But one of the paradoxes of success in visual art is that it often entails a very particular kind of obscurity. In 2010, Quaytman made “Iamb: Chapter 12, Excerpts and Exceptions, With Painting Rack,” an installation of paintings in and around a storage rack. It was a reminder that while the best thing that can happen to a contemporary artist is to be collected, this means being taken away, and oftentimes being hidden. Quaytman has also said that she envies how “a book is both put away and still displayed” an argument that may not win over those who like to open books.
The tiny books are based on dwarsliggers (from the Dutch “dwars,” or crosswise, and “liggen,” to lie), a format that has become popular across Europe.
Unlike modern readers, who follow the flow of a narrative from beginning to end, early modern Englishmen read in fits and starts and jumped from book to book. They broke texts into fragments and assembled them into new patterns by transcribing them in different sections of their notebooks. Then they reread the copies and rearranged the patterns while adding more excerpts. Reading and writing were therefore inseparable activities. They belonged to a continuous effort to make sense of things, for the world was full of signs: you could read your way through it; and by keeping an account of your readings, you made a book of your own, one stamped with your personality.
And with the page comes a remarkable feature: the recto and the verso and the extraordinarily simple and deeply profound gesture of turning a page to move forward in time and space through the architectural space of the book. Paging through a book is like closing a door behind you that simultaneously opens another onto a new room -- all the while keeping the previous room available, just behind the now-closed door of the turned page. Here I am in the hallway of the introduction, here I am in the living room of chapter one, the dining room of chapter two, the bedrooms upstairs of the plate section, and, now, I've gone down the back staircase to the footnotes and apparatus in basement. At any time, in any chapter, I know where I am within the whole.
Sharon Helgason Gallagher