Artist Book Spotlight: Al Mutanabbi I, by Elsi Vassdal Ellis
War and its effects are a frequent topic for book artist Elsi Vassdal Ellis. I could never express my thoughts on such an emotional topics with the same eloquence and intelligence that Elsi manages. She is a deep thinker, a profound and prolific writer who journals regularly to cast out demons with her intense and insightful feelings.
Elsi tells us of her Al Mutanabbi project, “I have avoided revisiting Iraq for a few years now. The multi-layers of war and politics, internal and external to Iraq, created a black hole in my creative life. I needed to take a sabbatical from my attention to this war. When invited to participate in An Inventory of Al Mutanabbi Street by Beau Beausoleil, I girded up my loins, so to speak, and opened the Iraq door again.”
Beau’s Al Mutanabbi project is a call to book artists to react to this horrific event, “On March 5th 2007, a car bomb was exploded on al-Mutanabbi Street in Baghdad. Al-Mutanabbi Street is in a mixed Shia-Sunni area. More than 30 people were killed and more than 100 were wounded. Al-Mutanabbi Street, the historic center of Baghdad bookselling, holds bookstores and outdoor bookstalls, cafes, stationery shops, and even tea and tobacco shops. It has been the heart and soul of the Baghdad literary and intellectual community.”
The first of three books Elsi is creating for this Project, an editioned artist book titled Al Mutanabbi I is a powerful, multi-layered, complex and emotional project.
The 112 pages of this book contain a photographic project documenting the decay of three books placed in her yard. She tells us, “There are many landscapes explored between the non-linear narrative and the images of slowly decaying books. The reader is gently reminded that we are all moving, some gently, some violently, towards decay, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”
The book also features extensive text. “It is a meditation upon the book as container, as cultural artifact, as ideas in corporeal form. It calls out the names of booksellers, book buyers, book browsers who were killed on Mutanabbi Street, Baghdad, Iraq. It also acknowledges the many journalists who have also sacrificed themselves for the revealing the truth about Iraq.”
Also included on every page are quotations about books from thinkers ranging from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Benjamin Disraeli to this fitting quote by Akiba ben Joseph, “The paper burns but the words fly away.”
Click here to learn more about Al Mutanabbi I, the book. Elsi's book reads like a journal documenting her deeply affecting meditations on life and death and books. Each page is dated, beginning July 28, 2011 and continuing through October 11 of the same year. Elsi’s powerful text captured each day runs the gamut from reflections, “the photographs are a sacrilege, the action is an abomination” to outrage over the compromised civil liberties of American library constituents. A list of the booksellers killed on that fateful day plus a detailed list of journalists killed in Iraq is included “so you can not help but continue to read their names, to keep them immortal.”
23 Sandy Gallery is pleased to present a solo show for book artist Elsi Vassdal Ellis from Bellingham, Washington. The show runs through March 10, 2012. Elsi has the unique distinction of being selected for every single national juried book arts exhibition here since we opened our doors nearly five years ago. We are proud to honor Elsi with a solo show of her one-of-a-kind and edition artist books.
Elsi’s books are most often political in nature, focusing on topics ranging from war to the atomic bomb to genocide to the inequities of male versus female pay scales. Her books are deeply considered, often involving copious original writings regarding these weighty topics. Superb craftsmanship and a strong interest in materiality are also important aspects of her work.Elsi feels her job as a book artist is really more that of an alchemist, someone who searches the ends of the earth for the necessary matter, subjects it to fire and ice and distillation, concentrating the experiences to serve as the voice and witness for current and future generations.
Thank you Elsi, for all you do to change the world.