Throughout the airy, warehouse-like space of Arion Press, the Open Book Show 6 climbs up walls, sits on tables, perches on the floors.
Crowds weave in and out between the various raised surfaces holding sketchbooks, zines, and other tactile objects. People touch the objects on display with a mix of reverence and curiosity: gentle hands poring over the books of friends and strangers alike.
The Open Book Show 6 caught and refracted a sense of life in the objects present. In bringing audiences the notes, sketchbooks, art books, zines, and journals alike of participating Bay Area artists, the show encouraged a rare connection between artist and audience to flourish: one of trust and vulnerability. “The show asks as much from the audience as it does the artist,” says Kate Laster, artist, founder and organizer of the Open Book shows. Most of the books in this show are paper, and they are physically delicate. And in terms of content, most of them felt quite personal. One of the first books I opened was Lettera d’Amore by Reid Fowler, a photography book held shut with a thin piece of twine. Wedged inside is a handwritten love letter, in which its author writes about watching their lover as they wake up. As contributing artist Asa Nakata put it, the personal nature of the works comprising the show called for the audience to handle the objects and stories with care.
Asa exhibited four works—two artists’ books and two woodcut prints. Three of these creations drew inspiration from the Japanese belief of Tsukumogami—that over time, objects will acquire spirits. To Asa, this belief is especially apt in reference to things like books and printmaking tools, since those have been around for thousands of years. Naturally, they of all objects take on a life of their own. I began to see the books at Open Book Show 6 through this lens—as though each book was alive with its own unique qualities. I carefully picked up each work I came across, touching its surfaces, perusing sketches, photos, poetry, and sometimes the frantic, indeducible notes of strangers. Within the books lived people’s words and ideas. I was immersed into other worlds, simultaneously foreign and familiar. It didn’t matter so much if I understood them fully or just grasped the tip of the iceberg. They were my companions to observe from up close or afar, full of worthwhile features to contemplate: the intricate, handmade binding of the book, the bright red envelope wedged into the last few pages of a journal, the delicate stitches of a book made of cloth.
And the books had lots to tell. The show presented an eclectic mix of sketchbooks filled with notes of all types alongside more polished collections in art books. All the objects on display carried the same spirit of openness and sharing, and they imbued the show with that same vibe. Artist Steph Kudisch has been part of the Open Book Shows since the first one in January 2017. For the sixth show, they chose to show five books, a mix of their most recent sketchbooks and artists’ books. Among other aspects of the show, they enjoy sharing their artistic process through the sketches, poetry, and collage present in those notebooks. “Exhibiting my journals in this way allows me to open up about all manners of things in my life,” said Steph. They recall many profound conversations that have blossomed as a result of this confluence of openness and gathered community. Sharing their artist books in the Open Book Shows has also been a special experience. Steph described their most recent art book, Timtum. Living within the hand-bound cover is an illustrated poem on their experiences with gender dysphoria. Displaying it is just as much about sharing with the others as it is about meaningful internal process: “having this book on display for anyone who might want to see it feels deeply meaningful, encourages me to talk about my gender dysphoria, and helps me to connect with people who might relate to my experiences,” said Steph.
For others, the show is simply a way to share the ins and outs of their own creative process. “Whether it is an artist book turned sculpture, or a classic black book filled with handwritten notes and detailed sketches, I think the Open Book Shows remind us that all parts of the creative process are worth sharing,” said Natani Notah, another participating artist who decided to show a recent sketchbook that to her, illustrated “a wide range of approaches to conceptual thinking.” The show nourishes a more inclusive, encompassing idea of creativity. In fact, the Open Book Shows are a platform open to those beyond the artist community, too. Although the contributing artists in Open Book Show 6 are all artists with the credentials and achievements to match, Kate would love to see more non-artists contributing to future shows. She talked enthusiastically about how everyday notes—from artists and non-artists alike—carry so much meaning and aesthetic value.
The show’s commitment to community and a deep understanding of people and ideas is a marked change from the pace of everyday interactions. Whether or not you agree with the popular criticisms of our culture today—that our attention spans are too short, that our connections are too shallow, that we judge too easily—the Open Book Show certainly gives a refreshing dose of intentionality and connection. And the Show became a special environment cultivating this attitude and more. As Open Book’s description reads, “in an age of encouraged ignorance, fake news, xenophobia, the Open Book tells stories.” The stories that live in the books of these artists are a testament to authenticity, openness, and respect. The Open Book Show 6 encourages audiences to think and interact with the world and other people in a different way—one guided by principles of vulnerability, trust, and gentle attention. And I can only agree that this exhibit cultivates a kind of quiet resistance.
// Don’t miss your chance to see the Open Book Show 6. Open until August 24th at Arion Press (if you can, catch the closing event that evening at 7-10 pm). For details about future Open Book Shows, follow Kate Laster on Instagram @howlingmoondog; Photography by Carl Tianhu Kang.