Johanna Drucker's Artist Books
An online repository of facsimiles, metadata, and commentary

Experience of the Medium


Project Statement

This book was created in Amsterdam in the summer of 1978. It was the outgrowth of drawings done during the winter 1977-78 in Greece, as well as some of the registrations of "event" and "process" that I'd done in Berkeley in the mid 1970s. The premise was that I would make a series of interventions on the surface of an etching plate, and write about them, noting the ways in which each successive state changed the status, role, and identity of the marks as they accumulated. The text was to be similarly iterative, with each statement and key term getting defined and redefined sequentially through varying contexts of use. The etchings were left unbound, so they might function as prints. The texts were bound, since they were printed on the pages of the codex.

Production Narrative

This book was produced in two different ateliers in Amsterdam, both of which were open if one paid a per diem. The etchings were done first, because that particular studio was going to be closed in August. The labor involved in printing the entire sequence of etchings was considerable, and the other artists in the studio mocked the project, which looked to them like the printing of dirt off the surface of the plate. 10 copies of 10 stages of the etching in a few weeks' time on damped paper in a strange country was no small feat for me at the time. I remember taking the printed pages home at the end of that period of printing. They were wrapped in plastic and cardboard and I carried them on my bike. The package was enormously heavy. Only sheer will and determination (and absence of options) pulled off the transportation. By the time I dragged the package and bike and myself upstairs to the apartment I was sharing, I was completely exhausted. I sat down in a chair and didn't move for twenty-four hours. The letterpress production was a little more sane in pace, since I was doing it at the Drukhuis on the Herengracht, a peculiar place presided over by a strange man who was printing images of old master drawings using all kinds of odd materials in the ink (Las Meninas with a skirt textured with "cat bark" used in litter boxes). But the proofing press had no rollers, only a cylinder, and the only other presses in the place were hand presses, I think, since I didn't use them or couldn't. The printing is quite dreadful as a result, since each form had to be inked with a brayer and I wasn't skilled enough to get good inking or a clean impression from such a set up. Still, the project came together, and I bound it in a weirdly invented, very strong, but very sewing-intensive binding structure. There were ten copies. One went to the Stedlijk, one to the Museum of the Book in the Hague. One went to Stephen Rodefer, who bought it. One went home with me to my parents (the copy I now have). What happened to the others? I know I left some in Amsterdam when I left, but I can't recall if I managed to place any of the others anywhere or not.

Critical Analysis

Design Features

typographic: The typography breaks into statements and gloss. The 24 point Garamont statements contain the key terms, such as "vague" or "small event" and these are repeated in each instance, on each page, in a line that is always in the same order in the series of statements. Basically, each new element has its first statement in the top line, and on each successive page, it moves down a line. The gloss, below, in 12 point Garamont, comments in vernacular language on the graphic activity.

imagery: The etchings record successive stages of an etching plate on which "events" have occurred. There is no realistic or figurative imagery, just a series of marks, stains, processes, etc. that are given an identifiable character in the texts.

graphical: The layout allows the texts on vellum to be read on top of the etching plates, though the vellum is fairly thick. To really see the etchings, you have to turn the pages or else slip the etchings out and put them next to the texts.

openings: Each opening repeats the structure of bound vellum text overlaid on an etching.

development: Sequence and accretion are part of the project's basic conception and execution.

textual: The text is abstract above, vernacular below.

intratextual: The interrelation of the text and image is crucial, both because the conception of specificity, the work of definition, is played out in the two registers simultaneously. So, a notion like "the small event" is defined by the way it looks, and changes, on the plate and by the way it is recontextualized in the statements and commented on in the gloss. None of these elements works independently.



Johanna Drucker

type: initiating


Publication Information

publisher: self-published

date of publication: 1978-00-00

publication history: A single edition of this work was produced.

Aesthetic Profile

subject: artists' books (LCSH)

themes: Experience and the iterative, emergent nature of signification. Or, the reflexive nature of a medium.

content form: experimental text (local)

publication tradition: artists' book (local)

related works: Drawings, particularly the Event Drawings and Subjective Meteorology, are related to this project. It is one of several statements of this experiential aesthetic. Tongues uses a similar, sequential and accumulative graphic aesthetic.

other influences: I was definitely aware of minimalist work and procedural work at this point, having already been through art school, having known and seen the work of major conceptual and minimalist artists. I was less aware of procedural work in poetic realms, though I had of course been exposed to Ron Silliman's work in the 1970s.

community: other This book was made in Amsterdam, and it brought me into contact with a world of artists and museum people, later, in New York, into other contacts and contexts as well.

Related Documents

manuscript type: texts

location: artist's archive

note: None of this material survived my move from Amsterdam.

General Comments

title note: The title was meant to suggest both an experience of etching and an experience recorded through the medium of printmaking.


Publication Information

edition type: editioned

publisher: Johanna Drucker

place: Amsterdam

publication: 1978-00-00

edition size: 10

note: All printing, binding, and distribution was done in Amsterdam.


horizontal: 18 inches closed

vertical: 24 inches closed

depth: .5 inches closed

Production Information

production means:
letterpress (local)
intaglio (AAT)

binding: hand sewn (local)

bookBlock: paper
endsheets: paper

ink (local)


format: codex (AAT)

cover: Boards covered in linen canvas.

color: no


pagination: unpaginated

numbered?: numbered

signed?: signed


Etchings printed June at the Grafische Atelier. Letterpress July at the Drukhuis from Garamont 10, 12, 24, 48 on various papers. All the type inked with a brayer and printed on a Potter proof press which is why it's so funky. Completely executed in Amsterdam, Netherlands by Johanna Drucker, 1978.