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Judge these books by the cover: 'Overbooked' proves book-binding isn't over

herberger book bindings exhibit

A preview of "Overbooked", a new exhibit at Harry Wood Gallery in Tempe on Monday, Oct. 5, 2015.

Sure, everyone is familiar with the classic examples of bookbinding: those huge, colorfully illustrated manuscripts from the medieval ages. But how many people would expect that this art medium is still alive and thriving?

A Buncha Book Artists, shortened to ABBA, is a club at ASU that is dedicated to this form of art. Now exhibiting for their fifteenth year, the exhibit, "Overbooked," brings in a wide variety of book-related art from students (including a few freshmen), alumni and community members alike.

This year, the exhibit features 20 works from the Student's City Cultural Center in Belgrade, Serbia. The works are exhibited through an agreement with Belgrade curator Maida Gruden, who first visited ASU a year ago as a visiting artist at the ASU Art Museum. 

In an exchange, ABBA is sending 20 works to Belgrade to be exhibited. These works will not be returned, but will be donated to each institution as contribution to the archives and used with the intention of teaching.

Daniel Mayer, ASU faculty advisor to the club, spoke about the importance of this exhibit for the young artists.

"A lot of times when we have exhibits, this is the first show they will be exhibiting to the public, so its a nice avenue for them," he said.  

Mayer also brought up how the medium of the book allows for advantages in the way they are displayed and exhibited.

"It's a portable medium," he said. "The book is interesting as a portable art form. It's kind of a pop-up show."

Kate Horvat, graduate studio art student, with an emphasis in print-making, has been the president of ABBA for two years. She talked about the varying experience of designing and constructing a book within ABBA.

"It's always been a collaborative atmosphere, also an atmosphere of sharing and exploration" she said. "Or it can be completely independent too. It can be whatever you want the experience to be."

There is also an incredible opportunity brought to any student who is interested in working with ABBA. Horvat mentioned scholarships for students. For anyone who might be considering joining ABBA, Horvat offered a few words of advice.

"Come hang out at one of our events, come to one of our meetings," she said. "We love books, you don't have to have any book making experience at all."

Lee Krist, a graduate student who recently joined the club since coming to ASU, talked about how he was able to have his work noticed.

"The club brought in booksellers that came and displayed their wares," he said. "I was able to get signed on and right now they're trying to sell my book and represent my book."

Krist's "How to Transition on Sixty-Three Cents a Day" experimented even further with the form, constructing a non-linear narrative with a collection of postcards housed in a film canister.

"I remember finding a book I made when I was really little," Krist said. "It wasn’t even finished. The pages were stapled together. When you’re young, book technology, and putting your hands on the book — you’re more conscious of it. There's a certain point where books are so ingrained and taken for granted in your experience that you don't think outside of the norms in terms of what a book can entail."

All the exhibits featured a variety of book art. When I visited the gallery, I was surprised to find uses of the book that I hadn't expected. Some artists designed the book as a container of sorts, where the pages folded out to reveal the complete visual work.  

Other artists focused on bookbinding itself. There were interesting examples of handmade books including Horvat's "Egg in a Hurry" which implemented recycled egg cartons in the paper used.

The book is something we all are accustomed to in society. Few of us imagine the possibilities associated with the building of a book. Outside of the mass-market paperback many of us are used to seeing everyday, "Overbooked" captures the wonder of the book.

ABBA is a club that doesn't accept the preconceived notions of what a book is. They are exploring and redefining this medium that has existed for hundreds of years.

As Mayer said, "Everyone’s attracted to the book as a work of art. And I think that will always be there."

"Overbooked" has its opening reception on Tuesday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. and the gallery will be open Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.  For more information, click here.

Related links:

Award-winning poet Mark Doty talks writing on iPhones, why poetry is still important

Phoenix Poetry Series keeps downtown Phoenix beat scene ablaze at {9} The Gallery

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