Project is a puzzle that outlines the unpredictability of life: artist says
When it comes to a flat canvas, oftentimes, there’s only so much you can say.
With an artist book, drawing a viewer in is more vivid, more physical, more of a relationship between creator and appreciator.
This is one of the reasons artist Tara Bryan chose artist books as her speciality.
“The wonderful thing about them is that it’s not like a painting on the wall, where you can just walk by and say, ‘Oh, that’s a landscape, isn’t that pretty? You’ve seen it and you move on,” Bryan, who is also a painter, explained.
“You have to actually pick (the books) up and turn the pages and explore them physically to get their meaning out of them. It gives me, as an artist, a more intimate way to communicate with viewers. What I always try to do is create a situation where anyone who takes the time to look at the book will come away thinking a little bit differently than they did when they started, though that may not be anything profound.”
As a child, Bryan said she always loved books, and her library card, allowed her to take out books from the bookmobile, which came to her neighbourhood every week. Her card was a cherished possession.
As a graduate student in painting at the University of Wisconsin, Bryan was introduced to letterpress printing, typography and bookbinding, and later took classes at New York City’s Center for Book Arts.
After working part-time for a year as a binder’s assistant, Bryan moved to this province in 1992. Since then, she’s been creating art and teaching classes through MUN’s Lifelong Learning program, at the Anna Templeton Centre, and St. Michael’s Printshop.
Bryan’s most recent piece is “Making Bread (not bombs),” an artist book more than two years in the making, and the result of two separate projects.
She had been planning to participate in “Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here,” an art project in which book artists from around the world were asked to create a piece based around 2007’s car bombing on al-Mutanabbi Street in Baghdad. More than 30 people were killed in the bombing, which is the centre of bookselling in Baghdad.
“I couldn’t come up with any way to approach it that felt right to me,” Bryan said. “I’ve never lived in a war zone and I have no experience with that sort of thing, beyond having books like ‘Romeo and Juliet’ banned when I was in junior high school. I kept calling the guy who organized the project and saying, I have no ideas that will work with this, I just can’t participate, and he would say, ‘I’ll extend the deadline for you.’”
In the meantime, Bryan got involved in a web-organized exchange project called “Book-Art-Object 4” (where a group of book-making artists are given a theme and required to produce a book to exchange with others in their group). Bryan was presented with a list of short story titles and asked to pick one as a theme; her first choice was “Making Bread.”
“I started looking for breads of the world and I found a list of all the countries of the world, and started Googling them one-by-one, trying to find the traditional breads of every country,” Bryan said.
“I was researching the history of bread and it took me back to Mesopotamia, which is now Iraq. That sort of gave me a tie into the whole thing.”
With “Making Bread (not bombs),” Bryan has created a double-sided accordion-style or flag book. It’s a format she thought would work, imagining people in different time zones across the world baking bread; making a daily stadium-style wave that slowly drifted around the planet, each day, over and over again.
On the bread side, Bryan has named traditional breads of different countries, with a quote by French author André Gide on the back cover: “Believe those who are seeking the truth; doubt those who find it.”
“I think after having read all of this stuff, my take on all of the religious attack, whether it’s fundamentalist Christians attacking American service people for being gay or Muslims attacking people for selling ice because Mohammad didn’t have ice, they’re doing all of these things because they think they know the Truth, with a capital ‘T,’ she explained. “What it all boils down to, is that I don’t believe anything is that black and white.”
On the bombs side, Byran chose to step outside the al-Mutanabbi Street bombing and looked at statistics of how many people had been killed and injured by car bombs and suicide bombs that same year.
“I just couldn’t feel strongly about that one incident when there were all of these other bombings where a whole lot more were injured,” she explained.
“Yes, it’s horrible that books got damaged and there may have been irreplaceable books that were destroyed in the (al-Mutanabbi) bombing, but still, there’s a lot of other stuff going on.”
Bryan divided up the bombing incidents according to date, listing the number of people killed and injured on each day in her book. There’s also a page of text she wrote, and some quotations: everything from contemporary writing to Pope Urban II’s call to the Crusades.
Because of its style, the book has no end: you start with the bread side, turn it over to the bomb side at the end, and it repeats endlessly.
Bryan insists she doesn’t generally create her books with a specific purpose and some times thinks of herself as an engineer, in that she’s putting together a sort of puzzle, “Making Bread (not bombs)” is about the unpredictability of life and how close nourishment and destruction can be.
“Most of my books, I hope, just make people think, because that’s what I do in the process,” Bryan said.
“Making Bread (not bombs) is currently in exhibition in Boston and New York and will tour the world over the next two years with “Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here,” including a stop at MUN’s QEII Library in 2014. Eventually, it will end up in the National Library of Iraq in Baghdad.