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Release: April 11, 2002  

Libraries exhibition debut coincides with April 12-14 conference

Created to coincide with an April 12-14 Craft Critique and Culture Conference sponsored by the University of Iowa's Department of English, an exhibition in UI Libraries poses the question," How is the meaning of a text affected by the way the words are presented to the reader?"

The exhibition, titled "The Materiality of Text," argues that throughout history, the reception of text has been influenced by the way words have been shaped and placed on a given surface. The books and documents selected for display demonstrate this in several ways, and are viewable through July 12 at the Special Collections Department, Third Floor, Main Library. For more conference information, visit http://www.uiowa.edu/~c3conf/.

In an example that serves to demonstrate the influence of words in relation to the substance on which they are printed, folio and miniature English Bibles, each open to the first page of the book of Psalms, are arranged on the bottom shelf of each of the six exhibit cases. The earliest is a copy of the "Bishop's Bible" of 1572.  This is followed by a second edition of the King James translation dated 1617. Modern editions include Barry Moser's illustrated Bible (1999) and the Arion Press Bible (2001). Miniature books come from the Charlotte M. Smith Collection of Miniature Books and include the entire text of the Oxford Lectern Bible, designed by Bruce Rogers, photographically reduced to fit on a two-inch square slide.  (A "good quality 100x" microscope is recommended for use in reading this version.)

The books and documents on the first of the upper shelves illustrate the work of engraver William Blake, a writer and artist who was deeply concerned with the presentation of his work. Modern editions show that his work has not always been thoughtfully preserved. In many historical cases, the publisher controlled the presentation of a text and the author was not consulted or concerned with these decisions. This is illustrated in the second case by several versions of Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven," according to Sid Huttner, head of Special Collections.

In other situations, Huttner said, the author took control of the way his or her text was presented, taking advantage of changing technologies.  This is illustrated by a poem by the 19th century French poet Stephane Mallarme and a poem by Writers' Workshop poet James Galvin, whose "Dear Prevailing Wind" is shown from his first scrawled note through typewritten text, an ink jet version, as a periodical appearance, and in hand-set type and calligraphed editions.

The final case displays a group of books whose authors have used modern technologies to shape and present words exactly as they desired.  These book artists include Tom Phillips,

Johanna Drucker, and Buzz Spector. Spector's book consists of 181 identical pages in a cloth binding. The first page has been torn back to a small stub near the spine; the second page left slightly wider; and so on to page 181, which has been left intact. The surviving text shimmers mysteriously through the torn edges.

"These specimens suggest how the material presentation of a text can influence reader reception. They also suggest that an analysis of historical text presentation can give contemporary authors valuable ideas about how they might better communicate their message. Contemporary digital technology has allowed authors to reinvent what it means to 'publish.'" Will electronic text incorporate the best of what we have learned in over 500 years of "printing?" Huttner asks.

For more information about the April Craft Critique and Culture Conference, visit http://www.uiowa.edu/~c3conf/. The exhibit will be in place through July 12, 2002.

The exhibit has been organized by Sara T. Sauers and Tim Barrett of the University of Iowa Center for the Book, in consultation with Matt Brown, Shari DeGraw, Sarah Roberts, and the staff of Special Collections.