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Monday, September 26, 2011

Samples from an Artist Book

This is the front exterior of "Hurts Like Hell: Reports from the Democratic Republic of Pain," an artist book and compilation project.

Inside the book you can see that I stitched the pages in. What you can't see, but happens to be true, is that I used medical sutures to sew them. The paper lining the inside of the book is something I made on Photoshop.

If you can love something like Jack's description of his post-surgery pain, I loved it.

During class critique, this page drew an audible gasp.

I loved this page for its honest appraisal of something many divorced or separating parents have experienced.

The project here was to find an object -- preferably something that wasn't already a book -- and consider how the form might be used to inspire a book. But it doesn't stop there.

Form and content were supposed to mesh. All details were to be considered.

This is one of those conceptual practices I think of as Very Art School. Out in the real world, where non-artist types dwell, the object can become confounding or ridiculous. I'm always vaguely aware of the no-nonsense nature of my journalism background when I embark on a project like this. I lean toward literalism. I like for things to be functional, and kind of regular (though truly regular people would probably dispute that).

And yet I grew pretty passionately in love with working on this.

Without taking you through every last decision and what-all, I'll just make a couple of points. First, I landed on the idea of using a Band-Aid brand box of bandages that was decorated with a cartoon character. I bought several, and at first I wasn't sure that it mattered which character. What mattered most to me was the cheerful message the box was sending to those in need of a Band-Aid. "Ouch! You hurt yourself!" it says on the side of the box -- as if to imply that everything will be fine soon.

That got me thinking of the fallacy of Band-Aids -- which really do very little, even with the kinds of wounds they're intended for. And of course when we're talking big hurts, a little bandage like this is darn near useless. So in a way, the project is about the unkept nature of the implied promise.

I knew I wanted to catalogue different kinds of pain, so I sought stories from friends. Each wrapped bandage contains a sentence or two on some epic physical or emotional pain they've experienced. Obviously, I'm not showing all of them here, but you can get a little taste. It was an awe-inspiring thing to work on this book, and contemplate the person and what he or she went through. Without getting too dramatic, there were times when I got a little tear-y.

What I ended up loving about the process was how it made me think about the nature of pain. Which is harder, splitting up with your husband or being in junior high and finding out you were the only one who didn't see the big summer concert? Knee surgery or a burned eye? These things cannot be compared, most of them. In the moment, for the person experiencing the pain, each trumps everything else.

I should say that the formally, the project appeals to the fetishist in me. I love books and I love special little boxes of all kind. I really thrilled at transforming the Spongebob packaging here into something sinister, and figuring out how to turn the Band-Aids into pages, and sewing them all in.

One of the great luxuries of an art-school education is that it takes you places you wouldn't have gone otherwise. It takes you places you might not feel you want to go -- like it did for me the first year, when I explored the wonderful world of band saws. "I'm a two-dimensional person!" I wanted to say. "I like to DRAW!"

"Ahh yes," they might've said. "But you'll draw better if you do something strange every now and then."


honey said...

oh, karen, how i loved this post. the book, what you shared of your process, and most especially that last sentence. anyone who has been lucky in life to have the experience of being challenged by "something strange" appreciates the result. you summed up pain, pleasure, and band aids better than i have ever read it. thanks.

i love the idea of band-aids into so many ways, so many books are created the same way...just like our lives.


Nin Andrews said...

This is just amazing. No 2 ways about it.

GoingVeggie said...

Totally amazing mix of creativity and sentiment all bandaged up within book covers. I am posting this so my book-lover friends will see it. Absolutely MAGNIFICENT work --or was it play?! ;-)

Gabrielle said...

Brilliant! What an amazing idea beautifully executed.