Exhibitions Ecobooks: Environmental Consciousness in VSW’s Rare and Artists’ Book Collections
May 5 – June 30, 2017 Main Galleries
Ecobooks: Environmental Consciousness in VSW’s Rare and Artists’ Book Collections is an exhibition and reading room of books with environmental content or that experiment with ideas of environmental form.
Installation view of the Ecobooks gallery reading room (2017)
What we are calling ecobooks is a response to the crisis of humans’ relationship to their surroundings. This crisis is intensifying in part because of the lack of acceptance of its existence. By using the one-to-one intimacy and multi-sensory potential of the book, artists and poets can sometimes bypass entrenched belief by getting people to feel and perceive. Such metaphoric embodiment can ultimately become awareness that our collective and individual activities are indivisible from our environment.
Installation view of Ecobooks (2017)
Sculptures of the Mind (1976) by Agnes Denes
Any discussion of environmental artworks should begin with Hungarian born artist Anges Denes who combined the aesthetic principles of site-specific Earth Art with actual ecological concerns. The catalog here documents several of Denes’ projects as well as her scientific and artistic thinking. This page spread shows documentation of one of her most important works, Rice/Tree/Burial, a performance of planting a rice field, chaining up surrounding trees, and burying a time-capsule of her poetry. Denes’ Book of Dust is in the Ecobooks gallery reading room.
Detail from an installation of An Invitation to an art Site/Sight (1992) by Roger Rowley
Twenty-five years ago, artist Roger Rowley, a graduate of the MFA program and former director of exhibitions at VSW, created a series of one-of-a-kind bookworks from materials he placed and found in the Braddock Bay State Park near Rochester, NY. A catalog of the bookworks, Wetlands Series, is in the Ecobooks gallery reading room.
Twenty Six Gasoline Stations (1962) and Thirty Four Parking Lots (1967) by Ed Ruscha
Ed Ruscha’s Twenty Six Gasoline Stations may be one of the best known artists’ book made, but is it an ecobook? If we ask what does this book, and his later Thirty Four Parking Lots, say about the environment, car culture, and the fossil fuel industry, then we begin to see the works differently.
These bookworks were created for an assignment to make a book out of the contents of a trash can during a workshop at VSW in 1978. The resulting trash books were saved, and are now preserved in the Independent Press Archive at VSW
Detail of Trash Books (1978) unknown maker; from the collection of Visual Studies Workshop
VSW’s rare book collection holds several volumes that uphold the full authority of science while maintaining the allure of art and artisan production. The Moon: Considered as a Planet, a World, and a Satellite (1874) by James Nasmyth and James Carpenter is shown here along with American Medical Plants an Illustrated and Descriptive Guide (1887) by Charles F. Millsplaugh
In the reading room: Jacqueline without flowers (1988) by Jacquelin Lari; Poems from the journal of Lari Jacqueline about struggling through the 20th Century with Environmental Illness