Upcoming film is an open book on Spector’s art

November 29, 2007

CORNELL CHRONICLE ONLINE — The artwork and teaching of professor of art Buzz Spector, who uses books -- often altered, arranged, or otherwise recontextualized -- as both subject and object, is the focus of a new documentary in progress, The Rise and Fall of Books. A Cornell audience had an advance glimpse of the film November 15 in Willard Straight Theatre. It is scheduled for completion in 2008. Produced by University Communications, the film documents Spector and his students' work on the Humanities Book Art Project earlier this year. With more than 800 volumes on loan from Cornell authors and University Library holdings, the book art project was incorporated into "From Inspiration to Exhibition," the section of a winter session course Spector taught at the Architecture, Art, and Planning New York City Center. (Another 2,000 or more books were borrowed from the New York Public Library annex for other sculptural forms produced in the class.) The finished sculpture, Big Red C, was reassembled for an exhibit in Kroch Library last spring. Spector and filmmaker Jake Gorst were on hand to introduce the film and speak with the audience at the screening. In classroom scenes and in filmed interviews, Spector talks about the history of the book, growing up in a family of readers, the tactile pleasures and other aspects of the act of reading, and his art, in which he has methodically torn pages in books to create cascading patterns of paper and text inside. He speaks with wonderment about Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are and, in a moving sequence near the end of the film, about an exhibition he created from his mother's lifetime of reading. "The notion that a son of hers would tear pages out of books and call it art was extremely distressing to her," Spector says in the film. Spector's students and a longtime friend, art dealer, and critic Reagan Upshaw, also are interviewed. "It must have been difficult to tear that first book," Upshaw says. The film also addresses technology in visual media, as the class and book project were documented with a massive 20x24 Polaroid camera and with digital time-lapse photography. The Polaroid camera's possible obsolescence and the fate of printed books also are discussed. "What's our responsibility to preserve our cultural heritage?" Spector asks. The film uses music by rock group The dB's. When initially contacted by Gorst about the film, songwriters Chris Stamey and Peter Holsapple were surprised to hear Spector's name. "By uncanny coincidence," Spector said, he had designed record covers for an earlier incarnation of the band, Sneakers, more than two decades ago. After filming interviews over the summer, Gorst had more than 13 hours of footage to work with, "enough to do a feature film," Gorst said. He conducted additional interviews this month on campus. Gorst is an Emmy Award-winning filmmaker whose projects include Liesurama, about 1950s culture, and Farmboy. He said he is seeking underwriters for about $40,000 in completion funds. He plans to submit the finished product to film festivals and arrange for a national broadcast on PBS. Audience members were given short questionnaires and invited to give their comments. "This is a rough cut -- what you say will help to shape what this film becomes," Gorst said. Story by Daniel Aloi

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