Books unbound | May 16, 2008 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - May 16, 2008

Books unbound

Mountain View exhibit takes books to the next level

by Alexa Tondreau

I felt a certain sense of apprehension visiting the current art exhibit at Mountain View's Community School of Music and Arts. It's titled "Conceptually Bound," which made me worry it's more conceptual (i.e., inspired by abstract ideas) than aesthetic (i.e., something I can actually recognize as art.)

This was not the case. Not only are the ideas behind "Conceptually Bound" totally digestible, most of the pieces on display are things you can actually pick up and hold in your hands.

Showing through May 25 at the school's Mohr Gallery, the exhibit — its full title is "Conceptually Bound 3, An Exhibition of Artists' Books" — features books created by about two dozen artists. But these aren't just ordinary books: They push the interpretation of what a book is, and what a book tells, far beyond convention and into interesting, unusual realms.

No two books on display are even remotely alike. And while many indeed look like typical books, with binding and cover and pages, just as many are either indirectly inspired by the notion of what a book is, or incorporate this notion in playful and inverted ways.

With contributions from artists from North America, Europe and Asia, the books express a variety of perspectives and cultures, some very personal and intimate and others more concerned with larger social issues, such as the environment or the Iraq war.

Judith Serebrin's "Soul Book; My Family" is actually a sculpture that represents the faces of each member of her family. And below each person is a miniature book tucked into the sculpture, as if it contains the personal narrative of each of their lives.

Nearby, another piece titled "Survival Biscuit," by The UPPERCASE Collective II, is an entire table overflowing with cards and small drawings, each bearing different messages and images related to the natural world and environmental crisis. The work was done by a diverse group of artists overseen by Melissa Kaup-Augustine, who teaches at the Art Institute of California-San Francisco.

Part of the enjoyment of this exhibit is that it's OK to handle many of these pieces, as long as visitors wear the cotton gloves provided. Flipping through the pages and feeling the weight of the book in your hands is a tangible pleasure rarely afforded in the glassed-off environment of most art museums. In the current exhibit, this privilege adds appeal to the pieces that tell a story in their pages and can be understood only by taking the time to flip through and invest in the narrative.

One notable piece is Susan O'Malley's "Recent Projects, Products and Services, Volume I, Fall 2004-Spring 2005," which documents through text and images a series of experiments involving, of all things, "bubble gum therapy." Another is Peng-Peng Wang's "Practical Chinese Conversations for Beginners," which documents the rise and fall of new love through a series of cell phone conversations that the viewer must painstakingly translate from Chinese into English to understand.

And Sun Young Kang's "In Honor of My Grandmother's Simple Life" is a beautiful narrative that, after the fun of bubble gum therapy and breaking up with someone in Chinese, reminds one of the powers of traditional narrative to tell an honest story from the heart.

What: "Conceptually Bound 3, An Exhibition of Artists' Books," with work by about two dozen artists

Where: Community School of Music and Arts' Mohr Gallery, 230 San Antonio Circle, Mountain View

When: Through May 25. Gallery hours are weekdays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Cost: Free

Info: Visit http://www.arts4all.org or call 650-917-6800, ext. 306.

Alexa Tondreau writes for the Mountain View Voice, one of the Weekly's sister papers.

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