Navigating the Bookscape: Artists’ Books and the Digital Interface

Giulio Tambellini

DP: If the exhibition aims to open up questions and debates around what ‘the digital interface’ might bring to the conventions of the codex, which might enhance and expand our notions of, and/or experience of ‘bookness’, what do you believe your work might contribute to the debate?

GT: I believe that artists as bookmakers are only limited by the materials available. Recently on television I saw an insert showing sheets of paper, which could capture and play back recorded sound as well as new format paper CDs. These two paper-based items were manufactured in the Far East and in the long run aim to revolutionise. Currently, digital media can’t be cast like paper, woven in working form or manipulated in ways which only artists are capable of doing. Until such a day, we have to print our visual content on limited stock (anything) with little dynamic interaction possibilities or resort to other computer-based technology, such as web formats, projected or 'avi' based communication mediums loosely known as ‘new media’. If we as artists could get hold of flat, flexible, interactive computer screens which we could physically print onto, fold, or bind together, in some way to resemble a book, then we would probably have a fully digital book on our hands.

My work explores something in this direction by taking the traditional elements of a book’s make-up and running amok with it using digital technology. During the late eighties I was exploring the possibilities of taking electronic music synthesisers apart and embedding their trigger keys into cast paper and making interactive book objects. I have always worked in music, photography, video, but primarily exhibited the traditional art form of printmaking. The Internet has largely evolved the experience of content delivery beyond the need for the physical book as ideal package. I produce websites with the same excitement as I do books because they both possess similar interactive possibilities through navigation options. But this is another category all together. I basically hold onto the rules, while thinking in different directions at once! I am excited by the idea of hybrid technology and multi-sensory experiences through my books.

DP: If, in the hands of the artist, the book is interrogated, questioned, altered and transformed into a ‘hybrid, intermedial thing’, how has your artwork moved beyond merely digitising the idea of a book?

GT: In my view there are clear boundaries between anything simulated by light-based media such as a television screen, computer monitor, data projector, cinema reel or slide show as opposed to the tactile, bound object defined as a book. Computer monitors and projectors of light content are merely devices that exploit the physical assets of natural light and optics to project images, create illusionary space and simulate content in the process.

If I had to sever the binding threads between the pages of my book, the definition ‘book’ would cease to exist. If I had to include a projection of the filmed footage included in the book’s binding onto the pages even when they remain bound to the spine unit, it would probably become an installation by injecting the dominance of sound and light as medium onto the books pages. When does a book become a sculpture or a performance piece, or rather, when does a performance piece or sculpture become a book? Greenaway’s The Pillow Book is clearly a movie and not a book. I have always been fascinated by the old ring-binder and arch lever files…are they books?

Digitisation has brought about a number of debates surrounding its impact on traditional processes and meaning. The largest problem is that of semantics and not the identity crisis of any new media or production forms. Words such as publish, virtual, notebook, ‘new media’, network and digital, have been co-opted by computer companies to define new versions of traditional processes. We in fact need new words with new definitions for ‘virtually’ doing things within the Internet, telecommunication platforms and light projection media.

My book does not merely simulate the experience of a book through digital means. It remains a book as it is bound together (although expansive to the doors of installation art).

MW5 1-4-7 (detail) | 2006 | digital print | 210 x 210 mm

MW5 1-4-7 | 2006 | digital prints, video tape and card box | 1 470 x 1 470 mm x variable depth

MW5 1-4-7 (detail) | 2006 | digital prints, video tape and card box | 1 470 x 1 470 mm x variable depth

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