When designing an artist’s book or altering a book, I try to follow the well-known precept Form Follows Function, though it might be more accurately described as Form Follows Content in the case of my work. I try to design each project so that the final structure is a reflection in some way of the contents of the piece. As a result, many of my works look very little like a traditional codex. Gate Ways is a good example of this.
I produced Gate Ways as an experiment. I wanted a structure that could be disassembled and re-assembled to create different forms. I wanted the opening and closing to recall the action of opening and closing a gate.
The joints are constructed like a standard door hinge and can be separated by removing a bamboo pin. The book can be assembled in a wide variety of ways, including an accordion.
There were some technical problems with the piece. (Another ‘learning experience’.) I had used mulberry paper for the hinge loops and bamboo for the pins. The paper loops collapsed too readily after a few uses and there was too much friction between the paper and the bamboo. Although it meant the hinges were quite solid once assembled, it was difficult to slide the pins into place. I set the piece aside and went on with other things.
A year or so later, I started planning one of my first altered dictionary works. I had decided to do something with the Foreign Words and Phrases appendix to the 1971 edition of The New Webster Encyclopedic Dictionary. I had chosen the concept double entendre for the piece, as it is a commonly used foreign phrase and representative of the two languages used in each entry. I wanted a structure that would reflect that concept and the content of the pages I was using, so I returned to the structure I had used for Gate Ways.
I used brass rod for the pins and brass tubing held in place with pigskin strips for the loops. The exterior panels are covered in starch-coated handmade Indian cotton rag paper so the closed work looks like a multi-coloured cube.
The interior panels are covered in pages from Foreign Words and Phrases, and the rest of the section is used in combination with more of the exterior paper to form the signatures of the codex.
All of the panels can be taken apart except the two on which the codex is mounted, making it possible to turn the box completely inside out.
So content determined concept, concept determined form, and form follows content.