Your Turn: Artists’ Books as Games

Gameboard Symmetries, Ellen Dorn Levitt, Newark, Vermont: The Janus Press, 2017.

Artists’ books take many forms, but they have one thing in common: they want you, the viewer, to play along. The objects in this exhibit take that idea one step further by using the popular format of games: they invite you to roll the die, deal the cards, pull the tab, or arrange the tiles to explore the generative space between structure and play.

Some of these items take cues from the aesthetics of games. From cards and board games to video games and puzzles, they use familiar forms and symbols to create associations and evoke a particular mood of exploration and curiosity. Other books, such as A Guide to Higher Learning by Julie Chen, intentionally recreate the game experience. They use the playful combination of rules, a challenge, and interactivity–all essential components of a game–to construct meaning and guide the reader through the book.

Whether to spark introspection or reflect on urgent social issues, many of the featured artists use the format of the game to bring new perspectives to light, such as Biosphere by Ginger Burrell and MayBow’s Book Arts Jargonator by Dan Mayer. Still others hope to inspire further creativity, acknowledging the recursive nature of art: an imaginative domino effect that highlights just how intimately connected the act of appreciation is with creation. When one creates a work of art, they are always speaking to those who have come before and those who will come after.

Though the messages and compositions of these books are complex and varied, they come together here like the view through a kaleidoscope shifting into focus. They reveal that the act of making art is always a collaborative process with the surrounding world, engaging senses, experiences, and community to create meaning through material manifestations.

Curated by Ruth Thomas, graduate student of Library and Information Studies.

Read a transcript of the curator’s talk.

Please visit the companion exhibit in Special Collections on the 9th floor of Memorial Library: “Most Agreeable & Rational Recreation: Two Centuries of Educational Games.”