It seems like ages ago, but I’m still thinking about my fine art bindings orgy on September 10th. In my last post, I didn’t comment on the La Couleur du vent exhibit, sponsored by ARA Canada and École Estienne, at NBSS. It would have made the post way too long.
Seeing La Couleur du vent (that’s the title of the set book) in person made me think about the three ways we can experience a binding exhibit: an online exhibit; a print catalog; and a live viewing. This was the first time I was able to experience a single exhibit in all three ways. I was struck by the advantages and disadvantages of each method. I also thought of ways each experience could be enhanced.
- An online exhibit can be seen by a much wider audience. Not many people can visit an exhibit. Sometimes there is no print catalog. An online exhibit can be available long after the physical exhibit has closed. An online exhibit is also a unique opportunity to show extra images of the bindings, provide more detailed descriptions of each one, and give biographical information about each binder. There isn’t room in most print catalogues for all of these features. Unfortunately, ARA Canada (which has an enviably slick website) and École Estienne did not do any of these things. An online exhibit is also an opportunity to show off the set book. As is often the case, many of the bindings in La Couleur du vent echoed illustrations in the book, but that isn’t apparent unless the book itself is shown. The online exhibit did not show any part of the set book. The text of the book is in French. While the exhibit organizers took pains to translate all the prefaces and explanantions of the exhibit into English, the text is not available in French or English. The imagery used in the text informs the art. It’s another lost opportunity.
- A print catalog is an opportunity to show sharper images of the bindings than can be seen online. In this case, the opposite happened. In the print catalog, the color register is way off (even more so than online) and the photos are grainy, obscuring texture and details of many of the bindings. It’s not fair to the binders who spent long hours fine-tuning their designs and meticulously executing delicate and subtle techniques. At least in the catalog some of the images from the set book are reproduced. As a result, many bindings make more sense.
- In person, the entire book in sheets was available for viewing, as was the print catalog. The display cards were even briefer than the catalog, but if you bought a catalog ($25) or looked at the display copy, you could get some information about techniques and materials used in each binding. Having those resources available was extremely helpful. Unfortunately, those items also served to underscore inadequacies in the online exhibit, which I still really admire. The bindings had beautiful details. Features that appeared completely flat in photos were, in fact, textured, layered, and finely exectuted. It would have been fantastic to have had all of the pages of a copy of the set book framed and hung on the walls around the exhibit. That way, one wouldn’t have to keep running back and forth between the chained copy of the book and the bindings. Still, the only thing better than seeing a binding exhibit in person is being able to handle each book.
I don’t really mean to criticize ARA Canada and École Estienne for any of the above. They did an admirable job of making all three experiences available to the public. Considering that the exhibit started as Natassja Imiolek’s thesis project, the result is superb. It’s an understatement to say that it isn’t easy to select a text, design and illustrate the book, and cause an international traveling exhibit, an online exhibit, and a print catalog to happen. Natassja must be a Force of Nature. I’d love to meet her.
Lang Ingalls’ lovely binding stands out particularly as a victim of the color problem and the absence of images from the set book. The description online and in the catalog says the binding is seafoam-blue goatskin with python and lizard inlays. Online, and even more so in the catalog, her binding looks much darker and greener and the larger inlay looks almost gold. In person, the binding isn’t remotely the same color. The “seafoam-blue” color corresponds exactly with Harmatan’s blue #14 (I have both the exhibit catalog and Harmatan’s color card in front of me — blue #14 is a very pale blue). The larger inlay isn’t gold at all. It’s closer to a silver grey, providing a much more subtle color contrast to the goatskin. Please also note that the third image below seems to have played a part in influencing Lang’s overall design. Without seeing the illustrations in the book, how would anyone know what she was doing?
Here are the illustrations that appeared in the print catalog:
It wasn’t a competition, but MY two favorite bindings are those by Louise Mauger and Malina Belcheva. They really need to be seen in person, but here are pictures: