Elizabeth Bradfield & Antonia Contro, “Theorem”

Elizabeth Bradfield (ebradfield.com)
Antonia Contro (antoniacontro.com)
Chicago, Illinois

Letterpress printed on Canaletto Grana Grossa Bianco paper on an Indigo 12000HD and a Vandercook press. Embossed, silkscreened, and foil stamped cover with embedded magnets. Cloth cover wrap. Hand-treated and collaged pages by Antonia Contro; writing by Elizabeth Bradfield
12.5 x 12.5 x 1.125″

Artist Statement

Theorem, by poet Elizabeth Bradfield and artist Antonia Contro, was conceived out of a deep artistic friendship and long history of shared aesthetic exploration. Bradfield and Contro began their collaboration on Cape Cod, where Bradfield lives, in the summer of 2017 when Contro, a Chicago-based artist, was there on an artist retreat. Over the course of two years, they worked separately and together to develop, design, and publish Theorem.

Hand constructed and letterpressed, Theorem was published in November, 2019 by Candor Arts in a limited edition of 30 (candorarts.com/goods/theorem). Bradfield and Contro submitted a fully designed mockup of the book to Candor. Working hand in glove with their team to produce the edition, Theorem has been acquired by private collectors, the Poetry Center at the University of Arizona, and Brandeis University’s Special Collections.

In Theorem, distilled images and lyric narrative investigate the geometry of secrets and trace a legacy of silences initiated in childhood and carried forward through a lifetime. Images and text are not descriptive or illustrative of each other but progress independently, while in dynamic relationship. The reader is invited to pause with an image, turn a page, and then pause with text. This pacing continues throughout, urging the reader to consider the reverberation between text and image, each opening new resonance in the other, page after page. Only at key heightened moments do text and image share a page.

The unique aspects of Theorem’ s construction are integral to its emotional and aesthetic expression. The book is presented in a hand-stitched red fabric wrap, lightly attached to the cover by hidden magnets, with a hand-woven ribbon accenting its closure. Opening the wrap becomes a ritualized entry into the book’s private space. A spare cover with an embossed line (which runs across, around the spine, and to the back) foreshadows a pivotal moment in the book.

Theorem is comprised of five sections, and the pages of each section diminish in size, beginning at 12” x 12” and ending at only 6.5”w x 8”h. In essence and in construction, Theorem is five books within one. The design is tied to the arc of the book’s story, which is about winnowing and the perspective of distance. When fully opened to the last spread (included in our images), the pages on the left and right are all black, and the effect is of a concentrated brightness seen from a vast remove. An afterword tucked into the back cover becomes a final discovery for the reader. Certain pages of Theorem have been hand worked, whether with collage, cutouts, or other elements. Our decisions were guided by both the images and the narrative moments in the text.

Of Theorem, Martha Tedeschi, director of the Harvard Art Museums, says “Theorem is more than a beautiful book—it is also the opportunity to experience a profound and generous collaboration between an artist and a writer. Images and words reference each other in nuanced ways, creating pathways of discovery that work both backwards and forward across the span of pages.” Poet and critic John Yau writes, “In Theorem… the revelation is not in arriving at a destination but in beginning to map the journey, as well as in recognizing that one’s perspective of past events changes as time goes by… This is the enigma of being alive and alert. This is what Theorem offers the willing reader—a place to return to in order to set out again and see that the book has changed. Indeed, we feel ourselves changed by this collaboration as artists.”