This post originally appeared on the Library as Incubator Project in September 2016.

Ellen Ziegler’s extraordinary book art was what made us reach out, but her wonderful collaborative projects truly embody the library-as-incubator philosophy. Enjoy! ~Erinnscreen-shot-2016-09-10-at-9-48-58-pm

Library as Incubator Project (LAIP): Tell us a little bit about yourself and your work.

Ellen Ziegler (EZ): I went to Antioch College; some of my professors there were students at Black Mountain College with John Cage, Josef and Anni Albers, Jacob Lawrence, Merce Cunningham, Robert Motherwell, and many other seminal avant-garde artists of the 20th century. Their experimental methods influenced me deeply. I am self-taught as a graphic designer, artist, and book artist as a result of the anarchic and fearless approaches that I was exposed to. I’ve been lucky to have had a successful design practice in Seattle, followed by a shift to art and book arts in 2000.

My work investigates the psychological and physical properties of materials through drawing. I work with pigments, tar paper, mirror silvering, burned paper, obsolete industrial tools, and light-sensitive surfaces, as well as the changing effects of light and shadow.

"The beautiful couple is beautiful." John Green, The Fault In Our Stars Silver mylar on tracing paper, ink on tulle netting, 30” x 48”, 2014

“The beautiful couple is beautiful.” John Green, The Fault In Our Stars Silver mylar on tracing paper, ink on tulle netting, 30” x 48”, 2014

LAIP: What are you working on right now that you’re excited about?

EZ: I’m leading a group of artists in participating in an international exhibit here in Seattle in October 2016. 9e2 is a reprise of Nine Evenings, the first event where artists and scientists/engineers collaborated in public. This event was held in 1966 in New York over a period of nine evenings and included the think tank Bell Laboratories and, among many others, Robert Rauschenberg, Lucinda Childs, Deborah Hay, Steve Paxton, and Yvonne Rainer.

Fifty years later, artists are collaborating with 21st century concepts of technology and science to present experimental work. This will lead to “documentation” of an experimental form in an artist’s book.

I’m also working on a book about an eccentric museum in Mexico City that features both antique toys and street art. Stay tuned!

LAIP: How do you see your work interacting with narrative or story?  What does working in books allow you to do that you can’t pull off with other media?

EZ: I have always loved the sequencing that takes place in books. In the folio form, the left-to-right procession that is so much a part of our Western culture takes me on a storytelling journey that can be altered and played with infinitely. It’s this starting point that inspires me, even though many of my books are not in that form. An example:

My first artist’s book, 

“El Torero y la Bailarina”, was the love story of a young ballerina (my mother) from New York’s Ballet Theatre, in residence at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City. She fell in love with Cantinflas, Mexico’s most famous actor and comedian (and a bullfighter). The story is told with photos, telegrams, and anecdotes. The book is written in Spanish and English. The Spanish language pages overlay the English pages and are hand-typed on onionskin — letter writing paper of the period. They were typed by a Mexico City mecanografico, a typist-for-hire who writes letters and documents for clients in one of Mexico City’s main squares. Funded by Kickstarter!

Another example: The Book of Knowledge is a series of forty original paintings, sequenced and bound into a single volume. The book format allows me to tell this story in images without miles of walls.


LAIP: How have libraries informed your creative work? Tell us about the first library you remember playing a part in your artistic development.

EZ: My father’s best friend had a private library of limited edition books, illustrated with tipped-in lithographs and etchings. This began my love for printing, typography, printmaking, and books in general. I also tried to read every book in the elementary school library in alphabetical order.
I also tried to read every book in the elementary school library in alphabetical order.
LAIP: Can you describe a particular library-incubated project for us?
EZ: I’ve always loved alphabets and languages. Access to books with the alphabets of the world at the University of Washington library fostered a piece called “Counting in Tongues”: numbers from Southeast Asia inscribed on adding machine tape.
LAIP: As an artist, what would your ideal library be like?  What kinds of stuff would you be able to check out, and what could you do there?
EZ: Not a direct answer, but: I want to make a library. I was deeply inspired by Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence (both an actual museum and a novel) that he built in Istanbul. (Readers: look it up! amazing.) Just think of making a library not only of books that have deep personal meaning, but objects, book-like objects, collections to be “read”, ephemera…this is one of my dreams.
downloadEllen Ziegler sources the immaterial through the material. Her practice includes drawing, sculpture, assemblage, and artist’s books. She works with mirrored glass, tar paper, cyanotype, and draw with an electrode on a copper table. These arcane materials, with their sometimes unpredictable outcome, allow for accident and serendipity as well as ongoing refinement of technique: chemistry is the emotion of matter. Connect with Ellen on her website. 
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