Every Story Tells A Picture
By Tom Wachunas
“You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” - Ray Bradbury
“From the moment I picked your book up until I laid it down, I convulsed with laughter. Someday I intend on reading it.”
“Books are a uniquely portable magic.” –Stephen King
EXHIBIT: OUT OF PRINT (An Upcycled Exploration of books and text into configurations of Fine Art), by Pam Neff, at The Little Art Gallery, THROUGH NOVEMBER 9, 185 North Main Street, North Canton, www.ncantonlibrary.org
How fitting a location for this show – a gallery in a library. Here is a gathering of 62 pieces by Pam Neff that are comprised of or derived from recycled (you could say recovered and re-covered) books. Their pages have been cut, curled, collaged and otherwise coiffed into images and forms that tantalize in a variety of ways.
Books being what they are, there is not surprisingly a generous sprinkling of word play at work, particularly by way of puns and double intenders, so to speak. Generally, the titles of Neff’s pieces offer easy enough handles for grasping the content/intent of a piece, or getting the joke as the case may be.
Some of her treatments are quite literal (some might say cute). Rock Paper Scissors or A Tree Grows in Brooklyn are good examples. Likewise the titles of her four elegant 3D vignettes of tiny wooden mannequins attached to open books - their pages fancifully blossoming outward, origami style - tell the tale: A Real Cliffhanger, Relaxing With a Good Book, In the Middle of a Good Book, A Real Page Turner. This is certainly not to say that such works are visually bland or too simplistic.
Neff is an inventive designer of TEXTures blended into hybrid, often humorous forms – part sculpture, part picture or collage – that can tickle the brain. Trike is a triptych drawing of a tricycle spanning the covers of three books (one of which with the photo of a boy child and his tricycle) arranged in a triangle on the wall. But if you look at the titles on the outer binding of the books, one is “General Ike.” So then a word game might evolve. General Eisenhower’s tricycle? As in triangle, tricycle, Ike…trike. Get the picture?
Still, our experience of a given artwork need not be restricted by its title. A work’s title isn’t so much an end-all disambiguation, but rather one (and not the only) plausible pathway to its meaning. The most engaging works here are those that seem to allow, even encourage free-association with the title and materials at hand. In that sense, the invigorating undercurrent of this exhibit is one of unfettered playfulness.
Additionally, the incorporation of vintage photographs in many of the works delivers a nostalgic dimensionality – a sense of recalling and perhaps even longing for bygone days. I left the gallery prompted to all the more savor the memories of being deeply, personally affected by the people, places and things ARTiculated in books. All kinds of books. Real books, with their heft and tactility and very aroma that have the uncanny capacity to transfix and transform.
And transport. Neff’s austere floor sculpture, an upright ring of paperbacks titled Out of Circulation, brings to mind the circular gateway to other worlds featured in the 1997-2011 sci-fi television series, “Stargate SG-1.” It’s an apt metaphor for how books, opened and read, might then open us to the possibility of journeying to alternative planes of being. Birds Nest, with its paper cutout bird (itself a somewhat unnecessary visual element) nestled on a bed of shredded paper cut from and into the body of an opened book, is invested with a similar spirit.
In many ways then, the entire exhibit is indeed an impressive expansion of this metaphor. Books, as physical entities, can generate metaphysical experiences. And isn’t that a hallmark – or bookmark, if you will - of the most satisfying art?
PHOTOS (from top): Out of Circulation; A Real Cliff Hanger (left) and A Real Page Turner; Birds Nest; Trike