MAH’s ‘Poetry and Book Arts Extravaganza’ explores new dimensions of books and words
If you walk into the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History on Friday night (Jan. 20), you may find words in surprising places. A poet may pop out of a bathroom stall, or recite lines while the elevator ascends. You’re likely to find sculptures created from books, haiku built from blocks, a book that’s sprouted wings. Someone you don’t know may pass you a poetic scroll—and you’ll probably be invited to chalk words on the museum stairs.
In partnership with Book Arts Santa Cruz and Poetry Santa Cruz, the MAH’s January installment of the Third Friday Series, “Poetry and Books Arts Extravaganza,” promises to elevate the art of books and words to a whole new dimension. This event will offer an evening of poetry, book arts, performances, discussions, workshops, hands-on activities and demonstrations for all ages and skill levels.
With more than 44 collaborators, some of Santa Cruz’ most notable poets—including Santa Cruz Poet Laureate Gary Young, Robert Sward, Ellen Bass and members of the Yuki Teiki Haiku Society—will be on hand to read their work as well as teach poetry workshops. There will also be several well-known book artists, including Matt Cohen, Peter and Donna Thomas, Jody Alexander, Julie Rogge and John Babcock, who will give demonstrations on how to create art from books as well as lead workshops where participants can try their own hands at making paper, origami and book binding.
Some of the featured artists straddle the two worlds of poetry and book art, like poet David Sullivan, who will read his poems about the Iraq War from a book that has wings attached to it. After his reading, he’ll suspend the book from the ceiling.
“We wanted to partner book arts with poetry because book arts can be obscure,” explains Nina Simon, executive director of MAH. “By connecting with poetry, you can experience written and spoken word through [visual] artistic representation, oral recitation and sharing a lens through which we see Santa Cruz and our lives.”
What is known as “book arts” today has evolved from the now obsolete craft-based disciplines of hand-bookmaking, such as bookbinding, letterpress printing, paper making, typecasting and other arts related to book production, explains Matt Cohen, one of the coordinators of Book Arts Santa Cruz. But he makes clear distinction between this functional type of craft and the “artist’s book.”
“In an artist’s book, as opposed to ‘book arts,’ the book in and of itself is holistically conceived of as and intended to be a work of art. More simply stated, the artist’s medium is the book form,” he says. “For a person making artists’ books today, every aspect of the book’s production represents an opportunity for imbued meaning.”
Whereas some artists’ books have recognizable book-like resemblance, others have evolved into 3-D sculptures that have leapt into a new realm that gives the form entirely new physical and conceptual attributes.
Peter Thomas, co-coordinator of Book Arts Santa Cruz, defines an artist’s book in this way: “Generally, if an object [of art] has book-like qualities recognizable by either the maker or the viewer, then it is fair to call it an artist’s book.”
“An artist’s book with pages that can be turned is a sequential art form that goes beyond the ordinary three dimensions of other sculptural art works,” he explains. “A masterpiece of the artist’s book can be enjoyed as a two-dimensional object when viewed in a photograph, as a three-dimensional object when on display in a glass case, and as a four-dimensional object when held and read.
In this way, the pairing of book arts with poetry adds a new dimensionality to both forms. Not only is the fourth dimension further explored by the addition of sound waves generated in time by poetry read aloud, but listeners and viewers engaged in the poetic book art experience will have the chance to engage in the content with all of their senses—making the experience that much more concrete and meaningful.
“A museum is the home of the muses,” says Len Anderson, secretary-treasurer of Poetry Santa Cruz. “This notion … brings creativity forth from us. [This event] taps into this; the museum is a place for all of us to be creative.”
Indeed, a place for everyone to be creative is what Simon had in mind when she originally conceived of the Third Friday series.
“Experiencing art is not something you do just inside your head on your own,” she explains. “It’s really a social experience. We’re taking people who may not interact on the street and inviting them into the museum, where they can make art together, cut books, construct poems, make paper. We’re creating an opportunity that brings the community together around the arts.”
The January event for the Museum of Art & History third Friday series, “Poetry and Book Arts Extravaganza,” takes place from 5-9 p.m. Friday, Jan. 20 at the MAH, 705 Front St., Santa Cruz. General admission $5, students $3, children free. For more information about the event, call 429-1964 or visit santacruzmah.org. For more information about Book Arts Santa Cruz, see bookartssantacruz.blogspot.com. For more information about Poetry Santa Cruz, see www.poetrysantacruz.org.