to tell stories,

To tell stories we delve into our memories, our past experiences, into other stories, from other times. We turn to our imaginations, we learn from the imaginations of others. We remember the stories we were told as children, that our perhaps were told to our elders when they were children, and to their elders when they were children.

In The Mystery Feast: Thoughts on Storytelling, Ben Okri writes: 

No civilization ever became great on knowledge alone. Indeed it is the imaginative dimension of civilizations which gives them distinction. What would ancient Greece be without its tragedians, its Parthenon, its Homeric epics? What would ancient Egypt be without its pyramids, its temples? Imagination dreams what that which knowledge makes real. It could be said that imagination is the porto-reality. A people can only create what they can imagine. If in some mysterious way we fall short of the ancients, it may be because we have long ceased to cultivate, to the highest degree, the fruits of the imagination, of the spirit. That despairing cry from the Bible should always haunt us. “For lack of vision my people perish.” . . .  How do we awaken imagination? How do we awaken vision? One of the ways, passed down to us with cunning simplicity by our ancestors, is storytelling.” 

To tell stories, we speak, we write poetry and prose, we make images, films and animations, we compose songs and lullabies. 

Cover image from Lire le monde, Michèle Petit. Ed. Belin

Emphasizing this very need for storytelling in Lire le monde, Michèle Petit  writes in the first person as if speaking directly to a child: 

"I give you songs and  stories so that you can repeat them to yourself through the night, so that you will not be too afraid of the dark and the shadows. So that slowly you will not need me, will think of yourself as your own distinct little subject, will elaborate the multiple separations you will need to face. I give you snippets of knowledge and fictions so that you can equally symbolize absence and affront - as best you can-  the big human questions, the mysteries of life and death, the difference between the sexes, the fear of abandonment, the unknown, love, rivalry. So that you can write your own stories between the lines you have read."

This was translated to english by me, to the best of my capacities. I am quite certain it doesn't do justice to the beauty of the original text, which I have included here below for those of you who do read in French: 

"Je te donne des chansons et des récits pour que tu te les redises pour traverser la nuit, pour que tu n’aies pas trop peur du noir et des ombres. Pour que tu puisses peu à peu te passer de moi, te penser comme un petit sujet distinct, puis élaborer les multiples séparations qu’il te faudra affronter. Je te livre des bribes de savoir et des fictions pour que tu sois à même de symboliser l’absence et d’affronter, autant que faire se peut, les grandes questions humaines, les mystères de la vie et de la mort, de la différence des sexe ; la peur de l’abandon, de l’inconnu, l’amour, la rivalité. Pour que tu écrives ta propre histoire entre les lignes lues."

To tell stories, we make things with our hands.

We paint, we draw, we stitch and embroider, we sculpt, we create objets, we make books. We make artist books.

An ‘artist book’ refers to a publication that is created as artwork in its own right. It can said that the very first books in human history were artist books, though the content may have been created by one artist, the text manuscripted by another and the images illuminated by a third. This the case for ancient illuminated manuscripts, scrolls (also called phads in India), concertinas, books of hours, religious scriptures, among other formats.

 

This illuminated manuscript, "The opening of the Sixth Seal," is from the Morgan Beatus, 10th Century.  Maintained by the Morgan Library and Museum, New York. Source: Awesome Stories.
Ancient Indian scroll or phad titled Sky Battle of Kurukshetra

 

A Gujarati religious text on palm leaves between acacia wood covers; probably from the 1700's. Source: Columbia University

 

The book is a medium that allows an artist's work to be more accessible. The reproduction of the work - whether in limited edition prints, etchings, printmaking or even through photocopying - gives it a potential to reach a larger and more varied audience. In this way, the artist book can be an incredibly powerful storytelling object.

While artists’ books can take many forms, there are a few elements that they share in common. They reflect on the properties of the book form itself. The book is not merely valued for it’s content, if not for its form as well. The artists’ book invites us to hold it and turn through its pages. Whether the contents are visual or linguistic (or both), physically moving through an artwork implicates notions of sequence, repetition, juxtaposition, and duration. The dialogue created between the text and images, the printing process and the design of the book, allows for many exciting possibilities within narrative, media, and meaning that are specific to the artists’ book alone.

In preparation for a workshop dedicated to the artist book that I will be giving in April, I have amplified my collection of research on the subject.

In this post, I would like to share some of the book artists that have caught my attention, some all time favorites, and some new discoveries.

Katsumi Komagata is a Japanese graphic designer, turned book-maker and publisher. In several lectures I have heard him talk about how his initial fascination for making books began when his first child was born. He says that he tried to imagine his child’s curiosity for how the world works, and wanted to create simple objects that she could interact and play with. This resulted in a collection of beautiful, geometric object-books (livres-objets), some of which can be enjoyed below.

Little Tree, a book that shows the life cycle of a tree, through the seasons. Source: One Stroke

 

Details from Little Tree, by Katsumi Komagata

 

Yellow to Red. Tokyo : One Stroke ; 1997 ; 2003 ; 2005 / Du jaune au rouge. Édition bilingue français-japonais. Tokyo : One Stroke ; Paris : Les Trois Ourses, 2014

 

Details from Mountains (left image) and Blue (right image), by Katsumi Komagata.

 

 

I recently came across the work of book artist Mar Goman. The images below come from her website, which I recomend visiting. I have not included captions because no additional information about the pieces can be found on the site. I am including a small selection of the images that most intrigued me.

 

Selected works by Mar Gorman

 

 

Tara Books, an independent publisher from Chennai, India describes its mission as "pushing the boundaries of the book form in an age that is busy writing its obituary". As well as featuring traditional artists and artisans whose narrative traditions are in danger of extinction, they make a series of handmade books using block printing, exquisite hand-made khaki (cotton fibre) papers, and even cloth.

 

 

The Cloth of the Mother Goddess by Jagdish Chitara

 

The Cloth of the Mother Goddess follows the tradition of painting a cloth as an offering to the goddess Durga. The book is block-printed on fabric and designed as a foldable shrine, which a similar format to the Kaavad, a portable story-telling temple from Rajasthan. Though it can be argued whether a kaavad qualifies as an artist book, because it is made of wood and resembles a piece of furniture more than a book, it's principle purpose is to be manipulated by the kavaad-bad (storyteller) to turn the doors (which serve as pages) and unveil the story.

 

 

A kavaad I made inspired by the text The Elephant's Child by Rudyard Kipling. More information here

There, of course, is more. A lot more. So much, that this post will be continued in several posts over the next weeks. These weeks, in which I will be reading, writing about and celebrating telling stories and making books to tell them in.

Song of the day

Tracy Chapman - Telling Stories

 


we make artist books

Making an artist book is one way of telling a story.

In April, I will be giving a two day course at La Cala titled El libro de artista (The Artist Book)

 

A Little Story about How I Like to Tell Stories. A small handmade edition I made to explain my creative process, 2014.

 

During the course we will explore the art of creating books by looking, touching and making. We will begin by studying different formats of artist books, tracing their origin from illuminated manuscripts, books of hours, scrolls, concertinas (accordion books) to more contemporary formats. We will think about the the materiality of the book as an object, searching for coherence between content and format, use and aesthetic, narrative and material. We will debate over the principle of the Bauhaus which states: "Form follows function”.

 

An artist book I made inspired by Kipling's The Jungle Book. The transparency of the paper allowed me to create a sense of depth in the jungle, 2013.

 

Following a theoretical introduction, we will begin making and creating. Using a predetermined concertina format, we will each create our own artist book. The course will conclude with a small exhibition and critique of the work.

 

Original artwork from Este cuerpo es humano, 2017.

 

This course is open to photographers, musicians, designers, writers, artists, lawyers, illustrators, fishermen, firemen, cooks...the list is endless. Better said: it is not required to have previous experience, just curiosity and a desire to make something with your hands.

 

The Life of an Anchovy, work in progress.

 

The course will be held in La CALA on the 6 y 7 of April, 2018. From: 11h. to 14h. and from 17h. to 21h. Inscription fees: 200 € including 14 hours of the course and two nights in an individual room in a rural guest house nearby. For more information and to enroll, click here

Convocatoria en español:

En El libro de artista exploraremos, a través de la vista, el tacto y el hacer, el arte de crear libros singulares y hechos a mano. Arrancaremos el curso estudiando distintos formatos de libros, haciendo un recorrido desde los manuscritos iluminados, los libros de las horas, pergaminos, concertinas hasta formatos más contemporáneos. Pensaremos en la materialidad del libro-objeto, buscando la coherencia entre el contenido y el formato, el uso y la estética, la narración y la materia. Debatiremos sobre el principio de la Bauhaus: "La forma sigue a la función”.

Tras un inicio teórico, pasaremos a la creación. Usando un formato de libro acordeón preestablecido, cada uno crearemos un libro de artista propio. El curso se cerrará con una pequeña exposición y critica de las obras.

Dirección: Karishma Chugani Nankani. Máster en Edición. Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. MFA Design Futures. Goldsmiths College. BA Fashion Design with Printing. Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design. Foundation Course in Art & Design. Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design.

Público: La convocatoria se abre a fotógrafos, músicos, diseñadores, escritores, artistas, abogados, ilustradores, pescadores, bomberos, cocineros...la lista sigue. Así dicho: no es necesario tener experiencia previa, sino solamente curiosidad y ganas de crear algo con las manos. Modalidad: presencial, en la sede de La CALA. Duración: 6 y 7 de abril de 2018. Horario: de 11h. a 14h. y de 17h. a 21h. Inscripción: 200 €. Incluye 14 horas de curso y dos noches de alojamiento en habitación individual en Casa Rural. A través de https://lacala.es/cursos-talleres/#inscripcion

Song of the day

Joanna Newsom - The Sprout & The Bean

 


With these hands

Este cuerpo es humano · This Body is Human, written by Grassa Toro and translated to English by Claudio Cambon, concludes with a chapter about hands:

“This book ends here, at the very moment when we remember that the hands that wrote it, drew it, printed it, transported it, gave it, held it up as they read, turned from one page to the next, and closed it after just a few seconds look like, very much like, the hands of the animal who, for the first time in the history of evolution, put a fish in a pot of boiling water and ate it. That’s when this whole mess got started.

Hands dislike having nothing to do. The End.”

While thinking about the kind of image I wanted to make to accompany the text, I realised I wanted it to be an ode to hands, celebrating “the sixteen bones and several dozen muscles and tendons that hang down from our arms” which make us human.

 

 

I wanted to spend a moment making an image that reflected the capacity our hands permit us to make things, to create, to be artisans, whether is be cutting an onion or embroidering an image of the human hand. I have always been fascinated by everything hand-made, I marvel at how with practice one can acquire new hand made skills. I am saddened by the fact that while digital and industrial tools have evolved impressively, so many hand-made traditions are slowly dying out.

 

On the left a photograph of artist Louise Bourgeois. On the right her drawing of tools.

Richard Sennett, author of The Craftsman writes very eloquently about this in Labours of Love, an article he wrote for The Guardian:

“All craftsmanship is founded on skill developed to a high degree. By one commonly used measure, about 10,000 hours of experience are required to produce a master carpenter or musician. As skill progresses, it becomes more problem-attuned, such as the lab technician worrying about procedure - whereas people with primitive levels of skill struggle just to get things to work. At its higher reaches, technique is no longer a mechanical activity; people can feel fully and think deeply about what they are doing, once they do it well.

Two centuries ago, Immanuel Kant casually remarked: "The hand is the window on to the mind." Modern science has sought to make good on this observation. Of all our limbs, the hands make the most varied movements, movements that can be controlled at will. Science has sought to show how these motions, plus the hand's different ways of gripping and the sense of touch, affect the ways we think.”

 

Hand drawings and hand-stitched panels by Louise Bourgeois

 

Hand-embroidered panels by Louise Bourgeois

As the book ends with a chapter about hands, this will also be the last in this series of posts about my creative process for the images of this book. I will write more about hand-made techniques in future posts. For now, I wanted to write about my website, which was made public just a few days ago. It may seem contradictory to write about digital formats in a post dedicated to all things artisanal. On the contrary though, the site includes an online portfolio which displays a range of my hand-made work. As well as announcing the launch on social media, here in this blog-post, and via email, I made a series of limited-edition hand-cut and hand-written cards which were sent off in the post on Friday. I love the idea of keeping up the tradition of sending cards and letters in the post, of writing them by hand and posting them off physically.

 

http://decoupe-laser-papier.com/images/cestauprogramme.mp4

In this small documentary, MH-Edtions (laser-cutting printers) with whom I collaborate frequently, talk about the tradition of sending new years greetings. My laser-cut Christmas garlands can be seen in the background of their studio.

 

 

 

If you do receive one of these hand-made wishes, know that they are the negative silhouettes of hands, hearts, craniums and brains, all of which were cut to be glued into copies of the book as personalised dedications. Myself and Grassa Toro will be signing the book at the upcoming presentation of Biblioteca La CALA at Panta Rhei, Madrid on Thursday the 25th of February. Hope to see you there!

 

Song of the day

Sus Maos - Caetano Veloso


and my heart went BOUM!

When asked to make the images of Este cuerpo es humano · This Body is Human, I didn’t do anything.
I didn’t make a single sketch or image. I waited. It turns out waiting is also a way of working, who knew?

While waiting, I thought a lot about the human body in general, then I thought about my body.
I read the texts of the book over and over again.
Then I began to I read other books.
My reading included books such as: Dictionnaire fou du corps by Katy Couprie, L’Origine du monde by Liv Strömquist, Así me veo by Josune Urrutia Asua, On the Nature of Things by Lucretius, and many others.

Extracts from Katy Couprie’s Dictionnaire fou du corps. The entries include a range of playful and serious definitions.
In Liv’s Strömquist’s comic, she provides anecdotes, historical references and myths about the female sex. I will write about it in more detail in the next post (entirely dedicated to the sexual organs).

 

Josune Urrutia’s book Así me veo (This is how I see myself) is a manual for learning how to look and draw at oneself. It accompanied me throughout my creative process.

 

Unfortunately, I did not read On the Nature of Things in such an antique edition. This image is from a bookseller’s blog you can visit here.

 

I looked all kinds of images of the body: anatomical drawings, old medical plates from encyclopedias. I found plates from medieval and oriental manuscripts that include all kinds of curiosities, myths and ailments.

I looked at miniature paintings and medical illustrations from Iran, China, Japan, Pakistan and India.

 


Here are two of six anatomical drawings that are included at the end of a volume containing Tibb al-Akbar (Akbar’s Medicine) by Muhammad Akbar, (d. 1722/ 1134) in an undated copy probably made in the 18th century India. The drawings are of individual organs in inks and watercolour.
In the left hand image [upper left] the liver with gall bladder, [center] the stomach with intestines, [lower left] the testicles, [lower right] a detail of the stomach, and something unidentified in [upper right].
In the right hand image: [on top] a composite rendering of the tongue, larynx, heart, trachea, stomach, and liver; [left] a composite drawing of the ureters, urethra, kidneys, testicles, and penis; [right] the external female genitalia; and [at bottom] a composite rendering of the internal female genitalia with a gravid uterus.
Source of images and information: Islamic Medical Manuscripts.

 

 

These anatomical illustrations (artist/date unknown) are based on those found in Pinax Microcosmographicus, a book by German anatomist Johann Remmelin (1583-1632) who entered Japan via the Dutch trading post at Nagasaki. Source: Pink Tentacle.

 

I found these Chinese public health posters from the early 1900s.
On the left: Human body is like a factory, 1933.
On the right: Skin, urinary system, and kidney, 1933.
Source: US National Library of Medicine

 

 

 

 

I researched contemporary artists I admire who have worked with the human body such as Louise Bourgeois, Kiki Smith, Marcel Dzama, José Antonio Suárez Londoño and Bill Viola. I rediscovered the collages of Hannah Hoch (some images are currently on display at the Musée de l’Orangerie).


Prints and stamps by José Anonio Suárez Londoño. On the left: Untitled. No. 276. Source: Bernal Espacio. In the middle, Litografía número 3 Source: Milpedras. On the right: Untitled No. 129. Source: Colección de arte del banco de la republica.

 

 

Man Searching for Immortality/Woman Searching for Eternity by Bill Viola, is a diptych of high-definition colour videos projected onto large vertical black granite slabs. Shown at his exhibition Electronic Renaissance, Palazzo Strozzi, Florence.

 

 

Hannah Höch, Dada puppen (Dada Dolls), 1916/1918. Textiles, cardboard and beads. Source: The Red List

 

Untitled by Hannah Höch, from her series From an Ethnographic Museum (1930)

 

I discovered artists I had never heard of.

Celine Guichard´s ludic and disturbing bodies intrigued me. These are from her book “Feutres”, Editions Marguerite Waknine, 2017.

 

Sun in your eyes, by Izziyana Suhaimi

 

On the left: Red Rivers, embroidered book page. On the right, Mixed media image both by Lynn Skordal.

 

In the works of Izziyana Suhaimi & Lynn Skordal, I found embroidery skills that made me green with envy, in a pleasurable way.

I continued to research and think. Once in a while, a little voice in the back of my mind began to remind me that I had to start making the images soon. I tried my best to ignore it, and continued my research.
After six weeks, I finally felt like making an image. I opened a new Japanese sketchbook, made of rice paper in an accordion format that I had been saving for a special project. I cut the silhouette of a heart from the pages of an old anthology of Latin Literature.

I thought about the heart and all the things it does.
The heart beats. It pumps blood, it pulses, it trembles, sometimes it tremors.
When the heart tremors, we take it to the doctor. It palpates. It tick tocks, tick tocks, tick tocks, like a clock.
It breaks. But does it really break? It stops. And sometimes, with or without help, it starts again.

In the graphic novel Chicken with Plums by Marjane Satrapi, Nasser Ali Khan wakes up one day and decides to die of his broken heart.

 

While cutting, painting and stitching frantically, I realised I wanted the image to pulsate, to palpate, to say BOUM. The entire process of make the images for this book was moving, different, potent.
Through it I learned a lot about the body and worked with the idea of pleasure for survival.

“Love is not born in our hearts. It is an empty muscle that fills with blood and empties it, fills with blood and empties it, fills with blood and empties it, and which lacks the raw materials to fabricate love. Nor can hatred be fabricated in our hearts. To see where love and hate are born, just as one searches for the source of a river amidst a thick, green forest, we have to look higher up.” (text from chapter The Heart by Grassa Toro, translated to English by Claudio Cambon). Image in progress.

 

“If our lymphatic system were not our own, we would think it loves us like crazy, because it is always ready to defend us against unwanted elements, bacteria, and cancerous cells. But our lymphatic system, with its incredibly sensitive ganglia, is us. So, we can say, if we were to say anything, that we love ourselves a lot.” (text from chapter The Circulatory System and the Lymphatic System by Grassa Toro, translated to English by Claudio Cambon). Image on the left in progress, image on the right, finished work, photo by Maria Pascual & Miki Hernández.

 

“We know everything that we know because we have a nervous system, and we have a nervous system to seek pleasure, and we need pleasure to be alive, which is the only thing we need to do while we are alive.”( text from chapter The Nervous System by Grassa Toro, translated to English by Claudio Cambon). Image of finished work, photo by Maria Pascual & Miki Hernández.

 

The next few posts will be dedicated to various body parts. In each I will share a little bit about my process and a lot about my sources of inspiration. The book, Este cuerpo es humano · This Body is Human is currently available on the crowd-funding campaign Bibilioteca La Cala.

Song of the day:

Charles Trenet – BOUM


when I discovered (that) This Body Is Human

Making the images for the book Este cuerpo es humano · This Body is Human was a wonderful surprise. It is a poetic atlas of scientific anatomy for both children and adults. When I first read the text written by (Carlos) Grassa Toro I fell in love with it, because of its joy and joked about wanting to do the images if ever the book was published again. A few months later, Carlos invited me to make the images of the book and explained the launch of Biblioteca La Cala.

Working on the images of the book at La Cala

This book is very different from others I have illustrated. It has nothing to do with my family, my cultural heritage. It does not talk about my personal story. It talks about the human body, its functions, its organs, its strengths and weaknesses.

Details of hands and the nervous system · photos by Maria Pascual & Miki Hernandez Pluviam.

While making the images I tried to imagine the kind of body book I would have loved to have as a little girl; one that did not transmit shame of private parts, one that explained things with a sense of humor. I learned tons making this book and I am very excited to share it with you after so many months of silent work.

In this video I explain a bit about my creative process while making the images for the book.

The crowd-funding campaign for the Biblioteca La Cala is still open so you can preorder your copy of the book.

Song of the day:

Nina Simone - Ain’t Got No, I Got Life


about what’s keeping me up at night

There are many exciting things going on at the moment that are keeping me up at night.
They also wake me up at the wee hours of the morning to stitch, embroider, paint, and write about.

The first on of these things, is the launch of Biblioteca La Cala, a collection of publications born in a space dedicated to artistic creation.

La Cala, over the two years since I first discovered it, has become one of my many homes. Since, I have participated in 2 collective exhibitions: Retablo, retablo, kaavad, arból and Reino animal, one open artist residence, and made the images for the book Este cuerpo es humano · This Body is Human. You can read more about my activity in La Cala here.

Kaavad illustrating Rudyard Kipling’s story The Elephant’s Child from Just So Stories illustrated and designed by me.Photo credit: Rubén Vicente

The actual kaavad, which is a portable storytelling temple originating from the village of Bassi in Rajasthan, India was made by the carpenter Ana Perez in Madrid.

Telling the story of The Elephant’s Child at the the private view of the exhibition on the 1 November, 2015. Photo credit: Rubén Vicente
Working on a mind-map constellation of the project Las visitas de Nani during my artist residence in February 2016 at La Cala.
Drawing the miniature vignettes of Las visitas de Nani during residence.
Video documentary produced by La Cala following my residence.

La Cala is a space dedicated to artistic creation and research. A space, (in the words of it’s director Grassa Toro), “where for twelve years there has been uninterrupted activity including thought, contemplation, creation, research. Art, writing, film, theatre, illustration, reading, music, graphic design, thinking.”

It has been constant surprise discovering this space and collaborating in projects there. It has been escpecially exciting working on the launch of the ediotial collection, Bibilioteca La Cala, for which a crowfunding campaign has been launched exactly one week ago.

The collection begins with two titles. The first is El París, a novel by Grassa Toro. The second is Este cuerpo es humano · This Body is Human, with texts by Grassa Toro, images by me. It is a bilingual spanish-english edition that has been translated by Claudio Cambon.

To celebrate the launch of the campaign, La Cala’s 12th anniversary, the inauguration of the exhibition Reino Animal, Grassa Toro hosted a beautiful afternoon feast, which I was very happy to be able to attend.

Details of my piece at the exhibition Reino Animal
Grassa Toro, Diego Fermin, Helena Santolaya, Isidro Ferrer, Pep Carrio, Laura Bustillo, Ana Mareca, Aitana Carrasco Inglés, Alicia Ferrer, Karishma Chugani, Gonzalo Ferreró Marco. Director and collaborators of La CALA at the launch party on the 1st of November 2017.

By participating in the crowdfunding campaign, you will be supporting La Cala and you will be able to pre-order your own copy of the books.

Song of the day:

Stromae - sommeil


Let me tell you more

about what I am working on at the moment.  This will be the place where I will announce upcoming events, presentations, workshops. I will write about new projects and collaborations. At times, I will write new things about old projects, or about things I have stored secretly away in boxes and drawers. Just to air them out, to share them with you, to ponder on what to do next.

I hope to write every week, on Sunday mornings. Sunday morning are good for writing. They are also very good for sleeping in, and doing other such things, so if I don’t write rigidly every Sunday morning...you will understand that I am doing something equally  or more important.

Today’s announcement is situational - if you are reading these lines it is because you find yourself (intentionally or better yet haphazardly) in my blog.

This is situated inside of my brand new, squeaky-clean website, which will be launched at the end of the month. It is being carefully designed and constructed as we speak by Ana Mareca and Laura Bustillo La Particular.

 

Web work sessions with Laura Bustillo and Ana Mareca La Particular in the library of La Cala

The photographs of my work are by Maria Pascual de la Torre and Miguel Hernandez Miki Pluviam.

Constructing my website has been like making couscous among friends on Fridays: a feast, celebratory, requiring strategic planning as to what ingredients to include, preparation of each ingredient with care, music and dancing in the background while doing it all, dedicating lots of time and attention to all the steps.

 

Photoshoot sessions with María Pascual and Miki Hernandez, Pluviam

We started this many Fridays ago and are now just tending to the final details.

The launch of the web will be accompanied by imaginary fireworks.

 

Song of the day:

L’Arpeggiata - Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680) - Tarantella Napoletana, Tono Hypodorico