Five Minutes With: Experimental bookmaking teacher Karen Davies

jpaprocki@islandpacket.comMay 11, 2012 

  • Karen Davies is leading a weeklong workshop in Italy on experimental book arts. "Tuscany Bound" runs July 20-27 at Tenuta di Spannocchia, an organic farm and hotel. The workshop includes accommodations, all meals, classes with supplies and side trips. The cost is $2,300 for a double room.

    Details: Karen Davies,

Literature is considered art. As is a collection of photography. But overlooked in the whole process is what holds it all together -- the book.

Who's to say the binding itself can't also be art?

Karen Davies, a Bluffton resident, teaches experimental bookmaking at the Savannah College of Art and Design. It's all about looking at the book itself as a piece of art.

Davies explains how a book is more than just two covers with pages in between.

Question. What is experimental bookmaking exactly?

Answer. It's making one-of-a kind books. They're artists books. Artists books are about taking the book and pushing the aesthetic and conceptual boundaries of the book structure. We break these boundaries with the intent of communicating a specific concept.

Q. So, it's making a book more than just a book?

A. They end up taking a variety of forms. But it's all around what we know a book to be.

Q. What are some of the more interesting book ideas you've seen?

A. It can be a range of things. A travel journal that functions as a camera. A book I recently made is in the form of a spinning top. You can actually spin it.

I did have this one a student made. She wanted to do one about her knee surgery. She cast a leg in latex. It looks like an actual leg. And the book was inside the knee. To read the book you had to cut the sutures at the knee, peel the latex back and grab the book. That was probably the most unusual I've seen.

Q. With everything becoming more digital, like eBooks, it seems to me that would only increase the popularity of what you're doing. People interested in books should really value a book that's made into a piece of art.

A. This has really been around for a long time. It has early roots going back to artists' movements like Dada and the futurists. Libraries all over the world collect artists books. SCAD has a pretty substantial one, especially in Atlanta. There's museums dedicated to artists books, galleries dedicated to artists books. The medium itself is really open to everyone -- sculptors, photographers, graphic designers. A historic preservationist may be interested in a new way to present something to a client. There are practical, industry-related applications. It's about creating novel ways to present a book.

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