There’s no discussion that gets lovers of literature going like the one about marking up books: Do you write in the margins? Underline? Inscribe? Paste bookplates? I think one of the things I enjoy most about altered book art is that whiff of the transgressive, and the way the creative act takes it out of the realm of the moral and just deals with what looks good.
Dog-earing is one of those minor sins that still manages to get people fairly passionate. Perhaps because it’s one of the least aesthetically pleasing things you can do to a book, and the alternatives—bookmarks, found objects, sticky notes—are usually much more elegant. And there’s an element of laziness about it too. Annotating takes a certain amount of effort and focus; dog-earing implies that you couldn’t be bothered to find a scrap of paper to hold your place. I only dog-ear when I’m reading for review—I do it to galleys, and sometimes finish copies if I’m on a roll. It’s all about expedience, nothing personal.
So out of all the ways to mark up a text deliberately, I wouldn’t have considered dog-earing as having anything artistic about it. Fortunately, Erica Baum thinks otherwise. Her new collection, Dog Ear, is a photography project involving a kind of found poetry—the pages of mass market paperbacks, folded down to display the text behind, revealing certain lyrical serendipities as the lines run into each other. Baum has worked with card catalogs, player piano rolls and promotional bookmarks, always interested in the idea of order and juxtaposition revealed. As she explains in an interview in Mousse Magazine:
I want the compositions to work both formally and linguistically on several levels simultaneously. It looks simple but it’s actually very hard to find ones where everything comes together. I think in order for concrete poetry to succeed it has to operate in both these ways. I’m also adding a third thing to this mix because these have to be found in a book. In this case the constraint is the page sequence. I pull open the card catalogue drawer, or spread apart a paperback book, or fold down a page corner and these small interventions I employ when I photograph follow in the tracks of actual usage. In all of these projects I’m looking for something that in some sense already exists and has the potential to yield something else.
There’s something of Brion Gysin’s cut-ups to Baum’s technique, minus the randomness—she’s actually working within extremely tight constrictions, which makes the stakes higher and the end product soar when it works. Dog Ear also has a Cubist sensibility, in which you’re literally looking at the text from different angles at the same time in order to discover something entirely new about it. I’m always delighted by work that uses the simplest mechanics to show up the strangest truths, and Baum does that very well. Her work can be viewed in PDF form here, and Dog Ear is available as a book from Ugly Duckling Presse.
And no, you didn’t think I’d pass up the opportunity to put up a photo of a Like Fire dog ear, did you?
(via Book Patrol.)