The crowd of guests took turns slowly walking through the tunnel. Each person leaned closer to look at the design of the structure and read the writing on it, many people taking pictures of the passageway. These spectators were not in a cave or burrow— they were inside a book.
The human-sized tunnel, entitled “Cornered,” is the thesis project of Book Art & Creative Writing MFA student Kat Howard and is one of four projects currently being exhibited at Swarm Gallery in downtown Oakland. The exhibition, The Book is the Body, displayed the thesis projects of Kate Robinson, Rob Borges and Mirabelle Jones, all MFA students in the Book Art & Creative Writing program. Mills College is the only college in the nation to offer such a cross-disciplinary MFA program.
Although Book Art classes have been offered at Mills since the early 1980s, the MFA in Book Art & Creative Writing program was only recently introduced. The students who exhibited work at Swarm Gallery will be the first graduating class of the program.
“It’s a celebration of what we’ve learned, as well as a hint as to where we see ourselves heading creatively after graduate school,” Howard said of the exhibition.
“Cornered” was constructed of hand-embroidered paper quilts and, according to Howard, was inspired by the Brontё sisters, who wrote 19th century novels such as Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, among others.
“It’s interesting to see the culmination of paper and poetry that started off in a small space and evolved,” said Richard’s wife Jenny, who was also at the exhibition. “ It’s amazing to see the vision that they had come to fruition.”
Another human-sized “book” on display was made by Kate Robinson. Robinson’s project, “The Integrity of the Structure,” is comprised of Japanese-style screens covered in text of various sizes, styles, and colors. This creates the effect of walking through a book, similar to Howard’s project.
After graduating, Robinson plans to stay in the Bay Area and remain involved in the local poetry scene, as well as the Book Art program at Mills.
“I’d like to help the program grow,” Robinson said. “I want to teach in an active and engaged way.”
Another student, Mirabelle Jones, displayed her thesis project, “Book Reads You,” to attendees one at a time. “Book Reads You” is a motion-activated computer that senses a person’s movements and records them as language, then reads them back to the person. Jones created this project with the aim of exploring whether computers are capable of creative literature and computer-human interaction.
Jones has become heavily involved in the Book Art community, having guest lectured at the College Book Art Association and Academy of Art University. Jones is the Founder & Editor-in-Chief of The Book Art Blog. In addition to having her work displayed throughout the United States, Jones has exhibited work in Germany.
Rob Borges’ project stood out as the only literal book on display, which was accompanied by several poems and an audio component. Borges’ work has previously been displayed several times in the Pocket Gallery at Mills.
“I think it’s really cool to see different interpretations of what a book is,” said Rachel Holden, a sophomore at Mills who was in attendance at the exhibition at Swarm Gallery.
The Book Art Department at Mills encourages students to redefine what a book is—whether it takes the form of an interactive program, a life-sized installation, a performance, or a tangible book.
“We are so proud of the truly cutting edge work the students in this program do, and how it highlights this tradition at Mills of innovation in the fine arts and literary arts,” said Cynthia Scheinberg, Chair of the English Department and Dean of Graduate Literary Studies.
The exhibition took place at Swarm Gallery last week and concluded on March 3. The exhibition served as a milestone for those students whose work was displayed, as well as for the growth of the new MFA in Book Art & Creative Writing program.