A nest that remembers

There’s lots of discussion these days on the future of the book. Everyone seems aware that digital reading and publishing is changing the way we write and read and publish, that it’s changing what we’ve assumed for a long time, namely that books adhere to paper and pages and bound volumes of various kinds, so lovely to hold and open and read through and close again and set on shelves.

I’m not here today to offer my opinions on these changes (though if you’re interested in the future of books topic, there’s a series of writers, booksellers, publishers talking about it at the online Winnipeg Review), but rather to mull on an art exhibition we attended last evening. “Bound by Nature,” at the Mennonite Heritage Centre Gallery in Winnipeg, May 6 to June 18, reflects on books in a very different way. Officially it’s described as an exhibition “inspired by nature, landscape and books” and it’s all that (and a really fascinating juxtaposition when you are made to stop and think about it) but it was “book” at the heart of the pieces that especially drew my attention.

So, for example, book spine covers used to create a series of “horizon” landscapes by Deborah Danelley reminded me of the world we see but also what one sees in books. They made me think of those large books I’ve known, yes with their cloth/paper spines fraying and loosening, maybe books of art or photos, a treasure of things and also a kind of borrowing from one medium to the other.

There’s a whimsical display called “Wildflowers,” by Deborah Danelley and Carol Leach, featuring what I can only call a “bed” of flowers fashioned from the pages of recycled garden/landscape/nature books. Erwin Huebner has a number of interesting pieces that reflect on the “books” of small places like eggs (think of all the information an egg contains) and the stunning color and shapes of substances seen via the microscope. Other artists had made accordion books and match box books; there was richly textured paper.

"Nest as destiny" by Agatha Doerksen

I knew that my sister-in-law, Agatha Doerksen (Denver, Colorado), had a number of pieces in the exhibition, so of course I was curious to see where the theme had taken her. I was not disappointed; her pieces were a highlight for me. A number of them were intricately altered books opening into nests, and her author’s statement asked some intriguing questions:

If a seed becomes a tree, does the tree remember the seed?
If a tree becomes a book, does the book remember the tree?
If a book becomes a nest, does the nest remember the book? 
Where can I find a nest that remembers the seed?

I left the exhibition with a sense of the seamlessness of story/book and nature, of book as memory, of book as something something primeval, even primitive, vulnerable though resilient. I left feeling, strangely perhaps, optimistic about the future of the book.


"I want to tell a tree my secret" by Agatha Doerksen (seed pods with book pages rolled tightly into its cavities)

Note:  Canvass has a statement about the exhibition, and on the third page, images of some of the other work. Eleven artists participated, and the exhibition was curated by Deborah Danelley.