the subject of plagues. The underlying thought was to create a collection in honor of International AIDS Day 2013, addressing this important disease obliquely through the ancient trope of the plague. Most of the students in this class had never made a book before or worked with print design software, but they approached the project with enthusiasm and flair, bringing to bear their competencies in related media such as photography and drawing. They took up a wide range of subjects, from historical plagues like syphilis and leprosy to plague-like outbreaks of mass hysteria. They experimented with the form of the book, creating accordion books and foldout books in addition to western codex-style booklets, looking in each case for a physical structure that would complement their book’s theme—like the fold-up book about AIDS that is structured like a quilt in honor of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, or the one whose transparent images of bacilli evoke microscope slides. The texts are mostly factual, but there are instances of fiction and poetry as well. Sometimes funny, sometimes grim—but never despairing—these thoughtful and visually sophisticated books illuminate our long history of cohabitation with plague organisms.
Special Collections and Archives provided a session in Langson Library for the class. We shared examples of book structures to familiarize students with a variety of options they might have to construct books for their final projects. Their work was outstanding! The students also came to Special Collections and Archives to install the exhibit on December 11th.
We are actively building a collection of artists’ books in Special Collections and Archives. Dating from the 1960s to the present (over 600 volumes to date, many of them published after 1990), the collection encompasses nearly all aspects of the genre from “normal” published works to altered, sculptural, painted and unique books. The collection has three major foci: works by and about women; works that explore contemporary American politics; and works produced in Latin American countries. Other titles complement departmental collecting emphases (such as dance or California), or are particularly outstanding exemplars of the form that do not fall into the above categories. For example, the collection includes numerous illustrated editions of Mallarme’s influential typographic poem Un Coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard. For additional information contact us at (949) 824-3947 or firstname.lastname@example.org. [Photographs by Allan Helmick]