Hands On shot at rare artists’ books

Artist Rae Trujillo says she photographed Berlin’s abandoned bicycles, which she viewed as art installations. Berlin Bicycles is part of Hands On 11.

Maybe you prefer to curl up by the fire and read, but there’s something to be said for touching, manipulating and simply gaping at 26 one-of-a-kind artists’ books in the Hands On 11 reception Friday in the Environmental Design Library at UC Berkeley.

California pop/conceptual artist Ed Ruscha’s “Twentysix Gasoline Stations” (1963) and its black-and-white photographs of fueling stations along Route 66 provided the inspiration for the tongue-in-cheek 11th annual Hands On reception, featuring books that are works of art.

The 26 items on display come from the library’s cache of close to 300 artists’ books purchased with a special endowment — not student fees. Hands On 11 books range from a look at 26 plants to another exploring 26 charging stations, and Beata Wehr’s “23 Proofs for Existence of the Past.”

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Lauri Twitchell, manager of the College of Environmental Design’s Blake Garden landscape laboratory, said Ruscha has inspired her and many other artists to think about books in a more conceptual way.

“Books can be no longer just about fiction or nonfiction, but also can be thought about as a series of images, sculptures or just hand-held interactive objects,” she said.

Molly Rose, the Environmental Design Library’s circulation supervisor/reserves coordinator, said she doesn’t have a strong favorite in Friday’s lineup, but leans toward “Roadkill.”

“When you first open it, you think it might be about animals as roadkill,” Rose said. “But instead it’s a juxtaposition of quotes from people about their cars versus images and statistics showing the impact of driving on the environment.”

“We keep it casual and fun,” said librarian David Eifler, noting that in addition to being able to view the specialty books temporarily on loan from the College of Environmental Design’s rare books room, of-age visitors will be treated to wine, cheese and crackers.

Two books that see quite a bit of use for Hands On events, other exhibits and classes are “More Garbage,” made of found objects, and “Salvaged material book,” which has a metal cover with a glass insert. Rose said that probably is because they are so sturdy and can stand up to being handled. They are also considered visually interesting and are sure conversation starters.

Lisa Melhorn-Boe used only found items to assemble her book, “More Garbage.” The only new materials were photocopies of pages.

Eifler said the first exhibit of artists’ books a few years ago used the traditional format of placing them behind glass. But he and his organizing committee — Twitchell, Rose and Jennifer Osgood of the Morrison Library — listened to requests from patrons who said they wanted to hold and touch the books.

Osgood handles the graphic design work for Hands On posters. She said she brings to the planning group a background in artists’ books, “not the making of, but all the rest.” In addition, she helps run the biennial Codex Book Fair and Symposium, she interned at the letterpress print shop/studio of Berkeley book artist Peter Koch and her husband is a letterpress printer and book maker (whose master’s thesis project, a laser-cut book of H.G. Well’s Invisible Man, is in the environmental design artists’ book collection).

“On the day of the event, we all help with setup and cleanup,” said Osgood. “I frequently bake from scratch a couple of sweet or savory dishes. It’s all a great deal of fun, and I think we all agree that this committee is one of our favorites. Working on this committee is always a delight, and I’m glad I have the chance to further my work with artists’ books.”

Rose said it has been fun to watch the program grow and the team can’t wait to introduce more people to our collection.