X Libris, Root Division

X Libris opened this past Saturday at Root Division in San Francisco, and I had the opportunity to attend. X Libris is “an exhibition exploring the book as a mode of communication in flux.” More and more of our media is migrating from print to digital form, and even the venerable book isn’t immune from this. But the book as an object still retains value for many of us, even if we do much of our reading via digital media such as e-books. We display books, arrange them carefully in rows on shelves or gracefully positioned on tables. Some of the pieces directly lament the loss of books as a central element in our lives, while others explore the printed page as an artistic medium separate from its traditional function.

One corner of the gallery was taken up with a large “architectural installation” made entirely of books. One could walk in between the undulating walls and look at the titles. Although most of the books were closed, every so often there would be an open one. I encountered at least one or two mathematical texts.

One of the most eerie pieces was Alexis Arnold’s “Flood”, which featured distressed and disheveled encyclopedias encrusted in borax crystals. It could have been a scene from a major natural disaster such as Hurricane Sandy or Katrina, with floodwaters causing first one form of damage as they rise, and then another as they recede leaving behind salt deposits. The knowledge contained in the books is just out of reach behind the translucent crystals. Another piece that treated books destructively, but more humorously was Michael Kerbow’s installation of pages as autumn leaves to be raked.

Pantea Karimi created ink drawings with repeated motifs on heavy paper, arranged in unfolding structures on shelves. The result is a colorful and meticulous tribute to the bookshelves that many people proudly display in their homes, but also a lamentation that such displays are gradually becoming rarer.

If books as source of textual information (or escape into fantasy) is waning, what of the physical form of the book as an artistic medium unto itself? Several pieces presented books that were physically books with pages that one could flip and look at, but intended as objects of abstract or conceptual art rather than something to “read.” These examples by Laura Chenault have color and texture but no text.

Still others were more distance from our expectations of the standard book form. Lauren Bartone’s complementary pieces “Letter Trash” and “Leftovers” presented a jumble of letters pasted onto a background and piled on a shelf, respectively. Steven Vasquez Lopez did away with letters and symbols altogether, using only intersecting straight lines on paper, as in this piece entitled “Jooked”:

One might ask what such a piece has to with books, but for me it did bring to mind the whole genre of “abstract comics”, a topic for another time.

X Libris will be on display at Root Division through December 1. You can visit the exhibition page for more info.

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