Under the Wings of Artemis: Th e Crossroads of Scholarship and Art,
Th emes from the Academic Works of the University of Washington Classics Faculty Refl ected In
Modern Book Arts is the title of both this book and an exhibition taking place in special Collections of
the allen library, University of Washington from october 14, 2013 through february 21, 2014.
one set of beliefs and another. These intersections are the loci of uncertainty, places where something entirely new can be born from the fusion of diverse cultural components. With this in mind I discovered multiple intersections in content and process within the various academic books and among the scholarly works and the artists’ books.
In ancient Greece, the wild places between the boundary of one city and the beginning of another were considered dangerous zones where physical and spiritual menace lurked. Artemis, the goddess of childbirth, the hunt, and wild animals, was also the overseer of borders and boundaries, of roads and crossroads, of places between the known and unknown. To the ancient Greeks these areas represented transitions – between city and country, between childhood and adulthood, between readiness and unreadiness. These borders and boundaries were turning points, places of emotional transformation and risk-taking. And so, Artemis became the presiding goddess of this exhibition.
This book attempts to bridge the larger themes set forth in the academic books and the singular interpretations of these themes in the artists’ books. Sometimes the classical connections are not specific but rather inferred by the visual treatment of a subject in an artist’s book. Other times, the connections are explicit in the way themes are shared and developed between a scholar’s and an artist’s presentation.
As the concept for the exhibition and the catalog developed I was struck by the way the theme of one section seemed to coalesce and overlap with the next. Beginning with Professor
Gowing’s book, I saw that Roman writers in the Empire frequently modified history and memory to serve the demands of their own times. The artists in this section explore the many ways that personal and collective histories and memories are often mutable. This idea of reshaping and reframing narratives led me to Professor Connors, whose book explains how Petronius appropriated a variety of sources, such as epic poetry and ancient prose, to create the Satyricon, and to the accompanying artists whose books are refashioned or altered in various ways. The Satyricon’s convoluted narrative related to the labyrinthine coded conversation between Odysseus and Penelope examined by Professor Levaniouk, whose corresponding artists use codes in their work.
Similarly, Professor Hollmann considers how signs, including such symbols as language or objects, are imbued with meaning by the sender and are then decoded or interpreted by the recipient. The artists in his section use found objects to communicate their ideas. The blending of books and objects brought me to Professor Stroup, whose book about the texts of Cicero and Catullus that were intended as dedications or gifts to their patrons prompted me to include artists whose books of aesthetic beauty could be given as gifts.
Professor Blondell writes about another kind of beauty – that of Helen of Troy – and the artists associated with her all address that often thorny topic.
Helen’s beauty had consequences – she was blamed for instigating the Trojan War, which caused a great deal of destruction and cost both sides dearly.
The exhibition unites the two parts of the University I love best: the Classics Department and the artists’ books in the Book Arts Collection of Special Collections in the Suzzallo/Allen Library. As an artist I have focused for the last seven years on creating work in the genre of artists’ books, and then, four years ago, I became a post-baccalaureate student in the Classics Department. As my studies of Greek and Roman literature deepened, and as my proficiency in reading Latin advanced, the stories and themes I was studying began to appear in my artwork.
Of course, ancient texts have inspired artists working in all media for thousands of years. I felt a deep connection with these past artists, whatever their medium, and became curious in what ways, if any, themes from classical texts might have influenced contemporary book artists. This curiosity was the genesis of this show.
As the conversation about the exhibition and book proceeded, a crucial decision was made. Sandra Kroupa, Book Arts and Rare Book Curator in Special Collections, Alain Gowing, Chair of the Classics Department, and I decided that the incorporation of the Classics faculty’s academic books would greatly enrich the show and present interesting parallels to the artists’ books.
It immediately became clear that the inclusion of the faculty books presented a challenge. Artists’ books, while often integrating texts, are primarily visual in nature. The prime significance of an academic book, on the other hand, obviously can only be thoroughly grasped by the reading, not by the looking.
What seemed a problem at first ultimately provided the core structure of the exhibition. The thematic content of the academic books would serve as a sound basis for an extrapolation to artists’ books – books that in some fashion, even obliquely, address the same topic by visual means.
With this key decision in place, the real work of building the exhibition began. It was an iterative process, a back and forth between reading academic books and articles and looking at hundreds of artists’ books, interviewing faculty members about both the content of their work and the particulars of their writing processes, looking at yet more artists’ books, reading artists’ statements, imagining, writing and rewriting. In this lengthy process, I extracted a conceptual or universal theme from each academic book.
I have always been fascinated by intersections, borders, boundaries, and the spaces between one physical place and another, and by the emotional and intellectual space between