Envisioning the Future of the Book

This year sees the culmination of a digital publishing initiative that began in 2012. Supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, Expanded Artists’ Books imagines new forms a book might take, while enabling greater access to a significant but underrecognized genre in contemporary art, the artist’s book.

What is an artist’s book?

Artists’ books claim all aspects of the book (format, typography, structure, etc.) as potentially expressive. As immersive hybrid experiences for the reader/viewer, these works expand the limits of what we traditionally think of as a book.

The traditional fine press book

The concertina, a structure designed for display
Animations: Radek Skrivanek, Axis Point Studios

The Publications

Apps Representing Books

Artists’ books are most often priced like a work of art, rather than a book, and typically created in tiny editions, and thus have been one of the most inaccessible, obscure (and therefore least understood) genres in contemporary art. Digital publication addresses this issue in a very direct way.

Four Monologues

From “The Laws of Light,” a play by Aram Saroyan Book designed and printed by Columbia College Chicago Interdisciplinary Arts Book & Paper graduate students, 2011

Aram Saroyan’s brilliant meditation on writers living under a totalitarian regime focuses on Osip Mandelstam’s 1934 poem against Stalin, which he paid for with his life. The book has been widely praised for its design, which evokes a KGB dossier. 

The centerpiece of the Four Monologues app is a 25-minute film of the monologues, directed by Columbia College theatre professor Brian Shaw, with performances by professional actors. Six departments at the college participated in making the film.

Release: Summer 2015

Long Slow March

Clifton Meador, 1995.

Focused on Martin Luther King’s march from Selma to Montgomery, the theme of Clifton Meador’s book has become topical once again, 20 years after its publication. Beginning with counterposed narratives that reflect on the legacy of slavery in the South, then tracing the route of the 1965 march through photographs, Long Slow March has been recognized as one of the most significant artists’ books of recent decades.

For this project we are building a website. Besides reproducing the contents of the book, it will feature a filmed interview with Meador, along with Library of Congress audio recordings made in the 1930s with the voices of former slaves.

Release: Summer 2015

Commissioned Projects: Books representing apps

The grant also enabled us to give two commissions for new media artworks designed for mobile tablets, with companion print publications that enhance and inform the digital iterations. 


Layouts for volvelles (dials), Rain/fall

Rain/fall app, early version

Meg Mitchell (University of Wisconsin, Madison) and Denise Bookwalter (Florida State University). Book fabricated at Small Craft Advisory Press, FSU.

Rain/fall proposes a new poetic form determined by weather patterns. In an app that uses GPS-accessed, real-time weather data for the reader’s location, a series of couplets emerges to create a narrative. 

The companion book manages the same function through purely mechanical means, with rotating wheels that call up the texts. Together, the two iterations dramatically illustrate the radical changes in literary practice that publication with new media can now enable. 

Release: Summer 2015


Early book mock-up, Abra

Amaranth Borsuk, Kate Durbin, and Ian Hatcher. Book designed in collaboration with the artists and fabricated at the Center for Book and Paper Arts under the direction of Amy Rabas.

As a media-extended poetic text, originally created by Borsuk and Durbin as a print/performance piece, then taken into a new dimension through an app engineered by Hatcher, Abra is the product of a hive-mind. The result is an electronic palimpsest on an iPad, available either as a stand-alone experience or through a printed book with an iPad physically embedded within. The app enables readers to add and share their own additions to the text, extending authorship to a potentially limitless number of writers.

Release: Summer 2015

This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional support has been provided by the Kahle-Austin Foundation, the Feigenbaum-Nii Foundation, and the School of Media Arts, Columbia College Chicago.