life under glass

Posts Tagged ‘books

Seven Seas

This is a gift for some sailor friends who helped keep the wind in my sails this past year.  Seven Seas is made from a copy of Peter Freuchen’s Book of the Seven Seas published by Simon & Schuster in 1957.  Folding books is a lot like crochet or knitting: you get in a groove and the action becomes very meditative.


Seven Seas (2013) 9.5×13 inches. Folded book mounted on board.


Written by ephemerarium

March 15, 2014 at 2:36 pm

Posted in Art work

Tagged with ,

Coverlet: A Lover’s Discourse

… A situation in which it’s not just another’s languages that we don’t understand but not even our own.   — Emre Kertesz, from Dossier K.


Coverlet: A Lover’s Discourse (2013).  54×82″ Book pages, quilt batting, cotton fabric, thread, and satin binding tape.

The idea for a quilted coverlet simmered for weeks before I could come up with a method to actually make it work. This coverlet is made from the pages of Fragments d’un discours amoureux ( or A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments) by Roland Barthes. I used a French edition published in 1978 by Editions du Seuil, Paris.  It looks identical to my own copy in English, including the multiple fonts used for headers, footnotes, and author references used throughout.

The pages are soft and feel like flannel. I carefully crumpled each page until the paper was pliable and flexible enough to sew together. I learned this method as a child in Texas making “Indian clothes” from brown paper grocery bags. The rigid paper bag gets more flexible as it is repeatedly crumpled and distressed, creating a  leather-like fabric. The quilted pages are sewn in straight rows of rectangles (trimmed minimally) from the original pages. There is a felt layer and cotton batting between the readable surface and the cotton backing. The edges are trimmed with blanket binding tape.


Two details show the texture of the pages.


A Lover’s Discourse is an amazing text –smart, funny, and wildly associative– that created a deep impression on my 20s. The study (and creative application) of semiotics and representation were just beginning to percolate (in English, at least) and there was a huge ocean of theoretical ground to cover. Wading into that ocean was to be steeped in the confluences of feminism, reflexivity, representation, and language theory. Barthes is, to my mind, one of the more generous in this era of radical thinkers. His later focus on the pleasures of the text and the role of the reader in the ultimate meaning of a work still ring true for me.

Barthes lived with his mother for much of his adult life, and wrote extensively about mourning her after her death (See Mourning Diary) . He continued to live in her house until his own death a few years later. This coverlet is a love letter to Mr. Barthes, and would have graciously fit his twin-sized bed.


Written by ephemerarium

January 18, 2014 at 2:49 pm



Paradiso (2013) 39×50 inches, book pages and gold paint on paper.

This piece is a sister to Inferno, but celebrates the text with a constellation of gold spots. As with the other books in Dante’s Divine Comedy, circles play a central role in Paradiso (Heaven, or Paradise). Concepts of orbiting, traveling, tunneling, and returning are evoked over and over, but in the Paradiso story, this journey is made with the lovely Beatrice who schools Dante in all manner of cosmic and celestial phenomena. There are parallels to a radical reading of Adam and Lilith, whereby Lilith knows more than Adam about the world around them. In this story, Beatrice confirms the wonder and majesty of the world as a divine creation, while introducing many concepts of the medieval science of the times.

This piece was made from a small bilingual copy (Italian-English) titled The Paradiso of Dante Alighieri and published by J. M. Dent & Sons in London, 1958,  so the entire text in Italian is visible.

Seems like I cannot avoid Purgatorio at this point…

Detail of small center portion for scale:


Written by ephemerarium

November 18, 2013 at 9:51 am

Posted in Art work

Tagged with , ,

Mrs Dalloway


Mrs Dalloway (View of the Ouse in Daylight) and Mrs Dalloway (View of the Ouse in Moonlight), (2013) each panel 50″x38″. Watercolor and book pages on paper.

This diptych was created out of the text of Virginia Woolf’s dazzling short novel, Mrs Dalloway , originally published in London in 1925.  The two panels are subtitled View of the Ouse in Daylight (yellow) and View of the Ouse in Moonlight (blue), with daylight referencing Clarissa and moonlight referencing Septimus, two of the central characters/voices of the novel. Clarissa and Septimus create an axis on which the story revolves, and a counterpoint of tension around questions of sanity, personal happiness, and our ability to control the course of our own lives, even through a  single day.

The flow of the novel is truly brilliant; each character woven into the narrative through stream of consciousness observations, reflecting and refracting points of view, while moving multiple characters onward, each on a path of self-definition.

The “underlayer” of each panel is a watercolor view of the River Ouse, the Sussex river in which Woolf committed suicide in 1941.  The “overlayer” is created from the pages of two editions of Mrs Dalloway. Each page was cut individually into an interlocking pattern reminiscent of late 19th century wallpaper patterns of upper-class English residences, such as the one in which Clarissa would have hosted her momentous party.


Here are two details:


Written by ephemerarium

April 17, 2013 at 11:05 am

Posted in Art work

Tagged with ,


Halo (2012) 14.5×18″. Cut books mounted on wood.

This piece is an apt summation of my art work of the last couple of years– most of which is born out of deep attachment to and reverence for the book form (arguably the most ingenious, mobile, transferable, humanistic, and renewable technology ever devised).

When I started this piece I imagined a huge gilt portal large enough to walk through made from stacked books, like a miniature, modular, Modernist version of the Shwedagon Pagoda.  It quickly became apparent that finding and collecting the necessary number of books to create a monumental edifice would take months, or years, and that our garage would be clogged with crates of literary cast-offs. Sadly, I have neither a huge, airy studio to store materials nor a team of hip and eager studio assistants to help me collect them. Even so,  I can say that the experience of sawing through a wheelbarrow of books was both jarring and exhilarating (sort of). Thanks to B.  for setting up his table saw with the appropriate jigs to create these book slices.

Of course, I can’t help but mention that the past year has presented a fairly constant stream of opinions, exhortations, and predictions on the demise of the book and the changing nature of libraries. The controversies at the NY Public Library have been well documented in the Nation, the NY Times and elsewhere. Public, school, and academic libraries and library staff are under enormous pressures that are born out of economic, procedural, philosophical, and social changes in the knowledge and information landscape. My own life as librarian has been dramatically shaped by the current state of affairs.

The New York Times Book Review had two essays on the topic of books just last  week:  Leah Price’s Dead Again and It’s Alive! by Gillian Silverman which does a beautiful job of describing the allegorical nature of the argument that we are books and books are us.

Halo is a more modest proposal and akin to a household alter (sans deity).  It just  simply shines.

Written by ephemerarium

August 20, 2012 at 10:18 am

Posted in Art work

Tagged with , ,

Kindling the Light

Maccabee’s Candles (2012), about 10x 6×6 inches. Wax, wick, and book pages.

When prisoners passed through the gates of Nazi concentration camps past the motto Arbeit macht Frei (“work makes one free”), they must have understood that, of all the vile indignities that had brought them to this horrific place, this particular hell would be merciless. In this motto the executioners spoke with the omnipotent voice of Creation implying that whatever was to come was a foregone conclusion. Here the reality of Hell is the absence of reason.

Maccabee’s Candles was created using pages of an English translation of Hitler’s Mein Kampf (My Struggle) formed into candles. It is a gruesome piece that was not easy to make. Making the candles was similar to factory work albeit very short-term and, thankfully, the manufacture occurred in the quiet of my own choosing. Like many Jews, I hadn’t given Hitler’s text much attention. Knowing full well what came out of Nazi rhetoric as a whole, it seemed beside the point to read the actual text that fueled such insanity.

It should come as no surprise that Mein Kampf is, indeed, a Baroque and entirely neurotic piece of work, written in the exuberant and desperate style of a paranoid hypochondriac who, up to the publication in 1925/1926, had been victimized, not by Jews, but by his own ill-health, his doctor’s experimental treatments, his peers, and the social systems (military, educational, romantic) in which he so desperately sought approval. It’s all there: hemorrhoids, stomach cramps, blindness, creative failure, father-son animosity, sexual inadequacy, drug addiction, and episodes that point to ongoing mental illness. Knowing how it all ended made the book all the more exhausting to get through. Slogging through black mud that business.

So, I read this absurd text and then I destroyed it. Or at least a chunk of it–it is huge and would make many, many more candles. I used an X-acto knife. Then I wrapped strips of text around a wax and wick core to create 44 Hanukkah candles. I know: this sort of symbolic transference is a little heavy-handed. But after reading the actual language that fueled the fire that destroyed most of Yiddish civilization in Europe and annihilated many millions of human beings, I needed to link the atrocity called Nazism that resulted from this book with some small triumph. One such story is Hanukkah.

Seen in this light, the candles beg the question: will we burn them?

Written by ephemerarium

March 5, 2012 at 2:45 pm

Posted in Art work

Tagged with , , ,


Metamorphosis (Brick Pattern) (2011) 23×25″, book pages and string.

Here are two pieces using the text of Franz Kafka’s story, The Metamorphosis.  I started with a bilingual German/English edition (Schocken Books, 1968) so that I wouldn’t loose text on the verso of each page. Then I cut the text in to blocks and arranged them in geometric patterns.   These two examples use traditional parquet floor patterns as the basis for a depiction of Gregor Samsa’s nightmare.  Overlaid on the text-as-floor is another pattern made of white string.  It is really hard to see the string pattern in these photos (while the bottom piece is too yellow, you can see the thread more clearly).

The secondary pattern references the desperate, frantic, and mindless movements Gregor makes in his new reality as a bug in a scale that reflects his size and point of view scurrying across the floor or clinging to the crown molding, as his identity and will-to-be slowly collapses in the face of a macabre struggle. Fear and trembling meet sweet lemon floor wax.

Metamorphosis (Double Herringbone Pattern) (2011) 17X19″, book pages, gouache, and string.

Written by ephemerarium

January 29, 2012 at 1:02 pm

Posted in Art work

Tagged with ,