As I was reflecting on the books we’ve encountered in the past few weeks, Julie Chen’s Evidence of Compression stood out in my memory as one of the most intriguing books of the semester. Chen’s structure is immediately striking and unusual. The book appears as a rounded three-dimensional object that resembles a stone or a clam. It takes a few moments of investigation to determine how to open the book, which has one hinge that connects its top and bottom halves. The book itself has a noticeable weight and solidity that enhance its physical presence and mystery as you view and handle the object. Inside the clam structure are two small books with rounded pages that can fan open to create oval structures that represent the pearls of Chen’s Evidence of Compression. Just as the outside structure required physical exploration, the interior books must be held closely, creating an intimate space of exchange. The scale of Chen’s work enables closeness between viewer and the object as successful exploration of its structure and text requires careful examination. As a feminist book, the relationship created by Chen between book and reader emphasizes the forced silence of women and the difficulty of expressing female experience in a patriarchal society. The words of the small books that imply the unspoken by spelling out “words beyond words” on the pages and which are difficult to locate and discern because of the object’s structure, are the Evidence of Compression and the evidence of oppression.
Italia Imperiale also manipulates the relationship between book and viewer through scale, but the experience contrasts sharply with that of Evidence of Compression. While Chen facilitates intimacy between text and reader, the grand scale of Morgagni’s book aims to intimidate. The weight and size of the book control how its pages are turned, as strength is required to access the text. Italia Imperiale thus challenges and makes demands of its viewer before revealing its contents. The scale of Morgagni’s book emphasizes the power and importance of Musolini’s regime, and presents Italy’s imperial history in a solid and daunting form that accentuates the nation’s dominance. While Chen prompts cautious consideration by concealing her text in small pages, Morgagni overwhelms with large text and formidable images. In both books meaning is emphasized through presentation, and the creator manipulates engagement with the book in order to communicate the feminist or fascist experience.