John Cage Trust director Laura Kuhn generously gave my Purchase College Experimental Book Studio an afternoon of her time, introducing the students to Cage and taking us through a chance operations workshop. She demonstrated the basics of Cage’s chance methods using his very own I-Ching, given to him by Christian Wolff in 1951. One of his Ryōanji drawings was there on the table and then she guided us through our own drawings, using 15 stones (we were told to gather them before coming), dice, pencils and sheets of Cage’s own stash of Japanese paper, ordered just a few days before his death in 1992.
Some chance operations basics: instead of looking for answers, ask questions / any answer is as good as any other answer / when choice is a burden, look to chance. All of these ideas are beautifully enacted in the deceptively simple making of a Ryōanji drawing. The result is a drawing of traced stones that the artist receives by enacting chance operations for all of the decision-making (how many stones, which stones, which pencil, where to place the stone, etc.).
Then Laura gave us a tour of an extraordinary thing, The First Meeting of the Satie Society, one of Cage’s last works; in fact, it wasn’t completed until after his death. It’s a gorgeous cracked and stamped steel and glass valise containing eight large books with artwork by Robert Ryman, Sol Lewitt, Cage, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Merce Cunningham and Marshall McLuhan, and texts by Cage.
Cage called the books “presents” for Erik Satie and boxes were made for each of the artists, nine total. They’re rarely exhibited or seen. The thingness of the object, its physicality as an object, is unfolding and giving. It’s an ethereal work that resists capture and consumption. It’s almost too beautiful.
Many thanks to Laura Kuhn and Emy Martin for sharing their time with us.
I’m really excited to be teaching an experimental book studio this fall at Purchase College.
Experimental Book traces the development of the artist’s book through the twentieth-century and beyond. This interdisciplinary Art + Design studio course asks highly motivated students to consider the future of the book and expand the boundaries of the traditional codex through provocative studio exercises and projects.
The class will benefit from critical readings, site visits to important book collections, notable guest critics and a collaborative, hands-on studio atmosphere.
Students will help shape the book’s radical trajectory into the twenty-first century by producing their own book works. Of particular interest will be the physicality of the book as it evolves in the digital space, including print-on-demand, publish-on-demand, book scanning, book videos and books-in-browsers.
Working with noted artist and creative director Paul Soulellis, the studio will engage in thematic exercises to explore narrative structure, form, chance, word and image, digital vs. print technologies, photography, typography and production, as well as audience and performance.
Each student will develop a final book project and participate in a collaboratively-designed studio exhibition.
Paul Soulellis (Soulellis.com) is a New York-based artist and creative director, maintaining his studio in Long Island City. His book works explore place, image and identity.