Sunday, November 16, 2008

Gender on the Brain

The New York Times published an article this weekend about the declining percentage of women making up computer science students—10%, down from 20% seventeen years ago and from 40% in the mid-eighties.

Meanwhile, I am reading Journal of Artists’ Books (JAB) 24, which features a long interview between Tate Shaw and Chris Burnett about road literature and the artist’s book, coinciding nicely with Burnett’s talk on the same at Pyramid Atlantic last weekend. Inevitably Kerouac’s classic is referenced, not least because the famous scroll manuscript is currently on display at Columbia College Chicago’s Center for Book and Paper, the current home of JAB.

My own strong response to On the Road at age 15 aside, there seems to be a gender divide in its contemporary reception. Particularly coming to it as adults, many women I know have little patience for the book.

And I find myself asking: is there a gendered aspect to road literature?

Over the course of a road trip covering 700 miles, Shaw and Burnett conversationally compile a prodigious list of 235 references—books of many sorts, pieces of art, fiction, theory. To the best of my ability, I calculate that thirty of these were works by women (with fractions figured in for works with multiple authors). This is roughly 13%, so it is safe to say that road literature is doing better than computer science by a narrow margin.

My goal is not to fault Shaw and Burnett for this disparity. To be sure, any attempt at gender balance in academic and critical conversation is hampered by a deeply entrenched history of bias in publishing, academe, the arts, and the culture at large. And I wonder how the overall theme of the road trip ties into our gender norms.

Burnett discusses stream of consciousness writing as linear, parallel to but never quite caught up with real time (20). On the other hand, comics artist Lynda Barry points to the act of writing as the actual carrier of the art, the image, the narrative (What It Is, 2008, Drawn & Quarterly)--rather than simply its scribe.

Meanwhile…yes, all this attention to the road coincides with the 50th anniversary of On the Road’s publication, but it also comes at a time when the road trip’s death knells are sounding. The price of oil has sky rocketed. The limits of our fossil fuel supply are becoming clearer, as are the disastrous impact of a car culture on the earth’s climate. If I throw out the term “eco-feminism,” that says enough, right?

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Book Artists With a Backup Plan

I hope I won't be spoiling the surprise by announcing plans for the zine Book Artists With a Backup Plan, which is to be put into action by Katie Baldwin and myself--and some credit goes to Helen, as well, for incubating the idea. While packing up the last bits of Katie's house for a move, we were thinking of that gap between our training and the realities of the job market, and the backup plans we contemplate and enact when at a loss about how to put our skills to use in a way that will also pay the rent.

Katie mentions her undergrad senior class theme of, "would you like fries with that?"
I think of my successors at UArts and their plans for a book arts pin up calendar.
As for me, every time I'm at a loss I think about how many pastry chef jobs are on Craig's List. However, I can't seem to get anyone to hire me to bake cupcakes, so I guess it's back to teaching.

The zine is scheduled to coincide with the Hybrid Book Conference in Philadelphia in 2009. Watch for our call for entries, and in the meanwhile, be thinking about which back up plans you'd like to share.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Democratically Activist Book Arts

Please help my research!

I am gathering information about all artists who are currently engaging ideas of the democratic multiple and/or activist practice in their book arts work. Any and all ideas and references can be posted as a comment here or emailed to matasillo at earthlink dot net. Thank you very much. I will be speaking on this topic at the Pyramid Atlantic Book Arts Fair and Symposium, November 7-9, 2008, in Silver Spring, MD. More information on the Symposium at

Friday, June 20, 2008

Mission Manifesto

"book arts jet set"
This phrase was initially developed to jokingly poke fun at fellow itinerant book artists.

However, wider implications of this idea soon came to mind.

The book arts face distribution challenges. As a complex, yet rarified, object that must be held to be experienced properly, one must be in the presence of an artist book to grasp it.* However, these books are often limited edition or one-of-a-kind works. They are too expensive for the average person to own. Thus, one must travel to a collection or gallery to experience them. Hence, to know the field, one must travel.

Furthermore, the development of a professional community is also dependent upon the artist-critic-scholar's ability to travel, as the field is small and one naturally wants to interact with fellow book artists outside of a 5-mile radius.

Travel is increasingly expensive. Many book artists never recoup the cost of their work. Many are working outside of the support of an academic institution. Hence book arts jet set interrogates some of the very material and economic challenges of practicing in the field, as well as addressing other items of interest to friends of book arts.

*Arguably one must also be in the presence of the painting to really get it, but a painting is much simpler to digitize than a book. Thus relatively few artist books have been digitized or reproduced in other formats.