Ode to a grand staircase
ODE TO A GRAND STAIRCASE
Since the sixties a special type of book has existed in the United States: the ‘artist’s book’. Often these are not expensive and are printed in large quantities; they are allied to the Pop Art and Fluxus movements. In addition, there are also the more traditional private presses, which have been making beautiful books since 1900 (under the influence of William Morris, amongst others).
Sometimes the presses make very personal, sometimes autobiographical work, for example using family quilts as images. One of the more subtle presses is Flying Fish Press run by Julie Chen in Berkeley, California. Chen teaches ‘Book Arts’ at Mills College. She established her press in 1987. At present she publishes only her own work, but previously she worked mainly in co-operation with other artists. Her aim is to publish artwork that reads as a book but has the impact of a ‘work of art’.
A beautiful example of her ‘architectural book’ is the Ode to a grand staircase. Chen made this book in 2001 with Barbara Tetelbaum of the Triangular Press, which is based in Portland, Oregon. It was, writes Chen, a ‘long-distance duet’.
Ode to a grand staircase was inspired by Marche du grand escalier, a composition by the French composer Erik Satie. ‘The text’, we read in the colophon, is ‘derived from the musical directives and silent librettos which accompanied his scores.’
Ode to a grand staircase is, when you unfold it, a staircase itself. A paper staircase with colourful steps artistically excised using modern laser techniques. While descending the steps, you read: ‘It is a large staircase,/ very large/ it has more than a thousand steps/ all of ivory/ it is very beautiful/ nobody dares use it/ for fear of damaging it.’