The Art Assignment


Make a Book with Meat (or other atypical materials)

Artist and designer Ben Denzer shares an assignment to make an ATYPICAL BOOK. He’s made books from meat, toilet paper, ketchup packets, and lottery tickets, among much else. Your challenge: 1) Make a book that is atypical in terms of its form or material + 2) Share it on Instagram or Twitter with #youareanartist.

AIRED: November 15, 2020 | 0:05:28

Hi! I'm Ben Denzer. I'm an artist and designer.

Your assignment is to make a book that's atypical in terms of its form

or material. A book doesn't have to look, or feel, or even taste for that matter

like what you typically have on your shelf. Look around your house or your

neighborhood--what do you find and how can you make a

book from those things?

I took a book binding class, a hardcover book book binding class, at

this place called the Center for Book Arts in New York.

Taking a class on how to make a book really demystifies the process and shows

you that "hey this is actually just three rectangles glued onto a piece of

flexible material and you fold the edges and then

you have a hardcover book." And so it was through taking this class and realizing

that I could make my own books and then being at the Center for Book Arts

its mission is to promote artist books and book arts and they have

a wonderful collection of artist books there, and so I got to see examples of

people treating the book itself as an artwork.

So catalog press is a

small edition artist press that I make and publish myself,

where all the books are catalogues in one way or another. So, catalogs of images,

catalogs of words, and catalogs of physical objects.

Playing with this idea of the book as an object and "what is a book but a collection

of things bound together" and so how far can you stretch that? So you go to the

grocery store and you see a packet of slices

of American cheese. If you put a cover around it that

instantly becomes a book--so some of the books I've been making

play with this idea of ready-mades in a sense.

This is a book of 200 one dollar bills

that are used bills that I sorted in order of serial number.

This is a book that I recently made in quarantine of

one roll of Charmin Ultra Strong toilet paper. I recently made a book

of scratch-off lottery tickets. So, this is 77 lucky sevens and so

they're all lottery tickets that you can scratch off.

So, this book is worth potentially quite a bit if all these is

a winner--but who knows. I wanted to do a cover so

that it would open perfectly flat. And, so, I went to a

bookstore and looked at all of the kids book

section because there are board books which open perfectly flat.

The world of book binding is this rabbit hole

of lots of ways that people have figured out how to do things,

so there's normally always a solution it's just a matter of inventing it or

finding it. I think part of the fun for me is trying

to take this thing that people know and have an expectation for--you

know, the book people have bookshelves in their house , maybe they

have books around so they kind of know what to expect,

so part of the fun for me is trying to subvert those expectations and finding

interesting, ideally funny, ways of doing that by

using maybe different materials or different scales or different ways of

combining things. And so i think there's no bad

material for making a book so i think the most

challenging um book i've tried to bind together was

this book i recently made at the University of Michigan

called "20 Slices of Meat". I've been wanting to make a book that was

made out of 100% meat for quite a while and

while I was there, I went to Zingerman's Deli and they were kind enough to kind

of show me all the meats and guide me towards the mortadella.

I got these huge slices of mortadella that I then had to figure out

how to bind into a book, so it was a process of

trying different threads, different things from the butcher shop.

After a lot of experimentation, I ended up using "Gorilla Glue"

which on the bottle says "this will stick to your fingers"

and meat is just like fingers, and so it worked out

actually surprisingly well. I was able to "perfect bind" this book of meat--

gluing these mortadella slices together and making a cover and a spine all out

of meat itself. And, actually, using the fat from

mortadella to kind of inlay the words "20 Slices".

It worked out really well, but it was quite a challenge to figure out how

exactly to make it all stay together. Making a book doesn't have to be

difficult! There are a few basic easy ways to bind pages together.

1. You could "perfect bind" something, which means taking a stack of pages and gluing them along one side.

2. Another way to bind a loose stack of paper is "stab binding." In stab binding, you poke

holes along the side of the page near your spine

and thread thread through them.

3. Another method is simply folding.

You could fold paper to make an accordion book.

4. Lastly, there's "signature sewing" which involves

taking sheets, making signatures from them,

and then binding these signatures together.

That's how this book works.

There are lots of things that are already

books around you. On your desk you may have

a pad of post-it notes, and that itself is a book. You could either add content

by writing on it, or leave it as it is. There are things in your fridge: slices

of things that are kind of inherently already books. You go outside and there are

leaves all around you, which can act as pages.

When you're going about this assignment, think about either

trying a different weird material to use that it might not be paper,

but if you want to use paper, what can you do with it that's different?

Can you fold it in an interesting way? Can you make a book that's really tall

or really long, or is a circle? There are all sorts of ways to take this

assignment--it's all about trying to deviate from the expected form

of a rectangle book that you might have


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