Rachel Melis, “Of Pregnancy, Stranger, and Pilgrimage by Emily Dyer Barker”

Rachel Melis
St. Cloud, Minnesota

Of Pregnancy, Stranger, and Pilgrimage by Emily Dyer Barker
mulberry paper pages, handmade paper covers, book cloth envelope, dyed leather binding, miscellaneous paper cut-outs, and metal findings
4 x .25 x 14″ (exact size varies depending on the length of the leather used for the binding)

Artist Statement

My book’s colophon includes a statement, by curator Aime Tullies that I am including here, to provide context for my own exhibition statement (below).

You are holding a chapter of a traveling literary journal. Eleven other chapters are spread out on train lines across the country, riding the rails for one week before they regroup. Each chapter is a collaboration between one writer and one printmaker and each tract is a unique piece of art. Feel free to make notes on the chapter: thoughts, where you’ve been, what you’ve seen on your journey, etc. Also, we’d love to see pictures of where you are in the world as you’re reading and traveling— tag #traintracts2019 on Instagram. You can also check that hashtag to see the other copies of your chapter, as well as the others, with different writers and different artists. Please be sure to drop this in the mail by February 22, 2019. Your chapter needs to get back in time for an exhibition at the Rio Gallery in Salt Lake City to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Transcontinental Railroad. Thanks for playing.

My chapter of the traveling literary journal, Train Tracts, consisted of then-pregnant author, Emily Dyer Barker’s, comparison of a fetus to a passenger on an unpredictable train ride (inspired by a poem by Sylvia Plath that likens pregnancy to trains, rising bread, and “money in a purse”). As the text itself contained ample imagery, I chose to add only a repeated circle motif on the enclosures, and where the author had asterisks at paragraph breaks. Instead I focused on the binding and created a multi-piece, organic, and organ-like, girdle-book, with a built-in act of birth or dismemberment. The horizontal concertina structure includes two vertical concertinas that unfurl like two maps or train tracks, one with the book’s text and one with the book’s instructions. I added my own directions to the curator’s, asking readers to complete my book’s particular process.

Open [the leather piece], untie the leather cord in the middle of the book, remove the book from the leather piece, and seal the book jacket closed. Then you can put the book in the mail. The leather and cord are yours to keep, repurpose, or give away.

I think of Emily Dyer Barker’s Of Pregnancy, Strangers, and Pilgrimage as a public art and collaborative piece on many levels. I created it in response to a curator and author, in conjunction with other artists making their own chapters, and, like the other artists, allowed it to be completed by the readers—entrusting it freely to unknown travelers—a metaphor for what it means to be a writer or artist (or mother). Only a couple of the copies of my book that toured the country made it to Salt Lake City, which suggests that some of the strangers kept their copies, or the inner envelopes, once detached, got lost in the mail, being very small. Even this loss completes the metaphors present in the author’s text and my binding. Plus, I built extra books into the edition for exhibition. The books come stamped and addressed, as if they could still be mailed to their final-destination, which, as with all books and beings, can never be known.