The power of the printed word is revamped in the Porter exhibit. Photo by Devika Agarwal.
The power of the printed word is revamped in the Porter exhibit. Photo by Devika Agarwal.

When people think of art, the word “bookmaking” might not pop into their heads. But as the Porter Sesnon Gallery will show in the new “Book as Medium: Holding/Withholding Text” exhibit, opening on Jan. 27, every aspect of bookmaking is an art.

Technology like Amazon’s “Kindle” has already begun pushing print to the sidelines, with the electronic book reader currently being shipped to over 100 countries, and 300,000 books available to download.

“We are hoping to encourage writers, poets, and self-publishers to rekindle — no pun intended — the art of bookmaking,” said Shelby Graham, gallery director and co-curator of the exhibit. “The digital age can help make these beautiful books.”

Graham explained all the steps that go into making a book — from the binding to the printing to the cover art. “Each phase of a book has its own history,” she said. “Rarely is a book made by one person.”

The “Book as Medium” exhibit will be showcasing work from about 25 artists from different parts of the country and even the world. It culminates with a bookmaking demonstration at the Cowell Press by UCSC instructor Gary Young on March 5, before the exhibit closes on March 6.

Young, who teaches bookmaking classes on campus, replaced Professor George Kane after his passing in 2009. The exhibit is dedicated to Kane, who taught the class for 27 years.

Although Santa Cruz is a well-known bookmaking hotspot, there will also be work from artists in Canada and France.

Felicia Rice — a local book artist, UCSC alumna and the co-curator of this exhibit — was the mastermind behind the campus show.

Rice has earned many honors in her work. Most recent among them was the Rydell Visual Arts Fellowship, wherein four local artists are chosen, out of 46 candidates, to receive a $20,000 grant.

She worked carefully to choose the artists featured in this exhibit.

“It’s really a step-by-step process, working with the artists,” Rice said.

After artists accepted the invitation, Graham and Rice had to work closely with them to figure out how they wanted their art displayed.

Some artists had to send two copies of their books: one to display open, and one to show closed. Some of the books can be touched and played with, some must be touched carefully with gloves, while others are too delicate to touch.

“Books are a special type of art that don’t necessarily hang on a wall,” Graham said. “They are often interactive, intimate and one-on-one.”

The book art for this show ranges from a traditional bound book with print inside, to a book that is a box and opens up like a puzzle to reveal the pages. One book is a string of frames, in which the page of the book is suspended in the frame using thread.

“All of the artists could find a cheaper or more mechanical way to make these books, but it’s not about that,” Graham said. “This exhibit gives us the chance to look at books in a different manner.”

There are many steps that go into the making of these books that most people never suspect.

“Every component is handmade,” said Leslie Fellows, manager of the Sesnon Gallery.

It even gets tricky when figuring out whom to credit for some of the work, because the pieces are often collaborations.

“We want the gallery to become a forum to discuss ideas, and start a dialogue about the future of books,” Graham said.

College students come into contact with books every day, but not always in the ways that the “Book as Medium” exhibit will show.

“It’s important to have a show like this at a university,” Graham said. “It’s important to learn that a book can be many things.”