S  A  M  P  L  E     A  B  S  T  R  A  C  T


THE VALISE ATLAS:
A COLLECTION OF ARTIST BOOKS

Student’s name, Dr. Timothy Libretti*

B.A. in English

 

In this collection of artist books, I am exploring the social construction of gender, trying to expose the cultural costs of containment, conscription and distortion, all of which often compromise the "feminine" sphere of the private, the domestic, the sexual. By juxtaposing images collected from print culture, including maps, fashion magazines, advertisements from the past century, health dictionaries, biology textbooks and interior decorating guides, I am contrasting the public spheres of science and world exploration (traditionally masculine arenas) with the private spheres of the domestic and the female body. Through this juxtaposition of exterior and interior spaces, I am blurring the cultural binaries of gender definitions, often creating unexpected and grotesque imagery which demystifies myths of beauty and allows me to free myself from some of my own containment within a gendered existence.

By creating variations of the book form, I am further exploring the ideas of containment, for the book is a unique format that can contain ideas and worlds infinitely larger than the materials comprising the book itself. In this sense, the book is an abstraction, a cultural tool which shapes the way we view our world. By manipulating the definition of what makes a book, I am attempting to make people change the way they read their worlds by changing the way in which they must read words and images, thereby disrupting the traditional patterns of literary narratives.

In The Valise Atlas, books are further contained within a suitcase, which can be connected again to patriarchal ideas of masculine-coded exploration and adventure, as well as offering yet another variation of the book binding material itself. The suitcase is vintage, from the 1950s, and this is significant historically and culturally because, in America, this decade was particularly repressive and conformational, especially in its ideas of ideal femininity. The idealization of the Super Housewife was often the goal of the print media from this decade, and its celebration of perfect domesticity becomes one of the primary foundations for my deconstruction of this and other gender-related myths. Thus, my valise atlas, once opened and unpacked, becomes a means to bring a private world of concealment and constraint into the wider world beyond it, revising the current world atlas to include previously unmapped territories.

My methods of constructing the books within The Valise Atlas are varied, but primarily consist of collage, the manipulation of both found and original texts and images. I use many tools and materials commonly associated with women, such as irons, wax paper, needles and thread, beeswax and crayons, health and beauty guides. Through this usage of domestic tools, I ground my artwork within what is deemed "feminine," while at the same time, I expand on and challenge the parameters of that definition. Some of the books I have made can be "read" cover to cover, like a traditional book. Others consist of plastic cubes which contain symbols of intimacy and domesticity, such as lingerie, aprons and handkerchiefs, overlaid with transferred text, a format in which the sides and center of the cubes become the pages of a book. Other books are comprised of a series of loose pages, evoking both a sense of a book in progress and a book that was lost and has been rediscovered in fragments. Packed together, the many forms of these books become part of a larger whole, just as the many individual maps and charts combine to form an atlas.