I.D. Weeks Library displays ‘altered books’ as works of art

“Beginning – language 1,” a piece by Stefanie Dykes, is one of 45 examples of altered books on display as part of “Bound and Unbound II” at I.D. Weeks Library. The exhibit will be open through Dec. 20. (Photo by Travis Gulbrandson)

“Beginning – language 1,” a piece by Stefanie Dykes, is one of 45 examples of altered books on display as part of “Bound and Unbound II” at I.D. Weeks Library. The exhibit will be open through Dec. 20.
(Photo by Travis Gulbrandson)

By Travis Gulbrandson


When you were growing up, you probably were told not to deface books.

Don’t tear their pages out. Don’t fold them. Don’t draw in them.

However, artists from all over the world use those very techniques to create what are called “altered books” – works of art that use existing books as their media.

Forty-five examples of altered books from 32 international artists are now on display on the second floor of I.D. Weeks Library in an exhibit called, “Bound and Unbound II: Altered Book Exhibition.”

“It’s not something you see every day, and I think book lovers will really, really appreciated it,” said Sarah Hanson, Digitization and Photographs Archives and Special Collections, University Libraries.

“The University Libraries are honored to exhibit the works of artists from South America, Europe and the United States in ‘Bound and Unbound II,’” said Dan Daily, dean of University Libraries, in a press release. “The exhibit offers students, faculty and the public an opportunity to engage with the printed book as an object that expresses the artists’ creativity, intellect and imagination.”

Hanson said the artists used a variety of techniques to reach their final products.

“When you do come to the exhibit you will see a diverse array of approaches to the medium of altered books,” she said. “We have people who have carved into books, excised words out of books.

“We have one woman who created a piece where she glazed the entire book with a special type of clay, and then she kiln-fired it at 1,800 degrees,” Hanson said. “The book is just powder inside this shell. It’s very fragile. You know it’s there. There’s a trace you can tell by the outside form, but the original book is now gone.”

USD had its first exhibition of altered books in 2009, and is holding the second because of the interest it received. It will be held on a biennial basis from now on.

Hanson said the first exhibit was limited to artists who could drop off their work at the library.

“In the process of doing that, we had so many people contact us from all over the country and the world who wanted to be involved in the exhibit,” she said. “We said, ‘Unfortunately, we’re drop-off only.’ Because it was such an overwhelmingly positive experience, we decided to really ramp it up and get the procedures in place for allowing shipping.”

To better handle the number of entries they received, university officials decided to make the exhibit juried, using Karen Bondarchuk, foundation area coordinator and associate professor at the Frostic School of Art, Western Michigan University, as the final decision-maker.

A call for entries was put out to artists, and Bondarchuk selected the winners from digital photographs.

“Karen is ultimately the one who designed this exhibit,” Hanson said.

In her juror’s statement, Bondarchuk wrote that she wanted to create “an exhibition that would demonstrate the breadth of work that encompasses the altered book.”

“I ultimately chose works that had superlative attention to detail and crafting, as well as those that pushed the boundaries of conceptual, philosophical and formal intrigue,” she wrote.

Hanson said the response of the artists to the final selections has been “overwhelmingly positive.”

“I sent the link to the digital library, and the artists have been replying back and saying, ‘It’s an excellent body of work.’ They’re very happy to be involved in the exhibit. There seems to already be interest in the one two years from now,” she said.

The exhibit was put on display in the library earlier this week, and Hanson said she has already received comments about it.

“It’s been very well-received,” she said. “Just even in installing the exhibit, I had a lot of people stopping by and asking questions about it. We’re really excited because it’s international and it is juried. Both of those are pretty unique, and to have both in one exhibit is quite nice.”

The exhibition is also open to the public during library operating hours through Dec. 20.

“Bound and Unbound” is photographed and cataloged, and has been placed in the Digital Library of South Dakota at http://bit.ly/un-bound.

More information is available on the Web at www.usd.edu/library.

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