Art Review: "Shaping Pages" at S.P.A.C.E Gallery
Downloadable books may be au courant, but one thing that will never go digital is handmade book art. Well, perhaps we should never say never. The key word here, though, is “handmade,” and that’s exactly the DIY aesthetic on display at Burlington’s S.P.A.C.E. Gallery  this month. The exhibit’s very title supports this ethos: “Shaping Pages.”
The show, which opened last Friday, consists of 21 creations by members of the Book Arts Guild of Vermont . None of the works is an actual book, of course. Among the techniques in evidence here are repurposing book pages in sculptural constructions; making “pages” out of something else, such as cloth; referencing the concept of books in a mixed-media facsimile; and using printed text within a wholly un-book-like artwork. Some pieces in the exhibit seem to qualify as “book” art only because they are constructed from paper. But then, who said there were rules?
Even paper is not a constant. One of the cleverest pieces in the show is Marcia Vogler’s “Dream Burger,” a hamburger — adorned with tomato, lettuce and cheese on a sesame-seeded bun — made completely from neatly stitched fabrics in the colors and shapes of its ingredients. Each of these is a “page” in this burger-volume. Affixed to the pages in a typewriter font is text such as “dream burger / expand my mind / not my thighs.”
In the category of not-at-all-book-like is Nikki King’s “Nest.” The titular item perches atop an 11-inch-high, platform-like structure that stands on three spindly, copper-wire legs. Two birds — presumably proud parents — made of blue felt stand watch over four eggs in the nest, which are collaged with narrow strips of paper hand-printed with text. A poem written on an oversize tag at the foot of the structure concludes with “…Here, we are one. / We are whole.” King’s work is graceful, intricate and pretty, though the thin legs of her structure and the precariousness of the nest belie the sense of safety implied in the poem.
Jill Abilock’s spare, contemporary construction “Every Which Way” could not be more different in style. And it’s hard to explain. It resembles a book set upright, balanced on the two covers and an extended concertina fold at the back. However, this “book” has only three 12-by-6.5-inch pages, spaced nearly three inches apart. This sturdy architecture allows the viewer to look into the square cut out of the front cover and through the cutout shapes on each successive page. These have been enhanced with thin strips and squares of paper in candy colors; the effect is somewhat like looking through a stained-glass window fashioned after a Mondrian painting.
“Aging Is Not Easy,” by Dorsey Hogg, takes an actual book — a science-y tome about things that can go wrong with a body — extends its spine accordion style and creates a self-supporting geometry from its colorful pages. These are cut into equal-sized horizontal strips that are then meticulously folded. There’s a grim humor to this 10-by-40-by-7-inch piece: A viewer who looks closely inside its 3-D matrix will find mentions of arthritis, diabetes and other anatomical indignities. By reducing them to unreadable snippets, Hogg lets us know what she thinks about aging. Context aside, it’s a mantel-worthy sculpture.
If there were a Funny Award in this exhibit, it would have to go to “Little Known Facts About Crap,” by Elissa Campbell. Inside the covers of this small book are tiny paper “pages” the shape and color of turds. On these Campbell has written nonsensical “facts,” such as “Holy crap can be repaired with duct tape.” With an apt self-deprecation that many legitimate authors ought to display, she concludes, “The contents of this book: total crap.”
Several horizontal, stand-alone pieces made of thick, accordion-folded paper are included in the show. It’s a deceptively simple technique, but the artists have turned each panel of the folds into small and elegant paintings. Most striking is Cynthia Weiss’ “Ode to the Sun God,” featuring tall egrets with thick, Cleopatra-style eye markings. Of course, they are walking like Egyptians.
The largest work in the exhibit is a wall hanging titled “Order Into Chaos” with seven columns and seven rows of stacked, 8.5-by-5.5-inch pieces of paper — in other words, 49 stacks, each affixed to a forest-green backdrop. Imagine a quilt composed of neatly piled papers, and you get the idea. The individual sheets are small artworks by Nancy Stone; included in the piece is a poem by Kathy Willard. Right beside this is the show’s smallest and therefore cutest work, “He chirps before fire,” by Maryann Riker. The piece is a miniature “house” whose walls open like some kind of 3-D puzzle. And, rather than teeny furniture, its rooms contain shiny faux baubles.
Last year’s “Paper in 3-D” exhibit at the Shelburne Museum set a high bar for mind-blowing constructions that “Shaping Pages” does not reach. Still, the Book Arts Guild of Vermont holds its own with impressive skill, creativity and devotion to a versatile, if fragile, art form.
“Shaping Pages,” works by the Book Arts Guild of Vermont, S.P.A.C.E Gallery, Burlington. Through April 28. spacegalleryvt.com