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“What is a Book” in Contemporary Latin America?

Professor Juan Bruce-Novoa of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese recently inaugurated a graduate seminar on the history and nature of Latin American artists’ books. Students were fascinated by the surprising range of materials and formats which artists consider to be books, and the question “What is a book?” was a recurring topic of discussion.

The course was inspired by the acquisition of several hundred Latin American artists’ books acquired in recent years by Special Collections and Archives to satisfy the needs of faculty and graduate students in Spanish and Portuguese. Mexico is the country best represented; others include Cuba, Colombia, and Argentina. Bruce-Novoa is a renowned expert on Mexican art, including its intersections with literature. He has long been interested in the phenomenon of the artists’ book and is deeply knowledgeable about the relevant history and theory, including the international scene beyond Mexico. He was assisted in the course by Jackie Dooley, Head of Special Collections and Archives, who noted “I find it exceptionally rewarding as a librarian to see a recently-acquired collection prove so relevant for study and research. Working with faculty in Spanish and Portuguese to select materials is an ongoing pleasure.”

Numerous attempts to define the concept of “artists’ books” have been attempted by both scholars and book creators over the years, largely without success. It can be said that, in general, such “books” are conceived and produced in toto by the artist, who may compose the text, design the illustrations, devise the sometimes highly-innovative format, and execute the physical production. In reality, however, one or more of these roles may be carried out by others depending on the individual circumstances.

Some of the more unusual examples presented from the Libraries’ collections included works by Mexican artist Yani Pecanins, whose “books” include ones in which poetic or narrative text is recorded on a teacup, a perfume bottle, and a woman’s slip. In other cases, she incorporates a variety of “found materials” (thread, a ruler, buttons, photographs, and much else) into an accordion-folded single sheet of handmade paper, or in a non-textual work housed in a box. Pecanins’ work will form the centerpiece of a future exhibit.

Two students were sufficiently inspired to create their own artists’ books: one that parodied the “What is a book?” concept, the other designed and printed by one student but added to by everyone in the class.

The collection is available for research and study in Special Collections and Archives. For more information please contact Jackie Dooley, Head of Special Collections and Archives (jmdooley@uci.edu or x44935).


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Inside this issue

Strategic Planning in the Libraries

When the Library Is the Assignment

Spring Exhibit: Surviving War, Surviving Peace

"What is a Book" in Contemporary Latin America?

Living History: Interviews with UCI Founders

More Successful Recruitments

Southeast Asian Archive Transition

One Way to Excite Undergraduates



UCI Libraries Update

Jackie Dooley, Carol Hughes, Steve Macleod, Spencer C. Olin, Kevin Ruminson

Editor: Jackie Dooley

Design & Production:
Sage Kim