Water Books ~ an experiment

My notions of the book are broad ranging, but particular qualities of the form that excite me are the capacity for compression and expansion, and the way that it embraces time. The codex book form reflects the nature of hand papermaking, with sheets formed individually, folded, and sewn. However, the scroll (an even more ancient form) is oddly similar to the way we consume electronic information in a continuum. Industrial paper machines make paper this way, in a continuous web on an ingenious device known as a fourdrinier machine, named for the Englishman credited with its development.

At Papeterie Saint-Armand in Montreal I was offered a choice of materials to work with. Their regular production on the fourdrinier is with cotton rag (sometimes with other fibres added), linen rag, and fibre flax. I chose to work with the fibre flax, a material I use a great deal, as I like the lean toughness of the paper it produces and the fact that it still bears traces of its plant origins. I had decided to mark the paper using jets of water arranged across the width of the web, so that lines appeared along its length as the web moved past, resembling lines of text or musical staves, and it seemed that, based on tests and David Carruthers’ previous experience, a flax pulp would give me the clarity of line I wanted. The other factors to control were the speed of the moving web and the water pressure in the jets. 


I wanted to interrupt the flow of the water at intervals, so we concocted a piece of modified rain guttering so that I could catch the water when it wasn’t wanted and pour it away. If this had been a mass production endeavour, there would have been a period of invention and fabrication to modify the fourdrinier to make this kind of patterned markmaking foolproof and predictable. Ours was a quick hardware store solution. But here was my opportunity for the workmanship of risk -- and for getting wet! 

Knowing the speed of the traveling web (12 feet per minute) enabled me to translate the pattern I wanted into a series of time codes, which I followed like a musical score. It was simply on/off, ones and zeroes, or, harking back to my weaving days as a student, up/down. I had, in fact, thought of this project in musical terms right from the start because of the machine’s time-based nature and, as I followed my score pinned to the opposite wall and manipulated my rain gutter, I did feel like a less-than-graceful performer in a collaboration with the machine.

The Spring 2013 issue of Book Arts arts du livre Canada (included with membership in the Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild) has an article by bookbinder Don Taylor about the endeavour, with the title:

Water Books, a Concert in F(lax) for Fourdrinier and Artist: Susan Warner Keene at Papeterie Saint-Armand
* to read Don Taylor's article click on the cover below


CBBAG cover

I would like to thank David Carruthers and Denise Lapointe, directors of Papeterie Saint-Armand, 
for their expertise and enthusiasm for the project, and staff members Joanne Murray and Anthony Vieira for invaluable assistance.
 I am also grateful to the Ontario Arts Council for supporting this endeavour.

Website © Susan Warner Keene 2009