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The Book of the Night

A page in "Il Libro Della Notte" created by SUNY Fredonia's Timothy Frerichs.

Collaborative fold book at Western New York Book Arts Center

Il Libro della Notte, the Book of the Night, currently on display at the Western New York Book Arts Center, is a fold book consisting of artworks by some 110 artists in various styles and media on the general theme of “night.” Most of the artists are European, but a few Americans participated, including Timothy Frerichs, who teaches art at SUNY Fredonia, and has worked extensively in Europe, on a series of fellowships and grants, including two Fulbright awards.

In addition to the night book, the current exhibit includes a half dozen framed works each by Frerichs and two German artists whose art also appears in the book, Andreas Kramer and Thomas Rohrmann.

Each artist gets three 20-centimeter-by-20-centimeter pages in the night book, which thus comprises some 330 pages, or a string of continuous artwork 60 meters long.

Given that the traditional-format book—convenient-sized pages, bound along one edge—is such a near-perfect technology, a technology about 2,000 years old now, and not about to concede the field, one hopes, even in the face of Kindles and i-Pads, I have often puzzled over why current so-called “art books” so often opt for the fold book format. Fold books are essentially the previous format that 2,000 years ago the book format replaced, namely, the scroll. Scrolls are not as utilitarian as books for written matter, which is what most books contain, what most scrolls contained. But thinking about it, for artwork, scrolls are more utilitarian than books. Thinking about Japanese scroll artworks, in particular Japanese scroll landscape art, that by virtue of the scroll format can present a much more extensive landscape than Western landscape art. Much more extensive space, to the point that space morphs into time. Art as a temporal as well as spatial experience. Art as a journey. (Books in general are journeys—novels, for example—but more temporal than spatial. Art books, like scrolls, are both, in more or less equal measure.)

The spatial/temporal journey in the Book of the Night case occurs primarily in the putative scrolling through the book and sequential observation of the individual works, but since the book is in the category of rare and precious—there are only two copies of the book in existence—you aren’t allowed to flip through it, but it is laid out in a way that allows viewing of about 20 open pages at any given time, that is, on any visit to the exhibit. But the open pages portion is changed from week to week, so that over the course of the exhibit period, all the pages will have been displayed. What becomes a secondary spatial/temporal aspect of the exhibit. You have to go back several times.

The ope pages portion when I viewed the exhibit started and ended with views of what looked like Venice, in the one case with suggestions of acqua alta. Other works ranged from abstract to figurative, with from literal to metaphorical reference to the night idea. Sleeping figures under a starry night sky. Vesuvius erupting. An etching that seemed to represent a bad day on the stock market. Another that seemed to refer to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

I didn’t get to see Frerichs’ works in the book, but his framed examples are in his characteristic collage mode and feature his characteristic botanical and map motifs, but not topographical or other land-based maps, in this case, but maps of the heavens—not maps looking down but looking up—including Galileo-reminiscent schematics of the heavens and actual Galileo drawings. In one case, a reproduction of two pages of a book in Latin featuring one of Galileo’s watercolor drawings of the moon. The moon partially in darkness. Or maybe the dark side of the moon, speculatively on Galileo’s part. The botanical motifs are mostly ferns. Lovely works, all in all, but what or all of what Frerichs intends to convey by them is an intriguing question. One of the works prominently features what looks to be a fiddlehead fern, somewhat obscured, so you can’t tell for certain. But the basic shape of a large, inky black question mark.

Kramer’s works are woodcuts and abstract. Rohrmann’s are etchings and sketch-like, featuring what could be Classical myth figures, but like artist’s notebook studies, unfinished.

The Libro della Notte exhibit continues through December 1.

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