Most people have seen a hardcover, leather-bound book, perhaps with gold edges or marbled cover pages.
Artist books are different. Some are very different. Some are like pop-up books for kids, but with electronics, games, and mirrors.
Libby Hertenstein helps push the boundaries of a book’s definition.
âWhat not many people realize is that we have a rare book collection and we have a very small rare book budget that has been given to us through endowments,â Hertenstein said.
Hertenstein is the Rare Books Librarian at Bowling Green State University. She is in charge of artist’s books.
âI would buy these things and we had classes and I would take them out and ask if it was a book. People were like, ‘No. It is not a book. So I would ask, ‘What is a book?’ Hertenstein said.
Students would say he must have a cover or a handwriting. Then they were talking about e-books.
âSo if you think an eBook is a book, what makes the difference? So that’s really where we started, âHertenstein said. âWe also talk a lot of meaning too. Is it a successful book, because obviously the purpose of a book is to convey some kind of information. But the problem with artist books is that sometimes they need to be interpreted.
Wanting to spend money wisely, the library was increasingly in demand for books that were 3D or could be used in art classes. There were courses on bibliography and the history of the book. The requests came from very different departments.
âMy first piece I bought there was ‘Haiku Journeys’ by Vince Koloski. He’s a visual artist who works in LEDs and glass, âHertenstein said. âHe is also the one to whom, for the 50th anniversary, we have entrusted the realization of the library building with the leaflet.
âHaiku Journeysâ has a wooden binding with a raffia fiber cover that folds to reveal pages with the words laser-etched on clear acrylic glass-like sheets. The words are almost impossible to read until the LED lights are on, making them glow and appear to be floating.
Another piece by Koloski deals with science and technology and is much larger, incorporating calculators, rulers, an abacus, and his signature LEDs illuminating mathematical formulas.
BGSU’s Jerome Library also pushes the concept of the meanings involved by rare. Limited availability doesn’t always mean so expensive. Hertenstein compared Koloski’s works to certain illuminated manuscripts.
“When people hear about rare books, they expect the Lilly (Library) or the Bentley (Library), where we will only talk about high class literature and everyone has to wear gloves,” he said. Hertenstein said. âYou can touch that. You can feel it. When I pull out our third leaves of Shakespeare, people are afraid to turn the pages.
The library offers more traditional artists’ books, with handmade paper and personalized bindings.
âThis is beyond a personalized binding. The other thing I love about artist books is that you can’t really digitize them. You have to come and see this, âHertenstein said. “Even a picture doesn’t do it justice.”
Other artists’ book authors are Julie Chen and Robbin Ami Silverberg.
Silverberg has one piece in the collection which is the same poem, read only in a gold leaf mirror, but repeated on every page, with words and letters removed on each subsequent iteration.
âPeople don’t realize until the very end that it’s actually the same work, the same poem. Everyone becomes less and less. It’s supposed to be about identity and loss. It’s all a process there, âHertenstein said.
There are the two new works by Julie Chen.
âShe’s a fairly well known book artist from California. Everything Julie Chen does is incredibly collaborative with the user reader, âHertenstein said.
The reader also becomes a user, because the works are interactive.
Chen’s “view” speaks of death and loss. The elaborate multi-part piece features two accordion books that fold into a larger folding box in a very specific and intricate way.
Chen’s other piece is a game called âPersonal Paradigms: A Game of Human Experience,â which pushes the boundaries of what might be called a book from a creative interactive perspective.
âIt’s a game. It’s a very dangerous game. It’s supposed to be a game where you kind of probe your emotions and she tries to get you to give a very emotional response, âHertenstein said.
The board game comes with a classic spinner from the 1960s, which is more complex than pop culture games of the past.
To demonstrate, Hertenstein spins the word “family” and follows it with an 8 on the dice roll, then randomly chooses eight tiles with words printed on them, the first two of which are “guilt” and “fear. “.
âI’m supposed to think about family and write a poem about family and what family means to me,â Hertenstein said. “We have found that people get very emotional with this game.”
Chen Coins were purchased this summer and, like other rare books, can only be used under the supervision of the Rare Books Department.
That has also changed with the coronavirus.
âWe all work from home and the building is not open to customers,â Hertenstein said.
Artists’ books can be discovered at home thanks to the expanding archive of Internet coverage of works.
âBefore the virus arrived, we were in discussions to create more interactive digital exhibits,â Hertenstein said.