If I were stranded on a desert island I would be in good company if I had brought with me Babara Luck’s Night Street and Pablo Neruda’s Las Piedras del Cielo. I believe that both books have the depth to engage and entertain for a prolonged period of time. To me neither opened and ended with the rushed turning of the pages, but instead revealed greater layers for examination. While Zweig’s description of the power of the novel resonates with me, I think that both Night Street and Las Piedras del Cielo have the ability to compel the viewer beyond the fleeting impact of a brief encounter with stunning pages that Zweig claims many artist books are limited to.
I was incredibly impressed with Night Street’s construction, colors, and design. Vliet designed the book so that the experience of viewing the book could be changeable through the flexibility of the structure. Night Street is clearly more than the flipping of beautiful pages. While the book may be viewed in a traditional codex form, the structure designed by Vliet enables the book to stand up and fan out or wrap around itself. The illustrations by Johnson are beautiful, eye-catching and edgy, enhanced by the cut out shape of each page that follow the corners of tall buildings. There is such detail to each page that it would not be impossible to spend hours taking in each illustration. The way that the book is able to stand up and fan out emphasizes the message of the book as you view the pages through one another at a diagonal that follows the view of buildings down a street. In the way that a city can draw you in again and again, I believe that a viewer may continually visit and explore Night Street. If I were on a desert island, a walk through the replicated urban landscape would be an incredibly valuable experience.
Neruda’s Las Piedras del Cielo had a similar flexibility and mutability of engagement. The prints of each page are beautiful on their own, but when limited to themselves Zweig might classify them as the stunning book that ended with the final page turn. The interlaying of Neruda’s poems within the prints adds depth to both the physical form of each page and to the meaning of the book overall. The lifting of flaps to reveal poetic verse literally places meaning within each print that is revealed through the tactile engagement of the viewer. Beyond juxtaposition, the poems and prints relate to one another through their imagery, as Neruda’s poem “Topaz” sat on a page of yellows and oranges that represented the gemstone. Moving through Las Piedras del Cielo requires the viewer to reveal the words of each page through their movement and exploration of each page, and in effect demonstrates how meaning is dependent on the viewer. Zweig could flip quickly through the stunning pages of Neruda’s book and end her experience with the closing of the codex, but much of the work would be lost in her superficial haste. Both Las Piedras del Cielo and Night Street enable the viewer to shape their encounter with the book and activate and enhance the meaning of the book on their own terms. Within both books I saw the potential for prolonged engagement.