We’ve seen amazing book carvings by Emma Taylor, Kylie Stillman, Frank Halmans, and Guy Laramee but now comes a series of book art that’s only temporary: book braiding. Math Monahan braids the pages of a book, similar to the way a french braid is done, adding a few more pages to each group as it gets folded into the braid. The result is an awesomely clean looking design that unfolds itself over time. One of his circular installations is in the Penny Stamps Graduate Studio and the other in the Hatcher Graduate library of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where he is currently working toward a Master of Fine Arts. Ironically the one in the library unbraided more, which Math hypothesizes is so that the books could be closer to the other books surrounding them!
According to Monahan’s artist statement:
Between is an installation that explores the stillness in the space between places, powers and context. Using a system of braided books, I am attempting to create a structure that possesses its power and agency only when it exist between academic book and art object. By allowing the tension of the circle arrangement to hold the object together, without adhesives or restraint, the pages slowly unbraid themselves over time giving the installation the opportunity to become books, again, in their original form.
VN: How long did it take you to create your Between series? Can you explain the process?
MM: The installation involves 2 book circles. One to be installed in a library, the other in a gallery or other art defined space (i.e. studio). Each book circle has twelve books. To braid the books, I first find the center of the book. From there I carefully fold in the first page from the right, making sure to not crease or tear the page. Then I fold the same from the left. I continue the folding back and forth adding another page to the fold each time until the book is finished.
VN: How long does it take for the books to unbraid themselves?
MM: When arranging the braided books in a circle I use a string to hold the form together. When the form is finished I remove the string releasing the tension and allowing the braided pages to begin unraveling themselves. Some unbraid themselves more then others. Eventually the circles settle somewhere in between. In this installation the books in the library unbraided more then the books in the studio. I like to believe the books in the library were trying to be closer to the books surrounding them.
VN: The photographs are as beautiful as the installation. Did you take them yourself?
MM:I do photograph my own work. I think when we make work we tend to have a certain view of it in our minds. Photographing it myself allows me to more closely describe that view. In this installation it was important to show the surrounding library, and use the interior architecture to compose the images.
VN: Much of your work is done with books. What started this trend?
I began bookmaking in high school. Then, I was creating blank sketchbooks to draw in but when I finished making a book I couldn’t bring myself to draw in it. This never stopped me from making them, though. I was drawn to the form and meticulous handcrafting of the book. In my undergrad I was able to explore the possibilities of the book as form which has become a foundation in my work here at the University of Michigan.