The Unexpected Nature of Collaboration

The Unexpected Nature of Collaboration

In an exhibition featuring Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera at the Detroit Institute of Arts a few years ago, I found a small framed drawing in a far corner. The image was bizarre: a round-breasted woman holding a fig leaf on strings over prominent male genitalia. The title of the piece was Exquisite Corpse, the name the Surrealists gave to an old parlour game known as Consequences.

Exquisite Corpse is a kind of blind collaboration. The game begins when one person draws a head at the top of the page, then folds over the paper to conceal the image from the next person, who then draws the chest, handing the paper back and forth (or around the parlour) until the entire character is drawn and the image — often funny, always strange, and definitely accidental — is revealed.

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A Monument of Books

A Monument of Books

When Buenos Aires was the World Book Capital in 2011, the city constructed an 82-foot, wire-mesh tower that entrapped 30,000 used books donated by libraries, embassies, and individuals. Visitors climbed stairs inside the “Tower of Babel,” reading the titles and listening to Marta Minujín, the installation artist who conceived the project, repeating the word “book” in dozens of languages.

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As I wrote Gutenberg’s Fingerprint, I thought a lot about books, what they are, what they mean, why I love them, how they are changing and how they are becoming what they started out to be. The brain doesn’t turn off when an editor says “Stop!” so in Books UnPacked, these thoughts spool on, exploring the past and future of books, and the actual books I’m unwrapping to read.

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