[Note: This is a trifold pamphlet in which the reading order by page is: 1, 2, 5, 3, 4, 6. The transcription below is presented in the reading order.]
[p. 1 / cover]
presents an exhibition of
(a book of the dead)
a collaborative artist’s book of
On view April 24 – June 19, 1993
New York City
BOOK ARTISTS will inevitably be divided about works like AGRIPPA: to some, they exemplify new modes of expression for the book arts; to others, such works epitomize the use of technologies that undermine the traditional book format, and the book experience itself.
Author William Gibson and artist Dennis Ashbaugh, along with publisher Kevin Begos, Jr., have created an artist’s book that defies conventional notions of how a book is supposed to function, since it’s designed to be read only once — and then self-destruct! The physical object is a metallic-looking box which encases a bound volume with a distressed cover. Within its pages, Ashbaugh’s original copperplate engravings of DNA accompany an autobiographical story by Gibson about his dead father. Gibson’s text, however, is located on a floppy disk found in a special niche made into the book. The disk not only contains the narrative of the book, but is also encrypted with a computer virus that destroys the text as it scrolls across your computer screen. The reader is therefore confronted with an irreversible decision: to know the story of AGRIPPA which links it to the artwork, or to save it, for the text cannot be stopped, copied or printed once it is set in motion. As well, some of Ashbaugh’s images disappear as you touch the pages of the book. Obviously, this is no ordinary book.
A book has commonly been viewed as a sort of vessel for information that can be passed from person to person, even generation to generation, but AGRIPPA brings forth questions about the permanence of such information, the best format in which it can be contained, and the “ownership” of knowledge itself. All of these issues have become more evident since the advent of computer technology which has changed the ways we live and work, percieve [sic] and think. AGRIPPA expresses our ambivalence towards technology, for although it utilizes the traditional format of the book, it also embraces the technological advancements that threaten to make that format obsolete, yet also seems to undermine those offerings in the process.
The intrusion of computer technology has made modern-day Luddites of some practitioners of the book arts. These artists have long recognized a special beauty in the tactile experience associated with books, and many believe that there is crucial information derived from the selection of binding, paper, font and ink that compliments the visual and intellectual qualities of a book. A floppy disk does not
easily mesh with these media. To purists, using a monitor to reveal the narrative element of a work is contrary to this aesthetic, and requires a computer literacy that makes a book less accessible. But in much the same way, didn’t Guttenberg’s Bible remake the book and utilize a radical technology that led to greater literacy?
Ultimately, AGRIPPA is simply the story of human mortality, of a man’ s life told from afar: via the memories and recollections of his own genetic material, his son. If a primary objective of the book arts is to bind content to form, to present ideas in a format that augments their manifestation beyond the text and image, then perhaps AGRIPPA has done well to reveal the fleeting existence of a life that is once here and then gone forever.
Director, Center for Book Arts
“Farewell conventional books – and conventional collecting, and reading, and remembering. Hello electronic communication.”
–The Print Collector’s Newsletter
“Social and literary critics have been musing for years over this question: Is the book disappearing? In the case of Agrippa: A Book of the Dead, the answer. literally, is yes.”
–Esther B. Fein, New York Times
“I would rather surf the new waves of technology than drown in them.”
“I’m more or less assuming the more aggressive elements among my readership will somehow manage to obtain this text, so in a way the whole project is a way of encouraging unknown collaboration. But I can tell you it is going to be very hard for just anyone to get into one of these things The level of encryption [of the virus] being used is very, very elegant. Just sitting down and trying to hack in won’t be a milk run.”
“Those of us lucky enough to read this story and absorb the genetic information encoded in Ashbaugh’s art will have virtually the same experience as Gibson’s father that Gibson had. It will be encoded. and then etched, by memory.”
–Guy Martin, Esquire
Award-winning science fiction author William Gibson first coined the term “cyberspace” in his trilogy: Neuromancer , Count Zero , and Mona Lisa Overdrive . His latest book, The Difference Engine (co-written with Bruce Sterling) was released in paperback in January, 1992.
Dennis Ashbaugh has been a Guggenheim Fellowship recipient, and his work has been exhibited in solo and group exhibitions at The Whitney Museum of American Art, P.S. 1, and The Seattle Art Museum, among others. Ashbaugh is known for his large computer virus and DNA portrait paintings which have been acquired for the permanent collections of the Hirschorn Museum, Houston Museum of Fine Arts, Los Angeles County Museum, and the Metropolitan Museum in New York. He currently shows with the Marisa del Re Gallery in New York.
Publisher Kevin Begos, Jr. has been producing limited edition books for over ten years, first for other publishers, and now with his own new company. His other current projects include books and prints with photographers Frederick Sommer, Richard Benson, and Joel-Peter Witkin, as well as books with artists and writers such as Michael Hafftka, Nick Lyons, and Chinua Achebe. <
The deluxe edition of AGRIPPA was set in Monotype Gill Sans at Golgonooza Letter Foundry, and printed on Rives heavyweight text by the Sun Hill Press and by Kevin Begos Jr. The etchings were made by the artist and editioned by Peter Pettingill on Fabriano Tiepolo paper. The book was hand-sewn and bound in linen by Karl Foulkes. The housing was designed by the artist, and the encryption code used to destroy the story was created by (BRASH), with help from several other individuals who will go unnamed.
The regular edition of AGRIPPA was also set in Monotype Gill Sans, but in a single column page format. It was printed by the Sun Hill Press on Mohawk Superfine text and the reproduction of the etchings were printed on a Canon laser printer. The book was Smythe sewn at Spectrum Bindery and is enclosed in a clamshell box.
The deluxe edition is currently available for $2000.00, and the regular version sells for $500.00.
he exhibition of AGRIPPA will be accompanied by a lecture series dealing with issues related to the book and technology. All lectures are free and will be held at 7PM at the Center for Book Arts.
Speakers: John Perry Barlow and Greg Elin.
JOHN PERRY BARLOW is one of the founders of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a Washington, DC and Cambridge, MA group that promotes discussion of privacy, freedom of information, and copyright issues in electronic mediums.
GREG ELIN is a master’ s candidate in New York University’ s Interactive Telecommunications Program who is working on a thesis on the history of copyright.
MARSHALL BLONSKY teaches literary theory at New York University and The New School. His books include ON SIGNS and the forthcoming ABC’s FOR THE MILLENNIUM, published by Oxford University Press.
Speaker: Kevin Begos, Jr.
KEVIN BEGOS, JR. is a publisher of both trade and limited edition books who brought together William Gibson and Dennis Ashbaugh to create AGRIPPA (a book of the dead).
The CENTER FOR BOOK ARTS is dedicated to the preservation of the traditional crafts of bookmaking, as well as contemporary interpretations of the book as an art object. Founded in 1974, it was the first non-profit arts organization of its kind in the nation, and has since become a model for others around the world. The Center has organized over 125 exhibitions related to the arts of the book involving over 2600 artists, and more than 200 artists a year use our fully equipped printshop and bindery to create new works that reflect centuries of craft tradition. Each year the Center offers over 120 courses, workshops, and seminars, as well as services to artists which include a lecture series, publications, an intern and apprenticeship program, and a schedule of emerging artist exhibitions. The Center for Books Arts ensures that the ancient craft of the book – that container which preserves and transmits the knowledge and ideas of a culture – remains a viable and vital part of our civilization.
For more information about the Center for Book Arts or its programs, call or write.
626 Broadway, 5th floor
New York, New York 10012
The CENTER FOR BOOK ARTS is supported in part by grants from the J.M. Kaplan Fund, Herman Goldman Foundation, the Joyce Mertz-Gilmore Foundation, Consolidated Edison of New York, The Cowles Charitable Trust, public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, and the members of the Center for Book Arts. All contributions are tax-deductible as allowed by law.