At Steven Wolf Fine Arts, "The Marginalia Archive" by Washington, D.C., artist Molly Springfield extends her practice of drawing printed and handwritten text, and adds a social dimension.
Some time ago, Springfield got interested in the annotations that books provoke from readers. She started inviting people to submit photocopied or scanned book pages that they had inscribed or otherwise marked. She also asked participants to provide names, ages and places of residence, note their chosen authors and titles, and say whether the books in question had satisfied personal or academic needs or both.
Springfield based the graphite on paper drawings in the exhibition, such as the double-take-inducing triptych Sleeping on the Wing (2012), on people's submissions. Sleeping on the Wing arrays on separate sheets three cropped close-up views of printed text and handwritten marginalia, all rendered by Springfield with nearly photographic fidelity.
The triptych bristles with loaded words, decontextualized: "sleep," "forget it," "slams," "fear," "thought," "sadness." They magnetize curiosity about the text, to no apparent purpose except to lead us to notice how skittishly our attention travels between the focal planes of reading script and viewing it as drawing.
The feat of concentration and control that Springfield's work entails becomes clear in another three-part work, "Untitled (Dear Reader)" (2011). It enlarges a hand-edited version of Springfield's draft letter requesting submissions, along with drawings of what an early respondent offered.
Text as subject - of pictorial passages, anyway - goes way back in American art, notably to 19th century trompe l'oeil painters John Frederick Peto and William Harnett, and has resurfaced intermittently, and in photography inevitably, since. But no one else has committed manual labor to it as fully as Springfield has.
The social component of The Marginalia Archive chimes with today's social media consciousness and with growing concern over what, in the way of participatory engagement, we will lose if the age of the book actually does come to an end.
The Wolf gallery's backroom contains raw submissions from The Marginalia Archive and forms that any visitor can fill out to participate.
Molly Springfield's marginalia at Steven Wolf by Kenneth Baker.