Michelle Moode, “Fielding Questions: A Guide to 748 Specimens of Rare and Common Occurrence”

Michelle Moode
Murray, Kentucky

Fielding Questions: A Guide to 748 Specimens of Rare and Common Occurrence
letterpress printed artist book
7.5 x 4.5 x .75″

Artist Statement

“It is but a matter of seeing a bird often enough and knowing exactly what to look for, to be able to distinguish, with a very few exceptions, even the most confusing forms.”
—Roger Tory Peterson, A Field Guide to the Birds

Fielding Questions is a letterpress-printed artist’s book that uses conventions of field guides to explore and present a personal taxonomy of symbols, mark-making, and record keeping. It is an entirely subjective guidebook hidden within a pseudo-objective reference book. This work is informed by an interest in natural history, curation, and collection, as well as a passion for growing things and wandering in the woods. Fielding Questions uses the non-linear structure of reference books as a means of communicating content in an artist’s book. By utilizing paratextual wayfinding elements such as an index and table of contents, the reader is presented with layers of content and a multiplicity of experiences.

A field guide offers authority, while also being an accessible resource to the non-expert. Field guides present idealized, abstract representations of the natural world, with common specimens alongside the rare. The design, binding, paper and material choices of Fielding Questions all work together to echo the aesthetic of a mid-century field guide. Text accompanies some of the images in the form of labels or short captions: some descriptive, some poetic. Text is printed from metal Twentieth Century Light and Futura Book, typefaces that exude authority and clarity, but in a friendly way. Printed on the back cover of Fielding Questions is a seven- inch ruler– another feature borrowed from field guides, which transforms a passive reference book into a functional tool. However, in Fielding Questions the notion that the ruler would be helpful in differentiating a snowflake from a whale, or an object from an idea, is a subtlety absurd detail.

At its most basic level, Fielding Questions is a collection of drawings. Photopolymer plates were created by the very direct process of scratch negatives. By reusing plates from previous projects and repeating images through the book, there is history and memory physically in the work. This curation of repeated images leads the reader to draw connections through their experience of the book.

The images hint at suggested narratives, reinforced by textual elements such as labels, chapter headings, and an index. The ice cream cone on page 29 was included in reference to a particular moment. That there is a memory-ice-cream-cone in an artist’s book is not interesting in itself. What is interesting is that it is cross- referenced in the index under California, Iowa, “I’m Wishing”, invasive species, October, pepper, pink, Peru, snacks, and strawberry. The index adds a nonlinear narrative element that expands and complicates the reader’s experience and understanding of the book. Upon reaching the index at the end of the book, the reader is prompted to re-read, explore, and connect narrative threads.

In addition to the traditional alphabetical index, there is a page spread that is printed with every image from each press run. The resulting composite image has innumerable layers, truly testing the limits of the paper on which it is printed. It exists at the conclusion, and acts as another form of index, as it depicts not only a tangled mass of everything in the book all at once, but also documents the process of printing the book.

A fold-out of a whale halfway through the book offers the reader an experience of discovery different than typical page turning. This feature provides a significant contrast to the numerous, minute images in the book. It is also an intentionally humorous acknowledgement of the scale of the project. The whale image was pressure printed from a handmade paper template, created by embedding a whale-shaped paper cut-out between two layers of overbeaten abaca. The watery papermaking process felt appropriate for the origin of the whale.

A field guide is useful and relevant to the nature enthusiast at many moments in time, and similarly Fielding Questions is the beginning of a body of work. In Fielding Questions I created parameters and structure, which will be followed by experimentation, improvisation, and world-making. As a field guide references a real world, Fielding Questions accompanies work outside of it: related book projects, installation, and works on paper. First I made the field guide, and I continue to make the field.

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