Twenty years ago, Hubert & Hubert (1999) suggested that in relation to book art, we should best ‘settle for the looser kind of relatedness found in assemblage and, more often, installation art’. They recommended ‘to read an artist book in the same manner as we might interpret a performance where act, agent, agency, and purpose … substitute for and reflect one another’ (p.11) and cited American artist and poet Nick Piombino’s notion of a book work as a ‘holding environment’, ‘wherein we can reconfigure, recombine and challenge our assumptions and presumptions about genres’ (op. cit. p.165).
Today, many book works at IMPACT 10 and elsewhere can be contextualised in those terms. Quite literally, countless examples now adopt the format of a sculptural installation in space and thus confound ‘our presumptions about genres’. I would like to look at Vertanen’s and Uniarts Helsinki Group’s installation on the subject of John Donne’s famous, if seldom read, meditations on illness and death at IMPACT 10. With its tripartite structure of a substantial artist’s book, audio piece and large-scale wall-sculpture—echoing one of Donne’s major formal, literary structuring devices, itself a reflection of a key spiritual ‘motif’—the installation represents an outstanding example of just such a ‘holding environment’, challenging ‘presumptions about genres’, not only about the art of the book. Equally, if not more importantly, its material-aesthetic-conceptual realisation—encompassing multiple instantiations of print—creates a profoundly moving, multi-dimensional visceral encounter for the viewer/listener which succeeds brilliantly in aligning Donne’s contemplations to a contemporary aesthetico-ethical agenda. Thus, the installation not only realises the role of the artist ‘as a witness to his or her cultural and social present’ (Rebentisch, 2015, p.228), its impressive collaborative nature moreover becomes an active demonstration of the possibilities of such a position.