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Concrete Poetry, Concrete Book: Artists’ Books in German-speaking Space after 1945

In the same decades that artists affiliated with Fluxus explored action-based, performative strategies set on disrupting the conventions of both art and everyday life, the book emerged as a significant artistic preoccupation. Not only were books important for anthologizing ephemeral action-based art, but they became in their own right sites of artistic experimentation with cognitive, visual, and tactile experience. Drawing on the remarkable collection of rare artists’ books housed in the University of Chicago Library, Concrete Poetry, Concrete Book explores how artists in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland investigated the material and technical forms of the book. Referring to the way that language takes up space on the page, arrests the eyes, and insists on physical interaction, works of konkrete poesie (concrete poetry) tested the material display of language, focusing on the object-quality of letters and words. To accommodate this dual staging of textual production and reception, artists’ books took on unusual forms, as in Gerhard Rühm’s kinetic book bewegung (motion, 1964) and Hansjörg Mayer’s reinvention of the alphabet in the fold-out book typoaktionen (type-actions, 1967). At the same time that artists’ books often activate the process of reading, they also deemphasize textual cognition, foregrounding instead touch and materiality, as exemplified in die-cut multi-colored cellophane pages of Dieter Roth’s bilderbücher (picture-books, 1957) and in Wolf Vostell’s unreadable 20-pound Betonbuch (Concrete Book, 1971). In tandem with Concrete Happenings, interactive workshops will provide unique opportunities for hands-on engagement with artists’ books, and a series of public lectures will provide further perspective on the concrete questions they raise about language, materiality, performance, and collaboration.
Relevant research areas: Western Europe, 20th Century, Book arts

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