B-O-O-K: Artist book, three-dimensional illustrations and performance

Illuminating the Non-Representable 

This page describes the artistic research by professor Hilde Kramer (UiB) leading up to the performative bookwerk

and exhibition

Book of Remembrance 

by Imi Maufe and Hilde Kramer for the Artistic Research Project Illuminating the Non-Representable. It is estimated to be concluded in spring 2023.

Can a three-dimensional object serve as illustration?

Can a book be read in random order and still make sense?

Can a performance be a reading experience?


How often do you find a mass-produced book that reminds you that every book is a multy-sensory experience? In recent years  a cross-fertilization between industrially produced books and the artist book has taken place (Ommundsen 2014).  Book designers, illustrators and artists have for decades explored the potential of the book. With all the modern printing technology and paper available, one might expect that also the  publishing houses were as eager to use these possibilities in every book project. We know the reality is different. We also know that the time people spending on reading books is decreasing. Is the time of the book over? Or has the book become a shape-shifter that can display new and unexpected features, if we only take time to explore what is possible?



The materiality and spatial affordances of the construction of the book

The books volume, colour and materiality is perceived by our eyes, the ink, glue and paper by our nose, the surfaces and spaciality by our hands. Artist books often apply unconventional methods of folding and binding and use these aspects as conceptual elements of their construction. 

How will this book be used? must be the initial question from a design perspective. Who is the intended reader, and in what kind of settings will it be read? How will the reading process unfold?

A book for commemoration

The intention behind this project is 'to bring human challenges to the forefront of todays society', to quote the index page. It is developed with the intention to bring understanding of how the children from Litzmannstadt ghetto lived and died during the Naz-German occupation. The book is intended to be read in museums, in libraries, in churches and other public spaces where it could afford multiple-reading situations, where groups of young people and adults would gather in a group to read and discuss its content. 


It all began with a  pilot project  that ran from 2017 – 2019 (This Is a Human Being), exploring memory culture in relation to drawing as  critical thinking. In workshops participants drew the stones as commemoration of Holocaust victims from Litzmannsyadt ghetto.  The initial plan was to use the research material that Kramer had gathered during these years  to about the life in the ghetto, and to bring forward  twelve identities,  children who had lived in the ghetto before they were deported.  The twelve biographies   were meant to give an insight in what living conditions the children from the Litzmannstadt ghetto experienced. 


A reading experience of non-linear order


But realising the complexity of the task, Kramer invited Imi Maufe to become the artistic force in the new project, with intention of combining the artist book with three-dimensional illustrations.  The novel The Unfortunates by B.S Johnson (1969) was one of the books that came into discussion from the beginning, since we both were fascinated by the possibility of a book that could be read in random order and yet give a meaningful readier exprerience. Johnsons book is an experimental book-in-box with 27 unbound sections with a first and last chapter. Allowing the reader to connect the content in multiple ways  - actually 15,511,210,043,330,985,984,000,000 different ways of reading (Hooper 2014), the reader may construct her own logic from the material. 


Illustration as semiophor

Illustrations used to be printed in magazines, posters, newspapers and books. With the media revolution, illustration is no longer confined to traditional tools and methods of multiplying. Can illustration even be three-dimensional objects? How may such an approach influence the reader's experience?

Illustrator Inger Lise Belsvik had used three-dimensional objects as illustrations in the picture book Jenta med heilt jamne, mjuke augebryn (Sortland & Belsvik, 2008). The book was developed for people who are visually impaired as well as readers with full vision, the text printed both conventionally and in braille, Every spread carried an object that would reflect parts of the narrative; a ceramic stone, bird feathers resembling eye-brows etc. However the reading order was linear and the objects were glued to the right page of the spread, which would only allow partial haptic and visual inspection.

The term semiophor (Semiophor ( Alt Gr. Σημεῖον semeion , character ',' signal 'and φορός Phoros , carrying') was introduced in 1988 by the French-Polish historian Krzysztof Pomian as a technical term in museum context, the term emphasizes the  property of an exhibited object as a special sign bearer whose meaning first emerges from the context of the museum (Pomian, 1988).

In our project, we research what happens when we apply three- dimensional objects to the narrative.

The object transforms its meaning and then becomes a semiophore from the everyday object. In this new function, it testifies to certain events relevant to these forced laborers (resemiotization). The original meaning, f.ex as a piece of measuring, however, fades (desemiotization). Semiophors are things whose meaning is not only in their material value, but in the testimony they give. Work methods here are 3D printing, various graphic techniques, exploration of materials to be transformed into three-dimensional illustration and more (Kiefer, 2011; Schaeffer, 2013; Silva, 2018).


Performativity and reader experience


We set out to explore the reading of our book as a) one-reader experience, b) performed as role play, c) stage performance. After testings and workshop we saw the best way to convey the content was through performances with reading open to the general public.   From September 5th to 12th 2022, The Book of Remembrance will be performed at various places in Bergen. More info will be added soon.




Primary sources

Dobosz, A. (2018, July). Czysta woda/ Clear water. Exhibition at BWA Krakow. Krakow, Poland: BWA Gallery.


Moniker. (2015). Place a Stone. Retrieved from  Studio Moniker: https://placeastone.nl


Shaw, C. G. (1947) It Looked Like Spilt Milk. San Francisco: Harper & Row.


Sortland, B & Belsvik, I.L.(2008) Jenta med heilt jamne, mjuke augebryn. Oslo: Solum.


Secondary sources


Hooper M (2014) Why B S Johnson suits the digital age. In The Guardian  2014 10 14. https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2014/oct/14/why-bs-johnson-suits-digital-age


Kiefer, B. &. (2011). Nonfiction Literature for Children: Old Assumptions and New DIrections. I S. Wolfs, K. Coats, & P. &. Enciso, Handbook of Research on Children's and young Adults Literature (ss. 290-299). New York & London: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group.



Kovač, S.N. (2019) A semiotic model of the non-narrative picturebook. https://www.hvl.no/contentassets/dc40436277f543dc9c39ea38e196f459/picturebooks_conference_2019.pdf p. 55


Ommundsen, Å. M. (2014). Picturebooks for Adults. In  I B. Kümmerling-Meibauer Picturebooks: Representation and Narration,  (ss. 17-35). New York: Routledge.


Pomian, K. (1988) Der Ursprung des Museums. Vom Sammeln. Wagenbach, Berlin 1988, ISBN 3-8031-5109-0 (= Kleine kulturwissenschaftliche Bibliothek, Band 9)


Schaeffer, J.-M. (2013). Fictional vs. Factual Information. Hentet fra The Living Handbook of Narratology: http://www.lhn.uni-hamburg.de/node/56.html


Silva, S. d. (2018). Play in Narratives for Children: On the "Rules " of a New Fiction. I A. Ramos, & S. &. Cortez,Fractions and Disruptions in Children's Literature (ss. 246-261). Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.



"There is no doubt that the artist's book has become a developed artform in the 20th century. In many ways it could be argued that the artist's book is the quintessential 20th century artform. Artists' books appear in every major movement in art and literature and have provided a unique means of realizing works within all of the many avant-garde, experimental, and independent groups whose contributions have defined the shape of 20th century artistic activity."

                               Johanna Drucker (2009)