The Studio of Eric Valosin

Friday, May 20, 2016

Tiny Books and Fragmented Cyberspace

This summer one of my new projects this year will be touring around the country in a very unique curatorial endeavor. The Creativity Caravan, run by writer/artists Maya Stein and Amy Tingle, is hosting The Tiny Book Show, consisting of lilliputian literature, artist books no bigger than 3" in any dimension.

Nearly 50 venues lined up across 20 states

The call for entry provided an intriguing challenge as I tried to come up with a project that would fit  the criteria but, of course, still cohere with the rest of my practice. With the theme being book-oriented, I went back to the last book I published, my thesis monograph for inspiration. 

For that book I tried to integrate print and digital media using QR codes, in a way conceptually fitting of my explorations of physical and virtual spiritual space. On the back cover I had designed a QR code comprising a Meister Eckhart quote that, when scanned, brings viewers to a random page of a random text that informed my thesis research.

I decided to use that as my starting point for this book as well, figuring the small format would lend itself better to the QR image than to plain text. 

Textual Dividualism

I began thinking about the nature of books as a medium, and how their pages serve to fragment and divide content. If the text were personified, Deleuze's dividual would come into play, with each page being yet another virtual version of the textual self. Given that my QR code destination plays into this idea of random fragmentation, I thought it an appropriate solution to physically fragment the code itself across the many pages.

So I set out to make a book with clear plexiglass pages. Each page would host a fragment of the QR code. When the book is closed, the overlaid fragments would cohere into the complete, scannable code.

As an added challenge, I wanted to make any pair of consecutive pages also compile a complete code. And, by taking advantage of the flexibility built in by the QR code's error correction capability, I could strategically add/remove pixels to make each coherent whole slightly different from each other, but all scan the same.

Sizing up my plexi pages
Scoring and snapping each page

Book Building

The next step was to figure out how to get all the pages to align. I decided I'd drill some holes that I'd use later to bind the pages, but could for now use as a way to align each page over a grid, on top of which I'd draw the QR code.

The next trick would be how to actually inscribe the QR code. I needed high enough contrast to make the image scannable, but as I experimented with various paints and markers, nothing would hold up to the wear and tear of book use without rubbing or scraping off.

I figured I could take advantage of the plexi by engraving the code into it, but would need more contrast than the frosted-glass effect of scratched plexi. So I decided to combine both approaches, scoring the plexi and then rubbing acrylic paint marker into the abrasions. Hopefully that would be both permanent and dark enough to be functional.

Monkish work, crosshatching page after page of QR code etchings

Fully etched page, ready to be colored. A shame, I kind of like the frosted look.

The Moment of Truth

After a couple pages were done, it was time to see if it would actually work or not. This is always the most nerve racking moment of these QR code projects, waiting to see if my hours of labor would cooperate with my initial vision or if it would fall on its face and amount to a pile of dirtied plexi. (for an example of making the most of such a failure, check out my recent Denisyuk Reflection Hologram, in which I attempted to make a scannable, 3D, holographic QR code.)

6 of 8 pages done
With the compiled codes proving to indeed be scannable, I continued scratching a coloring away until all 8 pages were complete. The last part of the equation would be the binding.

This was a tougher decision than I anticipated. Because of the clarity of the plexiglass, any binding would be very much visible, and it had to hold the pages tight enough in place for them to be scannable, but still allow the pages to turn.

Some sort of spiral binding seemed my best bet, but I wanted the material to dialogue with the digital/analog theme. So I decided to treat it as the physical portal to the digital world that it was, and use materials commonly meant for electronic circuitry, copper wire and solder.

Much to my shame, this was actually the first time I'd ever soldered! But it was a good test case, since precision wasn't an issue. And all in all, I'm pleased with the outcome!

Quarter for scale

My makeshift photo-studio for documenting the tiny book, since everybody likes a bit of metanarrative.
Make sure to check the itinerary at the link above and catch the Tiny Book Show at a Gallery/Library/Cultural Center near you!

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