Jose Ulises Heredia
Some of the first examples of interactive art can be dated back to the 1920s. This is an art form that needs the spectator in order to achieve its purpose or fullest potential. Interactive art continues to grow and evolve rapidly, gaining attention from numerous museums, venues, and urban installations as they integrate the genre into their collections in greater numbers. On the other hand, art books date back to the Medieval Period. Although practiced for generations, art books found the ancestor of their true form in the works of William Blake, who set the tone for later artists’ books by merging handwritten text and images. Nowadays, an art book could be anything- a traditional book of poems, a braid of hair, different types of sand, or even microscopic experimentations and their findings. If we merge interactive art with an art book, the result elevates its component parts to a new, higher form. Such an example lies in the book “My 9 Migraine Cures” by Ann Kalmbach and Tatana Kellner, which I came across while experiencing the Special Collections at Arizona State University’s Hayden Library.
“My 9 Migraine Cures” is a KAKE action book from the year 1987. The artists Ann Kalmbach and Tatana Kellner created the acronym “KaKe” by combining their last names, as Kellner has been Kalmbach’s longtime collaborator in the art bookmaking process. Ann Kalmbach is currently the Women’s Studio Workshop Executive Director, possessing a Masters of Fine Arts from Rochester Institute of Technology, along with a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts from SUNY New Paltz. She has served as artist in residence at the Visual Studies Workshop, the University of Southern Maine, and the MacDowell Colony. Her involvement and interest in artists’ books extends beyond the personal, as she has helped hundreds of artists in the creation of portfolios and art books of their own.
Coming across “My 9 Migraine Cures” in the Special Collection, I was initially drawn to its unique cover. Bearing the dark, high contrast image of a young woman and a peculiar selection of font made me open it and discover its interactive nature. I found it very smart the way the artist was able to manipulate paper with printed imagery as a means for giving instruction to interactivity through simple hints. For example, simple arrows or wording with instructions placed strategically alongside or near manipulative elements of the page drew the user’s attention to the interactive elements. The pages’ text, a childish, somewhat creepy handwriting-style font made the experience at times almost unsettling. The content of the book itself was simple- dark, scary even, with a focus on the cerebral or mental. In this way, the book reminded me of the way in which art books, especially interactive art books, can be a powerful tool in opening up topics otherwise taboo or uncomfortable such as mental health. At that moment, I was able to make an even deeper connection. As an artist, I have also addressed the topic of mental health through dark components and interactivity through other means such as music recordings. Likewise, as mental health is a topic of continual exploration and understanding, so too are the genres of artbooks and interactive art continually expanding and changing, offering new ways to help those who experience them.
Kalmbach, A., & Kellner, T. (1987). My 9 migraine cures. Rochester, NY: Visual Studies Workshop.