While frequently familiar in form, artists’ books can be hard to define. They are works of art that push the boundaries of traditional reading while maintaining the intimate relationship that a book fosters between object and reader. While artists’ books often employ the traditional crafts of bookmaking, such as letterpress printing, bookbinding, papermaking, and printmaking, there are no rules for their construction. Structures can include decks of cards, postcards, flip books, tunnel books, sculptures, puzzles, scrolls, and, of course, the standard codex. In some of the most successful examples, form and content work harmoniously together to express the artists’ ideas. They are frequently influenced by, or seek to comment on, the artistic, cultural, and political movements of the times in which they were created.

Wake the Form explores the modern artist book and its lineage through selections from Cornell’s collections of artist books, rare books, children’s books, games and archives. Placing such seemingly disparate objects in close proximity allows the viewer to make connections between the past and the present, blurring the lines between art and authorship. This exhibit demonstrates how book objects are not passive, but require our engagement in order to be fully experienced. We must participate, activate – we must first wake the form.


“It is not hard to imagine, in a not-so-distant future, a time when all but a few physical books have been destroyed. Perhaps to make room for more people, perhaps because everything has been digitized, or perhaps because they are no longer valued. Reliquary represents the rarity of the last remaining paper copies. As with the fragments of the holy, the volume is too precious for anyone to hold in its entirety. Instead, small preserved pieces are parsed out to those most suitable to protect them, or those wealthy enough to acquire public treasure for private use. Each Reliquary features 5 different books, 50 titles in total. Books are library discards that are shredded and displayed in glass test tubes with a cork stopper, sealed with beeswax, and tied with tag titles cut from the original books. Each set of 5 test tubes is presented in a display case.”
—From artist's website.

Meditationes piissime de cognitione humane conditionis

Never intended as an artists’ book, this miscellany of theological works from the 14th through the 15th centuries has become a palimpsest of handwritten text and of the insect trails that have eaten away at the paper over the centuries - until the texture of the pages becomes a landscape of time passing.


From the artist’s website: "Unleash records an angel's attempt to leave the book. A journey that starts with words about being confined and restrained, the angel appears and slowly makes a path through these words until succeeding to break the phrases and get out of the book. When the angel disappears from the book, the letters of the broken words start forming a human face.”

Watercolors, circa 1820-1841

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