Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Fallen Books by Melissa Dubbin and Aaron S. Davidson

A few years ago I was in Mexico enjoying a great jalapeno-induced mindfuck when I awoke to my bed rocking violently back and forth for a couple seconds. I wasn't sure I hadn't dreamt it until I saw through the darkness of the room the ceiling light slowing from a wide sway. In the morning I asked my wife if she felt the quake since, at the time, her gentle snore hadn't skipped a breath. She said anything she could sleep through wasn't a "real" earthquake even if the earth done quaketh. She's from Mexico City. For her, anything under 6 point 5 is either your imagination or gas.

For those living in areas with heavy seismic activity a common experience might be reshelving books that have toppled from bookcases. A new artist book from Aaron S. Davidson and Melissa Dubbin called Fallen Books explores images taken in libraries after earthquakes have done their worst to the Dewey Decimal System.

Davidson and Dubbin have organized their archive according to a modified Mercalli Scale, a graphic alternative to the Richter Scale that quantifies how strongly an earthquake effects the surface of the earth. Its color code indicates the intensity of the quake as it ripples out from the epicenter. Each photo is accompanied by basic information of date, place and library name. The back of each page is printed with the color as each episode corresponds to the Mercalli Scale.

In their statement, Davidson and Dubbin start by saying that "Books are earthquake proof." A seemingly confusing sentence that leaves me uncertain about what they mean. Many books are damaged to the point of being unusable - spines broken and book blocks wrenched from their cover-boards after great falls. They are hardly "earthquake proof," but I won't dwell on that.

What I will dwell upon is the way the artists chose to reproduce the photographs in what would otherwise be a fascinating book. The images, culled from various sources, are snapshots. They were made a straight documentation of the damage. Bookcases listing heavily off center and piles of books flowing into the aisles described with the passionless eye of an insurance agent. That to me is interesting but the oversized line screen and dot patterns in the reproductions reduce the quality too much for my tastes. Certainly this was a conscious choice and not simply a technical factor.

Fallen Books was published in an edition of 500 copies by Onestar Press. For those who know the publisher, they have put out mostly print-on-demand style books which conform in size and general quality but cover a large artistic range. Interestingly this title (and the recent book from Monica Haller, Riley's Story) departs with an inventive design by Francesca Grassi. Bound with metal screwposts and using uncoated paper stock, my disappointment with the image quality is abated somewhat by the form.

I want to like Fallen Books partly because of the subject but also because it allows a freak like me to take a perverse, vicarious pleasure in thinking of the horror I'd face of finding my own library in piles on the floor. It works on both counts to a point, but the faults leave this hardly earth-shattering.