PNW Book Artists Tackle Ecological Issues in New Exhibition

Courtesy of University of Puget Sound

Working Upstream by artist Jim Oker is currently on exhibit at the Collins Memorial Library at the University of Puget Sound in Washington.

The Collins Memorial Library at the University of Puget Sound in Washington is pushing the boundaries of art and science. The brains behind its current exhibition, Science Stories—library director Jane Carlin, Evergreen State College professor emerita Lucia Harrison, and Puget Sound professor of biology Peter Wimberger—connected book artists with scientists and asked them to collaborate on projects that conveyed research-based information in a unique way. The artists used eye-catching imagery, tactile materials, and creative structures to facilitate discussion about scientific and environmental issues.

“This collaboration not only brings important scientific research to a visual setting, but has provided a framework for how to engage the community,” said Carlin.

For Working Upstream, pictured above, artist Jim Oker collaborated with Dan Burgard, professor of chemistry at the University of Puget Sound. Oker writes, “Through the Working Upstream book project, book designer, Suze Woolf and I strove to explore the nature of this work and the issues it raises through images that evoke the notion of seeing aspects of the world in and through water. Water can become a lens through which the world can be seen, both figuratively and literally.”

Courtesy of University of Puget Sound

Pangolin Pandemic by artist Gabby Cooksey.

Another book, Pangolin Pandemic, takes on animal trafficking. Artist and bookbinder Gabby Cooksey made a limited edition letterpress-printed book that braids two timely narratives about animal poaching and the spread of diseases like Covid-19. A visit to the Slater Natural History Museum on the Puget Sound campus inspired her to make tactile collages that would recreate the feeling of pangolin scales.

Plastics pollution was highlighted by artist Jessica Spring, who worked with Puget Sound professor emerita Alyce DeMarais, a developmental biologist, on Tensile: A Sublime Love Story, which weaves zebrafish research with a Percy Bysshe Shelley poem. Part of Spring’s creative vision involved using single-use plastic trash in the printing process to signal the harmful effects of cheap packaging on the planet’s fauna.   

The exhibition of twenty-one artists’ books remains on view at Collins Memorial Library through January 14, 2022. For those too far afield, the library has created amazing video stories for each of the books, all easily accessible from the main exhibition site.

There will be more on this innovative exhibition in a forthcoming print issue of Fine Books as the exhibition travels to the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center in Port Angeles, Washington, and Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, in 2022. Stay tuned!