Book Smart

'Superscript' explores the book as both sculptural object and original technology

In typography, superscripts point readers toward interstitial information: think footnotes, mathematical exponents, ordinal indicators.

In form & concept's new group exhibit, Superscript, more than a dozen book artists use the term as a lens through which to consider the boundaries—or lack thereof—of books as both objects of beauty and cultural intermediaries.

Gallery Director Jordan Eddy says the show's genesis was the work of Melody Sumner Carnahan and Michael Sumner, a wife/husband writer/designer team behind Santa Fe imprint Burning Books. 1

"They come up with these ideas that boil over from a book format into other formats," Eddy says, referencing the multiple audio recordings, videos, posters and cards the pair has produced over the years—not to mention the repurposed soup cans, happily on display in this show.

"Their ideas cannot be contained within a single format," he says. "They're such ambitious artists and multidisciplinary artists, and it lands them on the fringes of the more traditional book art community because they are doing stuff that is so weird and different and multifaceted."

The pair's pieces in the group show include framed walled presentations of both new and previous works developed from Sumner Carnahan's short fiction, as well as a vinyl window display that reads, in part, "the ideal story begins innocently like a fairy tale …"

"All we've ever done is made books that turn into audio works, video works or wall works," Sumner Carnahan said when I spoke to her at the show's crowded opening, my digital recorder held up to her face while she stood with her arm around me in front of a piece titled "clean slate test case"—which, she noted, "has all different kinds of language, because the whole thing turns into different parts of reality."

Pro tip: Buy the book versions of these prints and take them home in order to spend unfettered time with them.

Sparked by Burning Books, Eddy says "book installation" was the seed of the show, but from there, he was guided by the question: "Can a book incapsulate other media or connect with other media?"

The answer, he notes, was yes, "absolutely."

I don't want to say I walked around the show in a state of quivering excitement because "quivering excitement" sounds like the kind of writing one might find in a romance novel (not that there's anything with romance novels), but I will confess to moments of wanting to grab certain pieces and … stroke them.

This, fortunately, is copacetic for several pieces (form & concept conscientiously provides hand wipes for visitors to use before doing so). For example, Hannah Bennett's "The Feral Book" turns its book materials into a nearly animate object—somewhere between baby wolf and scarf. Alicia Bailey's "Almost Endless" assembles through steel armatures and magnets hundreds of hand-printed pages hand-stitched into paper spines that evoke an oversized wind chime waiting on a breeze.

Some of the large-scale installations prompt less physical and more cerebral responses. For instance, Edie Tsong's "Roswell" consists of her hand-written copies of every name in the 2001/2002 Roswell phone book (originally created during a residency Tsong had in the town). The pages took two days to install to precision, Eddy notes; they had previously been stacked in storage in a box. "It was such a perfect example of an exploded book," he says, referring to the show's original working title.  "It's a book on the wall and all the names are bleeding together; you're thinking about the fabric of a community fabric, and everyone also is anonymized by it."

Finally, situated almost as a complete show-within-a-show, Erin Mickelson's "Liminal betwixt/between" acknowledges and plays with the tension between book as original technology and our current digital platforms. Put another way, Mickelson collaborated with bots and algorithms in this work (in a totally unpolitical way that did not ruin society). The piece includes a handmade book containing a tablet displaying in real time the poems generated by @poem_exe on Twitter. Mickelson also created suminagashi prints of the poems, which were then digitized by the Twitter bot @pixelsorter (a poignant narrative note from the artist informs viewers that this last bot was struck down during "the great bot massacre of 2018″). Finally, Mickelson recorded the bot's poems and a video projection captures the frequencies of her voice while reading them. "I tend to overthink things," Mickelson said when I asked her, very professionally, if she was a crazed genius.

I could, space permitting, go on at great length about how interesting this show is but, alas, I can only squeeze in this tiny coda: Go see it and read it yourself.


Through July 13. Free. form & concept, 435 S Guadalupe St., 216-1256,

¹ Disclosure: Sumner Carnahan and Sumner are old friends of mine, and I have done occasional work for their press over the years. Also, this is an example of a superscript notation.

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