Pages, covers, binding, words.
Cherished products providing information, engagement, excitement and enlightenment.
Just don't read them.
Stare, however, in amazement -- or bafflement -- at written words transformed into pieces of art in "Altered States: Artists Re-Imagine the Book," on display through Jan. 2 at the Reed Whipple Cultural Center.
"The advent of the digital age is changing the way the written word is transmitted to readers, precipitating a sea change in the world of printing and publishing," reads the exhibit statement of Joseph Shuldiner, the Los Angeles-based curator of this presentation that was conceived to complement the Vegas Valley Book Festival earlier this month.
"Against the backdrop of the time in which electronically stored information is rapidly replacing paper and ink, the artists of this exhibition have chosen to use existing printed books as their point of departure."
Splayed open into facing pages, Tor Archer's "Book of the Hand" features a brass pair of miniature hands, prayerlike and tucked into archway-style cutouts scooped from each page, what Archer describes as "representing the hand of the artists in the creative act," as well as referencing "the religious use of symbolic hand gestures, particularly in Christian, Hindu and Buddhist art."
Fascinating imagery fashioned out of a phone book is the work of Doug Beube, whose "Twister" artfully uses thick, whirling chunks of pages twisted to approximate the spinning terror of that destructive weather phenomenon. Another Beube piece, "Fault Lines," features Atlas pages cut into scissored strips crisscrossing over facing pages, as if points on a map are colliding.
Multidimensional effects are highlighted in the eye-catching "Old Garden," as artist Alexander Korzer-Robinson turns a 19th-century encyclopedia cover into a stage as pages are nearly hollowed out by cutting away everything but illustrations. What remains is a lush, 3-D landscape of biblical figures, foliage and animals.
Such pieces, Shuldiner's statement says, "can be read as a commentary on the perception of books within our culture -- their function in the promotion and perpetuation of stereotypes, the idea of defacement, the book as an abstract repository of words and the book seen solely as a material object."
Novels, phone books, encyclopedias -- even accounting ledgers are inspirational fodder. "Untitled" features Jill Sylvia's hanging collection of 30 chart pages in their bureaucratic blandness, line after line of empty grids cut away, throwing shadows against the wall in what Sylvia's statement calls "an attempt to understand our need to quantify our transactions."
Geography impressively rises out of books used by Guy Laramee, who builds grand landscapes of mountains, cliffs and boulders, the sculptures ascending from the pages of an illustrated history of Japan and a massive French dictionary. "They manifest an illusion of exotic geographic worlds," Laramee says in his statement. "We live in books, literally. We stack them, and we carve ourselves little niches inside them."
Bold colors in a hanging, floor-to-ceiling montage distinguish "Treatment," Lisa Kokin's striking collection of book spines from self-help tomes -- Dr. Phil to Helen Gurley Brown to John Gray to Deepak Chopra -- strung together. Another Kokin montage, "Shroud," stitches together a wide range of postcard-size reproductions of pulpy Western novels with titles such as "Return of the Outlaw," "Blood Reckoning," "Southwest Drifter" and "Ramrod Rider," separated by strips of shredded paper.
What's it all mean?
"Ultimately these altered books challenge us to re-examine the exalted, nearly sacred status of the book within our culture and the deeply embedded values through which we regard it," Shuldiner's statement concludes.
"They invite us to shift our perception and view what has long been an everyday object as something entirely new precisely at the moment when its role in our lives may be changing forever."
Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0256.