“Play…Just Play”

Artist books exist in the space between inspiration and experimentation. Every book model, becomes a structural discovery leading to new ideas. As a book artist, being open to inspiration from multiple artistic influences allows for creative connections between materials and new binding techniques.

A few months ago, I attended a Daniel Kelm wire-edge binding workshop. During the workshop, he encouraged workshop participants to “play…just play” with his structure. What motivates me about Daniel’s wire-edge binding technique is the creative possibilities and applications.

During the same time, I stumbled upon the large-scale, draped “fabric” constructed from recycled aluminum labels of a Ghanaian sculptor, El Anatsui. Influenced by El Anatsui’s startling work and Daniel’s playful wire-edge binding structure, an artist book idea evolved. Recruiting friends as material sources, enough donations of sparkling water aluminum cans appeared at my studio to begin my experimental book model. The print surface of the cans lend a fun, textural quality to the book structure and a great way to recycle a consumed good.

Beginning with a simple fold structure from a single sheet of paper as a pattern, I plan hinge locations. In this sample, the fold structure is a square spiral composed of corner and straight “pages”. From the folded single-sheet pattern, I create individual paper templates with different hinge tab layouts. Using a numbering system on the paper template that matches the numbers on the cut aluminum pages keeps the assembly of the pages organized. I chose aluminum cans with different brands for color variation. Brass rods become the hinge cores that join the pages.

Aluminum cans are thin enough to cut with a pair of heavy-duty shears, but I recommend wearing gloves to protect from metal cuts. The first cut on the can is vertical. Removing the top and bottom lids creates a long metal sheet. To remove the curl of the aluminum can, I gently flatten by reverse-curling them over a workbench’s wooden edge and then apply weights for a few days.

Using the paper templates as guides, I cut the aluminum “pages” slightly oversize. The extra metal on the edges accommodate the tabs for hinges and the turn-ins for safety when handling the book. I cut the tabs for the hinges. Then miter the page corners to prevent material buildup as I fold the turn-ins over. I lay out the aluminum “pages” in the spiral shape. This gives me a good idea of how the hinges will fit together and how the color patterns of the surface will present. I make any adjustments to the hinge tabs or turn-ins at this stage.

One-sixteenth (1/16″) diameter brass rods are the hinge cores. When cutting the brass rods, I add about 2 to 4 mm length on either end of the page edge length. Using an anvil and ball ping hammer, I flatten both ends of the brass rod. Using pliers, I fold over the flat ends to form a small bead. The bead prevents the rods from slipping out of the page tabs.

The short ends of the pages interlock with one and two tab pairings. The long ends join by dovetailing two and three tabs together. Working from the first page to the end page along the spiral pattern, the page tabs fold over the brass rods forming the hinges. To test hinge flexibility and page fit, I fold the assembled book. In this book model, the pages have a lot of “spring” when folded, but the hinges hold. It almost feels like a toy.

Going forward, I think an environmental series using other shapes and fold patterns would be interesting. I like that the feel of this book lends a sense of Japanese “wabi-sabi” – an aesthetic celebrating the imperfect, impermanent and incomplete.

Sidebar: Daniel Kelm – http://www.danielkelm.com
As a chemist and book artist, Daniel Kelm embodies a unique blend of science and art. His innovative wire-edge binding is a book structure invention that becomes a blend of sculpture and interactive book.

Sidebar: El Anatsui – http://el-anatsui.com
El Anatsui, a Ghanaian sculptor, is known for his hanging tapestries constructed from scraps of recycled aluminum pieces joined by copper wires that resemble African kente cloth. The monumental-scale tapestries subtly connect human consumption with our environment.

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