For those of you who think e-books have replaced paperback books, Werner Pfeiffer would like to change your mind. Pfeiffer approaches books with the idea that paper is more than—paper. In the artist’s own words, “paper is not just a surface, it’s a structure. It has a wonderful playfulness.” Pfeiffer recently visited Drexel University for a one-day workshop, proving paper can be more exciting than you think.
Werner Pfeiffer, a German born designer, printer, artist, and sculptor, often finds himself experimenting with the material. His avant-garde artist books are handcrafted creations that use traditional book making methods, such as letterpress printing, combined with unconventional methods of paper folding. When your works are in the collections of the Art Institute in Chicago, the Boston Museum of Fine Art, the Guggenheim Museum, the Library of Congress, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Museum of Modern Art, its safe to say your experiments are a success.
Currently, Werner Pfeiffer is creating artists books that combine book making, sculpture, and design. An artist book is a book that is intended to be a work of art in itself. The books act as a work sculpture, with pages that fold and explore their own structural possibilities.
In the 21st century, reading is becoming more and more digitally based. We can read magazines, journals, and books all online. Pfeiffer believes this is a problem, and uses his avant-garde artist books to encourage people to engage in a full sensory experience. The books and their tactile qualities, allow the reader to interact with these objects opposed to the separation a laptop screen can create.
Instead of reading on a laptop, Pfeiffer says people should be “reading [books] with their eyes and their hands.” Not only should books contain words, but they should also contain shapes, and different materials. The artist incorporates his beliefs into his book-objects, by using a foldout technique that takes pages from the spine and flips them out into structures that stand to create sculptures.
Abracadabra, one of the first artist books he created has a playful quality to it. The book is designed to be a flexagon—a flat model constructed by folding strips of paper, to spelling out words. “Abracadabra” is written out in individual letters on each side of the flexagon. Pfeiffer calls the book a “typographic discovery piece,” which challenges the reader to use their hands to gather what the letters spell out.
Pfeiffer’s work will continue to dare people to get back to the craft element of paper. His artist books have become a creative tool to get people to use their sense of touch, instead of passively reading online.
Jeana Mobley is a Sophomore Custom-Designed Major at Drexel University.