Pien Rotterdam, “Sea of Things”

View of front and spine of Sea of Things

The book partially unfolded

The book almost fully unfolded, showing both text fragments and image fragments

The book fully unfolded, with the central text and full image visible but with text fragments folded to the back

Detail of the unfolded book showing part of the central text and the pulp-printed image


Pien Rotterdam (Assen, The Netherlands)

Sea of Things
handmade paper, pulp printing, letterpress
Edition 14
4 quadrants with 12 text/image pages altogether, 4 inner text pages
20 x 30 x 1.3 cm open
10.5 x 11 x 1.3 cm closed

Sea of Things reflects on the urge to collect and select small objects such as stones but also scraps of text and images. The book was made in the ancient tradition of commonplacing, which allowed Renaissance readers to choose appealing passages from their reading and collate them into new patterns of meaning in personal books. Sea of Things contains fragments of text (in this case not collected from outside sources but all written by the artist) about the nature of fragments, pattern, and rhythm, the relation between them, and how to read them. Thus it is itself a commonplace book. As one of the fragments explains, the title refers to the term Silva Rerum, Forest of Things, which Renaissance readers used to refer to their commonplace books. This book is a Mare Rerum, a Sea of Things, because of the liquid nature of the inner integration it makes visible:
“I choose texts and take them in, letting them wash inside and slowly sink below consciousness. Sentences fall apart, dissolving out of recognition, merging with what is already down there into some loose dark sediment of meaning.”

The book format chosen is an interpretation of Keith Smith’s border book, which allows readers to experience the building of pattern out of fragments as they unfold the four quadrants that make up the book. On the reverse side of the text, the reader sees, fragment by fragment, a detailed image of white corals in a turquoise sea appear as the text fragments disappear to the back of the book. In the end the reader is left with the coral/sea image as a border around the central text, which reflects on the experience of reading pattern and rhythm in the world and being part of them. Of course the text and image fragments can also be read and viewed in random order while opening and closing the four quadrants of the book. Handling the book and interacting with it is thus an essential part both of the reading process and of understanding its content.

The handmade paper used is a double-sided mixture of kozo and cotton, and the delicate white image has been printed into the freshly made paper with very fine paper pulp in a hybrid silkscreen/papermaking technique called pulp printing. The flyleaves and pastedowns are handmade abaca paper with inclusions echoing the colour of the binding. The text and cell-like patterns have been handset in lead type (Atlas) and ornaments and printed letterpress. The binding is an interpretation of a historical twined binding. All materials used, as well as the small size of the book when closed, underline the tactile and intimate nature of the reading process. All text written by the artist.
“Now let these words, slippery as fish, slide back into the Sea of Things, to be caught again some other time, to make up some pattern afresh.”