Grotesque Dollhouse: A Close Reading of Julie Doucet’s My New York Diary

The following post is based on a course assignment from a few years ago that offered me the opportunity to closely read and trace a few pages from Julie Doucet’s My New York Diary, one of my favorite autobiographical comics. My New York Diary is also an early contemporary feminist classic of graphic autobiography. I read the second printing of the softcover published by Drawn and Quarterly in 2011.  The work chronicles Doucet’s six months living in New York, beginning as an idealistic 17-year-old artist after graduating from an all-girls’ school in Canada. Heartbreaking, hilarious, and often relatable complications ensue, including boyfriend woes, addiction battles, physical and mental health struggles, and grave disillusionment with the art world.

I miss studying comics.

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After rereading sections of Julie Doucet’s My New York Diary I became aware that Doucet’s graphic narrative reminded me of the voyeuristic act of peering into a dollhouse. Typically, each page in My New York Diary is made of three rows of panels that parallel the levels of a dollhouse, the characters are doll-like with disproportionate and “cute” physical features, and the layout of the page exposes an open wall for the audience to gaze inside the scene. However, unlike a child’s dollhouse Doucet’s dollhouse engages with the grotesque, including: garbage—although she somehow makes garbage look cute, dirty and cracked walls, insects that corrupt each room, leaking body fluids, and objects that move eerily between panels. Doucet’s characters, which look like beat-up dolls with black eyes and bruises, also contribute to the uncanny dollhouse aesthetic.  I felt unnerved reading many of Doucet’s brutally honest self-critical scenes. Maybe because they defamiliarize my childhood memories of playing with dollhouses while inventing more naïve, although perhaps not more strange, narratives.

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Kidkraft’s 18″ Dollhouse

Page five of Julie Doucet’s story “My New York Diary” introduces several themes that reveal Doucet’s immaturity as a younger artist, exposing her idealistic fantasy of love and the creative life of an artist in New York. The cartoon Doucet on this page is naïve and optimistic. She is a marionette-like figure not yet able to critique her boyfriend or her decisions; she embraces her boyfriend in the chaos of the apartment and exclaims, “Oh Chéri, we will be so happy.” The author might write this with heavy cynicism, but the character in the panel seems genuinely happy.  I chose to examine this page in contrast to page fifty-two because the character Julie changes drastically between these two pages, as does the story’s tone. Doucet’s character gains autonomy and the author finally speaks through her character instead of manipulating her like a puppeteer. On page five the cartoon Doucet is alienated from the narrator Doucet while on page fifty-two the narrator and the cartoon character merge and the character is self-aware (and aware of the audience).

In most panels on page five Doucet’s character smiles gleefully at her boyfriend’s messy apartment, and she stares entranced at her boyfriend. Both characters act ecstatic, excited about the space they believe will be conducive to creativity and romance. However, because the space is visually unstable, I read both characters’ optimism as unreliable. The space foreshadows conflict. Doucet’s uncanny dolls, such as the mouse with the superman cape, shift unsettlingly between panels and the walls and floors shift between panels as well.

Doucet draws her younger self and her boyfriend as oversized dolls with large heads and unblinking large manic eyes. They are also children playing dress up, acting out their roles among the toys and chaotic props of the world of the apartment. Doucet’s New York is a city of discarded objects where even garbage becomes “cute”, thrown like abandoned play toys into heaps along the sidewalks; the jagged edges of tin cans become more curved. Many of Doucet’s characters are overgrown children carelessly discarding their playthings and garbage, but they are also drawn to look like grotesque dolls and they are also often discarded. On page four of the same story the backwards-L-shaped bottom panel shows a cute girl wearing a backpack and polka dot dress. Her eyes appear to be hollow or gouged out and she looks lost and distressed and walks with her arms at her sides like an automaton. She looks like a discarded doll.

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In the top left corner of page five Doucet’s boyfriend twists his head around completely in an unnatural toy-like movement while walking up the stairway. Reading this gave me the impression that his character is fake or disingenuous. Doucet draws herself with spaghetti-like hair that fits into the chaotic, garbage-ridden aesthetic of the apartment and her New York. Doucet blends in and becomes lost in the scenery. The cans in the hallway, the ominous shadows, and dirt on the walls in the first panel foreshadow the messiness of the apartment and the instability of the relationship, exposing the younger Doucet’s idealistic fantasy of New York. Doucet and her boyfriend move erratically, almost jerkily, from panel to panel, like stop-motion animation figures. They hug in the second last panel on page five and suddenly in the last panel her boyfriend dramatically throws himself into a swing-dance-like move, his arm extended toward the refrigerator.

The subtly shifting toys and walls and the disorienting tilt of the floor create an atmosphere filled with anxiety and instability. The shifting unreliable objects offer a critique of consumerist culture as well—since the objects and possessions become threatening and unreliable.

I associate Doucet’s graphic narrative to the voyeuristic glimpse into an uncanny dollhouse, but I also think about how the process of paneling and drawing comics itself parallels the childhood act of playing with dolls by placing them in various positions and making them speak. Although this might play into the stereotype of the cartoonist as the social outcast alienated with their collectables and imagination, artists like Doucet can distort and manipulate the dollhouse and dolls and force them to work against problematic social norms. For example, Doucet defamiliarizes the social conventions and the “nuclear family” ideology attached to the original mass-produced plastic dollhouses.

The panoramic center panel on page five shows Doucet’s character smiling, standing next to the smiling mouse doll in a cape. The character Julie is encompassed in her boyfriend’s belongings and becomes another doll he has collected. This panel is the establishing shot for the world of the apartment where the character Julie will isolate herself from her new city. Doucet’s character is empowered by her creativity, but otherwise she is afraid to leave the apartment. The reader views the panel from the powerful perspective of the puppeteer while Doucet’s character is the puppet doomed to repeat Doucet’s behavior and experiences. However, on page fifty-two the character Julie meets the reader’s gaze, altering the power dynamics and uncanny feel of the earlier page.

Page fifty-two establishes Julie the character is more autonomous and self-reflective than in earlier stories. Doucet draws the title of page fifty-two, “My New York Diary”, studded with jewel-like decorations, alluding to the glitzy façade of theatre productions or glamorous fantasies of fame and fortune. Here Doucet might be making fun of her earlier fantasy of New York’s romance. The first page I looked at for this post begins in Spring, season of hope and rejuvenation, while the second page I chose takes place in the desolation of winter, wrought with isolation, hibernation, and somber self-reflection, befitting Julie’s disillusionment.

On page fifty-two Julie speaks in split speech balloons that suggest a conflicted internal dialogue. The split speech balloons also reveal her ability to be self-critical and investigate her potentially conflicted feelings. She is now aware of an audience and has become disillusioned with her earlier fantasy of New York (page five). Page fifty-two lacks the imposition of narrative voiceover and finally Doucet the author merges with Julie and is able to speak through her. Although I could read the same page as Julie speaking with another character in the room, she is still more powerful and self-reflective than on page five where she hardly speaks. On page fifty-two the reader is less powerful because Julie is able to meet their gaze, even if she does not necessarily break the third wall. The character is no longer submerged in the naive fantasy of her new life in New York. The reader initially views Julie on page fifty-two from the perspective of a camera angled down from above, like from the vantage of a puppeteer, however the page ends with the reader meeting Julie’s gaze and her character is empowered.

The atmosphere on page fifty-two is less cluttered than page five and hints at Julie’s contentedness and clarity, but the walls and floors are still dirty and cracked and the shifting floors and walls are more noticeable without her boyfriend’s clutter, so the environment is still unstable. Julie’s shifting posture also contributes to the page’s visual tension. Initially her cartoon self sits in the proper posture of the Victorian fantasy of the sophisticated young woman— upright, elegant, with her hands crossed over her lap. However, as she talks about her ex-boyfriend’s latest immature escapades she becomes angry and slouches, her legs split apart in a grotesque “masculine” position.  Although she is no longer lost in the chaos of her boyfriend’s apartment she is still surrounded by objects and furniture that do not belong to her.  Only her cat, stripped of its facial features, becomes a reliable object. she is also more free to travel and move on because she carries few possessions.

On both pages the small gutters create more crowded-looking panels. One moment in the story jerks ungracefully into the next as each busy panel fragments the narrative and forces the reader to linger on the page. The cluttered panels and sliding landscapes offer an anxious and chaotic environment and a challenging reading experience. Each page contains almost too much to look at so that the pages disorient the reader like the lights and visual cues in a casino. In this way Doucet uses visual tension to recreate her physical and emotional experience of New York.

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My body responded to Doucet’s visual narration. Sometimes as I read I felt tense and nervous, but other times I genuinely laughed out loud. Doucet’s characters pop out of the black backgrounds with the erratic jumpiness of marionettes or the dolls that would come alive in a child’s nightmare of a dollhouse. Doucet’s characters are more object-like than any other graphic narrative I have read so far and I found it hard to be selective while tracing these two pages because it seems like the objects are just as important in Doucet’s visual narration as the people. After a few close readings of this work and after tracing the two pages discussed in this post (as part of the assignment), I believe that part of the power of Doucet’s artwork is her ability to disturb and provoke the reader through stories offering a voyeuristic glimpse into her uncanny dollhouse and the memories it explores. Doucet retells her stories through visual and visceral narration that recreates both physical and emotional experiences, allowing and forcing the reader to engage more intimately with the narrative.

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Adventures in Printing

Back and Forth by Marta Chudolinksa

Cover illustration from the beautiful graphic novel, Back and Forth, told in linocut illustrations, made by Toronto artist Marta Chudolinska

Recently, I decided to take a break from hand drawing and learn how to create block prints, mostly using the linocut printing technique, which is a type of relief printing.

Having taken a rare books course last year in the beautiful Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto, I was somewhat familiar with the process of relief printing, but I wanted firsthand experience, and I was curious to see how the drawing process translates into print images. Well, I was quick to learn that printmaking is an incredibly labor-intensive and frustrating learning process of trial and error— but it is also incredibly satisfying and rewarding. While carving linocuts, I was forced to map out my drawings beforehand using pen on the block, simplifying my images (which is something I almost never do), or else the detail can obscure the image of the final print; this is true especially if you are a beginner and opt to use cheaper tools and blocks with a more malleable but less durable surface.

Lino blocks are less easy to carve and cut than thicker softer rubbers, however, these lino blocks will last longer and survive multiple printing sessions over time. Sadly, these durable lino blocks are more likely to lead to actual “linocuts” 😦 Behold this heavily bandaged blogger:

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For those of you reading this post who are beginner print-makers or do not know much about printing,  here is a brief overview of 3 different illustration printing processes, traditionally used in making artist books, or what are now considered rare books. I will mostly focus on relief printing.

**Much of this blog post is compiled from course notes and power point slides**

Three main illustration processes

  1. Relief Printing:  woodcuts, wood engravings—raised printing methods
  2. Intaglio Printing: metal engravings, such as copper engravings—engraved printing methods
  3. Planographic Printing: flat processes such as lithography, which rely on chemical properties (that oil will not mix with water)

Note: Silkscreen might not be considered a planographic process because the pigment is pushed though a screen, but it is a very similar process to lithography.

William Caxton's The Game of Chesse, c1474

Early woodcut: William Caxton’s The Game of Chesse, c1474

Relief printing: This printing is done from a raised surface, much like type was used in the printing press. Traditionally, this process included letterpress, wood engravings, and woodcuts. During this process, ink is applied on the raised surface, and then the paper is pressed down on it, or the block is pressed into the paper in the case of smaller blocks; in the case of my block printing, I applied the ink by hand with a small roller. The ideal outcome is that only the surface prints, although if ink is over-applied this might lead to some unexpected but aesthetically pleasing results. Traditionally, pear was the commonest wood used, and the flat plank side of a piece of wood was cut with the grain using knives and gouges; the area cut away would be lighter, so the raised lines would be darker, thick, and angular. Achieving detail can be very challenging in relief printing, such as cross hatching, however error can be corrected by gluing on pieces of wood and re-carving. Initially, illustrations would be inked by hand with paper laid on (the way I do it now), but then later a printing press was used, in addition to type (letter blocks) which could be printed then at the same time as the illustration. Albrecht Dürer is a well known  illustrator from the 16th century who miraculously developed awe-inducing fine relief print lines, but then copper engravings quickly became popularized. In the 18th century woodcutting had a revival thanks to the influence of Japanese woodcut illustrations, but blocks are more fragile than other printing techniques, and sadly do not last, so other printing techniques are much more common.

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Rhinoceros 1515 woodcut print by Albrecht Dürer

Wood engraving was also a popular form of relief printing, made popular by Thomas Bewick (1753-1828) in England. During this process, wood blocks were prepared with a solution of zinc white in gum arabic, onto which the artist drew their design, or else a drawing could be pasted on the block, much like how now many images can be ironed onto blocks to be engraved. Designs are then cut into the wood block, at the grain end, with a steel graver so that they lie below type height—which results in the design being made of the white lines that the ink does not pick up, as opposed to woodcuts which pick up the design in black ink lines above the type height. Sections of the block could also be painted or washed over with ink to be toned, for more depth or detail. Boxwood was most often used for the process of wood engraving. Blocks that were glued and then bolted together made it possible for newspaper to print full-page illustrations in the 1840’s, and then by the 1860s photographs could be printed right onto blocks to be engraved. Wood engraving was popular until the end of the 19th century, when photo-mechanical processes took over.

Intaglio printing: This type of printing process uses an engraved or incised surface, and can lead to very detailed results. Traditionally, this process  included metal engravings, such as copperplate engravings, and etchings.  Tools are used to cut grooves in the surface of a plate, these grooves are then filled with ink, the rest of the plate is wiped clean, and then the plate is put through a rolling press. Using a great deal of pressure, in this way the paper is forced into the inked grooves during the printing process.

Relief vs intaglio

Intaglio cont’d:

In drypoint engraving, the metal plate is first coated with a ground onto which the design is scratched with a needle, and then the ground is washed off; the design is cut onto the surface of a copper or zinc plate with a diamond or steel point. The design  is scratched directly onto the plate using a burin (engraving tool), which leaves a dark burr of metal, and during this process the plate rests on a rounded cushion filled with sand. The plate is warmed, and then ink is applied to the surface of the plate and wiped off, leaving the lines of the design. These lines are then deepened, but the burr (the raised metal left on each side of the cuts) is not removed, although the burr can come off during the process of engraving. Thanks to this burr, a drypoint image can have softer outlines. The plate is then inked, and wiped with a cloth and the palm of the hand. Then, with the paper placed on top, the plate is passed through a rolling press, where excessive pressure can be applied.

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Hand-coloured etching from William Blake’s Jerusalem (plate 51), 1820

Etching is another intaglio process. In etching, chemicals bite into a metal plate to create an image. Traditionally, a clean polished copper or zinc plate is warmed and covered with ground, which can be wax, asphalt and hartshorn), and the smoked over with a candle, which will colour it black. A tracing of  the design is placed over the ground plate and pressed down onto it, and then a rounded needle removes the ground from the lined of the drawing. Once this design is carved out using the needle, the edge and back of plate are covered with acid-resistant varnish, and the plate is immersed in an acid solution which “bites” the lines, repeatedly until the desired depth is reached. Lines that have reached the correct depth can be “stopped out” with varnish to prevent further deepened etching. Artist William Blake hand-coloured his etchings to beautiful effect (Songs of Innocence and Experience, 1789), and the artist Rembrandt left ink on the plate, which produced darker prints.

Other forms of intaglio printing include:

Aquatints were first used in the 1750s, notably used by Francisco Goya (1746-1828), who combined etching with aquatint.

Mezzotints, which were quite possibly invented by Ludwig von Siegen in 1642, reproduced tones as well as lines, and were often used in reproductions of portraiture works.

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Aquatint: Goya’s The Giant (1818)

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Mezzotint with drypoint: Pandemonium, 1824, from John Milton’s Paradise Lost

Planographic printing: This type of printing is done from  a flat surface, as opposed to a raised surface (such as relief) or engraved/incised surface (such as intaglio). Traditionally, lithography and offset lithography  are planographic  processes. These processes are based on chemical properties—primarily, that oil does not mix with water.

Planographic printing, first used by Aloysius Senefelder in 1796, was first called “lithography” in 1804, and by early 19th century it had spread throughout Europe. Senefelder, who first drew on limestone, began by using acid to raise the text, but later realized that he did not need to raise the printing surface; by drawing with a grease-based ink and wetting the limestone, he discovered that only the greasy ink printed on the paper. In 1797 Senefelder built the first lithographic press, and  in 1798  lithographic transfers, which used a print to create a new lithographic stone, were used, and  in 1799 crayons were used for drawing on stones. In 1837, Engelmann patented chromolithography (colour lithography), which was the most common method of creating colour illustrations in the 19th century. Now modern methods use photochemical reproduction for an image, with zinc or aluminum plates in rotary presses.

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Lithograph: Desire by Edvard Munch, 1898

My printmaking tools:

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A few finished linocuts:

block print

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profile

Artists’ Books

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Artists’ Books

There are many conflicting opinions as to what an artists’ book should be. The term “artists’ books” first appeared around 1973 but books that could later be placed within this category began to appear in the 1960’s and 70’s along with social and political activism and the rise of conceptual art (p.13, Klima). Some artists produced books in an attempt to skirt the gallery/museum system to reach a larger number of people (p.25, Burkhart). They represented the “democratization of art object” and fine art commodity (p.47, Klima). In the beginning of the 1960’s, the editions, multiples, and publications of fluxus artists such as Marcel Duchamp can also be considered artists’ books, but they also have their origins in 20th century modernism, as well as the works of futurists, dadas, and surrealists, (p. 17, Bleus).

Artists’ books differ from the livre d’artiste of the 20th century, for example, books made by Picasso, Ernst, and Matisse, because they are not catalogues of an artist’s work, do not contain allusions to an artist’s other works, and the livre d’artiste that were popular in the 20th century also contained mostly original artwork. They are standalone narratives that play with the book form and history, for example the relationship between text and image.

Artists’ books tend to fall into one of two conceptual frameworks: first, books with unlimited multiple editions, rejecting finely crafted unique objects; these are “largely the production of commercial print and reproduction technology” (p.17, Klima). Within this framework, the artists’ book should make art and important ideas more accessible to a wider array of people, challenging limiting and capitalistic conventions of the traditional book. The second framework is that artists’ book should be a unique art object that provokes an emotional response and deeper engagement with the form. Artist’s might have creative control over small print runs, subverting historical norms of the book format and process of publishing.

The first conceptual framework might critique the artists’ book as a precious object only accessible to a limited number of people outside of the art world, and critique the ideology of the auratic quality of “authenticity” or rareness (p.66, Klima), and the latter might critique the machine-like emotionless quality of these mass-produced items, though it seems as though neither framework aims to be elitist. Artists’ books may be mass-produced political and cultural works, or handmade stories like zines which aim to be widely distributed and shared; zines are often donated with the knowledge that they will potentially be digitized and reproduced.

One example of an artists’ book is Out of the Sky: Remembering 911 by Werner Pfeiffer. Out of the Sky was produced in an edition of 52 copies in 2006 on the fifth anniversary of the attacks. Pfeiffer is a German-American artist, born in 1937. He spent his childhood in Nazi Germany, which exposed him to censorship and book burnings, and also the ability of books and writing “to spread hatred and perpetuate violence and genocide” (Mattoon). After immigrating to the United States in 1961, Pfeiffer pursued a career in design and art direction, and became an art professor at Pratt Institute and director of the Pratt Adlib Press in 1969. There are only 52 copies of Out of the Sky, and it seems to only be available in art galleries and libraries.

Once Out of the Sky is built, the tower made of woodcut illustrations looms above you at over 5-feet-tall (on a table); if you look at the illustrations closely you will see grotesque black and white compositions of bodies and limbs intertwined; the tower also includes newspaper script at the top with names of victims. The book is contained in a large grey box that looks almost like a tombstone, and along with the paper material for building the tower, there is a large book almost like a chapbook which contains instructions for assembly and a first person narrative that memorializes 911 as well as acts as a political response to the violence and demonization of those critical of US politics post-911; the text is presented in narrow columns centered on the page, similar to the columns of a newspaper article.

There was a strange tension in piecing this book together because it was meant to serve as a memorial, but at the same time, as you assemble the book, it feels like playing a reverse game of Jenga; it was also awkward to set up this piece in the library, since there were many other patrons around quietly researching. Pfeiffer states in his artists’ book Endangered Species, “Our personal daily ‘fix’ of electronic news/entertainment documents is an experience of facts without awareness of space, distance, or time.” After reading this, I could better understand how this book is meant to challenge the way we interact with books and other news sources, forcing a more memorable experience with the medium. Pfeiffer seems to be advocating for the importance of the materiality of the book, and the powerful sensory experience of interacting with the form and content of a book.

A second example of an artists’ book— that I think is incredibly charming and also combats the stigma that reduces artists’ books to inaccessible elitist art objects— is a children’s magazine and scrapbook from Matanzas, Cuba (east of Havana), a product of Ediciones Vigia (which translates to Watchtower editions, named after Matanza’s location in Plaza de la Vigía, Watchtower Square). Vigia is an independent publishing house founded in the 1970’s (during the repressive cultural period). At Vigia, books are created by artists who volunteer with the press, and these particular books were made in collaboration with children and published by Alfredo Zaldivar, a a Cuban poet who also co-founded the press. There are a maximum of 200 issues of each Vigia book published (3 issues a year), all handmade, so they include the same textual material but differ in artistic details. These particular issues are built around the subject of puppet theatres or marionettes, and one of the issues speaks about the children’s play “the Ibeyis and the Devil”, where two twins, the sons of the orishas (or minor gods) Chango and Oshun, overcome the Devil and restore peace in the countryside where they live by returning the joy and growth of the mountain.

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Vigia publishes handmade books that combine art, movable parts, and literature, using repurposed material such as paper from the local butcher, yarn, sand, fabric, leaves, dried flowers and botanicals, and tin foil, and dyed with various techniques including the use of coffee. Vigia also fabricated a brownish stock paper called “bagasse” from sugarcane because of the lack of access to printing material; stenciling techniques were developed for imaging and lettering, and most everything is hand coloured. The children’s magazines I looked at are stapled and bound together with string, and made of waste paper, industrial residue, natural elements, and textile components (Osborne); they are mimeographed, hand-coloured, and signed by authors. When the press began they only had one old typewriter and an ancient mimeograph machine. Now better known authors such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jorge Luis Borges have become involved with the press, and whereas the books used to sell for 1 dollar, now they sell for apx. 25 dollars.

They are available to purchase at their store and studio in Matanzas, and they are available to view in libraries and art galleries around the world. Vigia books also include ephemera, such as pockets filled with puzzle pieces, beaded necklaces, and tags (KC Studio). You can see flaws in the books, which is, I think, part of what makes them so beautiful and gives them the engaging and mysterious quality of intimate scrapbooks. These issues are all in Spanish, so it would require translation and more time with the material to better engage with the books, but I could still appreciate the artwork and the philosophy behind Vigia press. These books demonstrate how artists’ books can preserve cultural traditions, such as folklore and storytelling, as well as allow artists, no matter what their economic background, to share their stories and work as a community to create art.

Pat Allingham’s The Shrunken Head, at the Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books

Despite the challenges of storage, display, the strain on budget, and having to accommodate additional demands regarding books that are donated, I would advocate for these works in special library collections. There is a market for them because they are interesting narratives and visually stunning to exhibit, which could bring researchers and diverse communities to libraries, and their metacommentary on the codex format is a wonderful part of a library’s special collection. Another benefit of having artists’ books in a library is that the art and narrative can be preserved and made securely available to readers; artists’ books can perhaps be digitized, and the metadata can be collected, so it may reach wider audiences over time, and that way local histories can also be collected and preserved.

Works Cited and Consulted

Allingham, Pat. The Shrunken Head. Stayner, Ont.: Allingham Mazaro, 1985. Print.

Behar, Ruth. “Works in Handmade Cuban Books.” Ruth Behar. 2015. Web. 21. Nov. 2016. http://www.ruthbehar.com/HandmadeBooks.htm

Bleus, Guy. Art Is Books. Hasselt [Belgium: Provinciale Centrale Openbare Bibliotheek, 1991. Print.

Burkhart, Anne. “Articulate Activism: Artists’ Books Take Issues.” Art Education, vol. 60, no. 1, 2007 25–32. http://www.jstor.org/stable/27696189.

Cornell University. “Werner Pfeiffer: Book-objects and Artist Books.” Cornell University Library Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections. 2010. Web. 20 Nov. 2016. http://rmc.library.cornell.edu/wernerpfeiffer/about.html

Kirsch, Elizabeth. “Ediciones Vigia: Handmade Cuban Books.” KC Studio. 1 Sept. 2016. Web. 23 Nov. 2016. “http://kcstudio.org/ediciones-vigia-handmade-cuban-books/

Klima, Stefan. Artists Books: A Critical Survey of the Literature. New York: Granary Books, 1998. Print.

Mattoon, Nancy. “The bombshell book art of Werner Pfeiffer.” Booktryst. 15 Nov. 2010. Web. 23 Nov. 2016. http://www.booktryst.com/2010/11/bombshell-book-art-of-werner-pfeiffer.html

Melhorn-Boe, Lise. What Are Little Girls/boys Made Of?Toronto: Transformer Press, 1989. Print.

Nochi, Kim. “Ediciones Vigía: An Introduction.” University of Missouri Museum of Art and Archaeology,11 Nov. 2014. Web. 24 Nov. 2016. http://vigia.missouri.edu/intro-essays/ediciones-intro.shtml

Pfeiffer, Werner. Out of the Sky: Remembering 911. Red Hook, NY: Pear Whistle Press, 2006. Print.

Pfeiffer, Werner, and Philip Roth. Werner Pfeiffer: Endangered Species. Ostfildern: Cantz, 1994. Print.

Zaldivar, Alfredo, eds. Barquitos del San Juan : la revista de los niños. Vigia: Matanzas, Cuba, 1985. Print.

Surrealist Drawing Game: Exquisite Corpse

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Exquisite Corpse is a drawing game that the Surrealists played frequently to produce collaborative drawings and images; this version was made up in the 1920s in Paris by the surrealists Yves Tanguy, Jacques Prévert, André Breton and Marcel Duchamp. The name, “cadavre exquis” in French, was extracted from “le cadavre exquis boira le vin nouveau’ (the exquisite corpse will drink the new wine), a phrase mentioned during one of the early attempts at playing the game.

To play:

 

  1. Fold a piece of paper horizontally into three sections, or one fold for each person playing the game. I find the game works best with three people.
  2. Draw a design, landscape, figure, words, or whatever appears from your imagination in the top section and leave a few lines at the edge of the next fold, so that the next person has a few lines to pick up and continue drawing from. Don’t think too much about what to draw, just enjoy the freedom!
  3. Alternatively, you could agree on a set of rules for your drawings, or set a theme, or make it clear the sections should produce a figure; with the top being the head and shoulders, the middle the torso, and the bottom the legs, etc—but it is also really fun just to try it with no rules!
  4. Make sure no one spies on what you are drawing, and do not spy on the other participants! You might have to come up with a makeshift barrier to avoid this temptation (big books held up by bookends works, or laptops with the screen up and turned off).
  5. Fold your drawing under so as to make sure it is hidden (except for the few lines you made at the edges of the fold), pass the paper to the next person, and you will all repeat the step.
  6. Once everyone has added their section to all of the papers passed around, reveal each page one at a time, and be prepared to laugh and be amazed by the weirdos you are friends with. 

 

This drawing game produces silly but often surprisingly affecting and clever drawings, and it can inspire other creative projects and ideas.

I highly recommend playing this with friends or family during your next arts and crafts night.

* The above Exquisite Corpse was made several years ago with two of my friends; a freaky thing happened and my good friend and I ended up both drawing a bird holding a heart in its mouth, in a very similar position—to be fair, we were going through a phase of drawing many birds, but it was still odd.