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  Vol.11, No 6, 2003
Loose Leaf Reveries

A world of moods is contained in a language without words

Jolanta Paškevičienė

Have you ever browsed through a book with just a few handwritten words or pages strung on wooden sticks and an unfolded ship in origami, or where the veins of a leaf serve as illustrations? If you have, then you probably know that there exists the art of the artist’s book.

All of us know something about books, and everything connected with them. Yet the book that we have known since school is far from the works of the artist’s book. It is an exclusive field of book art, where the very concept of the book (usually in a single copy), its design, layout, binding and very often the materials it is made of have been created by the author.

For an art collector, such a purchase is not a very good investment. It does not adorn an interior like a painting does, but is stacked on a shelf or in a closed drawer and kept in a case or a box.

One cannot display it, admire it or leaf through it frequently, due to its fragility and non-durability. Usually books like this are made of natural materials and very sensitive handmade paper.

Diana Radavičiūtė, 45, has been creating such books for over ten years, and is known to specialists in the field all over the world. Her books contain graphics, designs, sculptures, textile art and performance all in one work. Very often they find their way into private collections and museums straight from exhibitions.

“It’s not the same to me when I touch familiar Whatman paper or newspaper, papier-torchon, or handmade rice paper,” she says.

“We are used to paper as a material we use every day. I have tried to make the moment of touching very important for myself. I experienced the intense satisfaction of touching the material when I worked with paper in Japan.”

Reading in Touch and Feeling

“I reject everything that is pleasing to the eye, the nose or the ear,” says Diana. “Everything ornate which prevents us from looking deeper.

“This is how it is in life: what or whom you love and cherish you treasure more with time, and little by little you reject what you feel is exhausted, used up or even unknown. You don’t even touch it, because one life will not suffice for that.”

Very often her work is white on white, the thinnest lines, knots, torn and living edges of a sheet of paper. Everything is minimalist and exists only in hints, like the breath of a butterfly. All is extremely precise, yet naturally simple.

Diana always emphasises the aspect of intimacy of a book. Isn’t each book intended to be read by just one person at a time?

“This intimacy is very dear to me. The stimulus of my work arises from being with the book that is different to each of us. It inspires me to create a book for you, for me or for him alone. Thus, these objects are very intimate. They are not intended for a wide audience.”

It is true that the books are presented to the public at exhibitions; but here they are only seen, and not read. Also, exhibitions of book art are quite rare, and artists creating such objects in Lithuania are rather rare too.
The art of the artist’s book is an international process, in which some countries are traditionally very advanced.
The first European exhibition of artist’s books was held just ten years ago, at the Museum of Paper Art in Düren, Germany.

The book and its structure in the traditional understanding of it did not emerge from one country, or at the same time. It took shape from Chinese and Egyptian scrolls and the strings of prayer slips of Tibetan Buddhist monks enclosed in tiny boxes.

The depth of Diana’s knowledge of books is not in doubt. She studied book art and graphics at the Art Academy in Vilnius, and has designed and illustrated over 20 books. Later, she studied bookbinding, and learned to make paper.
She began in 1992, when trying herself out in this new field, after several attempts in the genre. She created The White Book, a book of roughly bound pages made of several different sorts of white handmade paper.

“I wanted to catch the time, and I was happy to find a visually recognisable expression of it,” she recalls. “I used a piece of wood which I drilled through and attached to a page like a clock’s hand to trace the hours and minutes on the clock’s face.”

It was the first time, she says, that she experienced the possibility of catching a piece of a mood.

That simple object later found its way into the hands of the owner of a gallery of artist’s books in Dusseldorf, who was fascinated by it. She invited Diana to put on an exhibition in her gallery. And she did it fully aware that the book she had seen was the only one so far by Diana.

“It was an adventure, both for me and for the owner of the gallery,” says the artist. “During the time I was getting ready for that exhibition, I created twelve books, all totally different in their concept, design and structure.”

That year, Diana says, she expressed all that was in her, and said all that she had to say at the time. After the exhibition, when all her books had been bought, she was overcome by a deep sadness of loss. Emotionally, she had still been tied to her works.

“Now I’m happy that these objects acquired owners and are kept by people to whom, I hope, they still give pleasure.”

A Ladder to the Sky

Diana’s books are states of mind. This is confirmed by the titles: Let’s Talk about Shadows, The Hours of Stone, Notes about the Earth, The Week I don’t Remember.

“I make each book first of all for myself, and each one is the equivalent of some mood or state of mind,” she says.
She has not created many, only about 30, because the process is slow. Also, she says, she can only work when a certain mood hits her. In other words, when an idea will not leave her in peace.

Yet spontaneity is absent from her work. She never creates books, or other works, spurred on by the single impulse of a mood. For a work to be born, she has to fall in love with a mood and nurture it. Sometimes the time between an impulse and its crystallisation into an idea is very long.

The pages of A Long Journey are placed on a tiny stepladder, so that a glance follows them up, and then down, like the path of life.

Many years ago, when she was travelling in Asia, Diana was struck by something she saw in a neglected cemetery. Instead of a tombstone, a ladder was sticking out of the ground.

“A ladder to help the soul reach heaven. The metaphor is so banal, and yet so beautiful and simple, that it stuck in my mind.”

Fifteen years had to pass until an idea for a book was born out of this image.

A Conversation With the Self

Exhibitions, participation in workshops and simple human curiosity have taken Diana and her husband, the artist Saulius Valius, to the most far-flung corners of the world, to India, Japan, Easter Island, Mauritius, Chile and Peru. Every journey, with all its experiences, observations and interesting details, is recorded in a separate diary.

For Diana, these thick volumes are working sketches of thoughts, a store of information, because in them she can find not only addresses and a vocabulary of the language of the country she visited, but also a decoration from a pavement, a ticket, or a piece of paper smeared in the spices used in that country.

“I know that if ever I need information or inspiration, I will always have it. It is an immense pleasure to realise you haven’t lost anything.”

The book Let’s Talk about Shadows was born out of a journey. Views whizzing past the window of a fast train, a no longer recognisable landscape turning into a dance of shadows, moved into Diana’s reflections and sensations on paper. By arranging the sheets of this book, strung on two parallel threads resembling railway tracks, into desired intervals, the reader can turn them on one side or another and thus create a personal version of the landscape beyond the window.

The book The Hours of Stone was born out of Diana’s love of stones from all over the world. Her passion for the material can be felt both at her home and in her studio.
All glass vessels, all the windowsills and shelves, are full of them.

“Before starting a book, my mind is full of anxiety. In this case, there was a succession of little stones. You look at them and see that they contain everything. As always, you will not create anything more beautiful and wiser than nature has.

“How can I express it? Anxiety and uncertainty push you forward. They follow you everywhere, and, like some good monster, breathe down your neck. In the end, the initial thought turns into something quite different to what you had thought of.

“Until it eventually emerges, I never know what the final result will be. It is a beautiful suspense. This uncertainty provokes and teases me. Therefore, for me, the creation of books is a conversation with myself.”

What Does Paper Dream Of?

The wisdom of the ancient Japanese says that if paper could dream it would dream of water. The whole process of making paper is very wet. It is born in water. Its thinness, the way the pulp lies on the drier, its elasticity and colour also depend on water.

Yet, what a paradox. Having started its life this way, paper lives in fear of water. Water makes it curl, develop mould, change its colour and shape, or become soggy.
This was the idea Diana played with while creating her A Diary about Water. Sheets of transparent rice paper are lifted up like a waterfall or laid down in a book like the rippling of water. The base of the book hides a secret which you find after turning all the pages. It is real water with an air bubble in it.

And when this book was travelling to an exhibition by plane once, the vessel containing the water did not survive the drop in pressure. The water spilled and drenched the sheets of fine rice paper. For several years, this work, all curled up, lay in the artist’s studio like proof that paper has reason to be scared of water. Later, Diana restored this diary and brought it back to its initial shape.

Every Book is a Secret

“A book is a genuine secret. Before opening it, you are not even aware of what is lurking on the next page,” says Diana.

“The very structure of the book and its essence determine that. I try to play with these subtle details.”

Her books brim with secrets and surprises. Sometimes the structure itself is unbelievable: a book that can be turned into a paper lantern, strung up on wooden sticks, or laid on a tiny stepladder.

At other times, you are astonished by the unbelievable materials of which a book can be made, or hard-to-imagine combinations of materials on their pages, including sand, stones, seeds, leaves or felt made of flax fibre.

“My books are composed of a multitude of human feelings. Although in our lives we are always in a hurry, and rush past everything in haste, there are still some moments in life that stick in your mind. These moments make up my art.
Sometimes it is a painting, sometimes a print, and sometimes a book.”

In this process of purification, of the search for the essence and the rejection of all that is superfluous, what is left on Diana’s desk is a white sheet of paper with a few words on it. And if anybody is interested in this white paper, then she thinks her aim has at least in part been achieved.

“When a person opens a book of mine and goes quiet, when he is taken aback and his eyes sparkle, when I see that I have touched something in a human soul, this is the greatest satisfaction for me.”

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