Janet Kauffman to speak about altered books 2008.03.12

Written by David Green.

Why would someone make a new book out of an old one? Why would someone take it apart, cut it up, add some found objects and present it as something new?

That’s a subject that will be explored next week at Stair Public Library when retired Eastern Michigan University instructor Janet Kauffman presents a program called “Recycled/Reseen Books.”

“With Tyree Guyton coming next month, we’ll have a conversation about using material at hand—the stuff we’ve got but don’t use, the things we trash such as broken china, broken toys, stones, bones, all kinds of scraps—to re-envision our immediate world,” Kauffman said.

Since she’ll be talking at the library, she’s going to focus on books—altering, deforming and reshaping books.

“We'll see how different artists and writers have done it, and talk about why,” Kauffman said. “Why would they do that? What new books come out of the old? What books would you pick to alter or deform? What junk or debris would you add to them?”

Books can be recycled and reseen, she said, and transformed into our own statements or stories.

Stair Public Library assistant director Colleen Leddy hopes Kauffman’s talk at  7 p.m. March 20 will serve as a springboard to the creation of altered books by area residents.

“After we learned Tyree Guyton would be visiting the library as part of the Michigan Notable Books project, we were brainstorming ideas,” she said, “trying to come up with art projects the library could organize and have on display to welcome him and show we ‘get’ what he’s about.”

Since Guyton is coming to the library, someone suggested that books should be used in projects and that led to the discovery of altered books. An internet search took her to the Portland (Maine) Public Library where a massive altered books project was collected and catalogued and made ready for interloan.

“I borrowed three to give people an idea what they are like,” Leddy said. “They’ll be on display during Janet’s talk.”

Leddy wants to see community members take part in the project by making their own altered books or creating some other piece of art that exemplifies Guyton’s spirit of creating art out of found objects.

“It’s art that also has some kind of message, art that makes people think,” she said. “It’s not always pretty, but it’s pretty dang interesting.”

Anybody can participate, she said.

“People don’t necessarily have to be an artist or even artistic. They just need an idea and a way of expressing it using objects that would otherwise get thrown away or recycled.”

She thinks if people attend Kauffman’s conversation March 20, they will leave inspired to create.

After that, they’ll have about a month to complete a project for a display in late April. Guyton’s visit is scheduled May 1.

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