• The Journal Art of Barbara Rosenthal

    Date posted: March 21, 2014 Author: mauri
    Having begun creating them when she was 11, Barbara Rosenthal has a formidable collection of Journals.
    Having begun creating them when she was 11, Barbara Rosenthal has a formidable collection of Journals.

    This month, the Center for Book Arts is displaying 12 of the 72 volumes of Journals I’ve kept since age 11 in 1959, along with my 1986 book Homo Futurus and the Homo Futurus wall work as part of “Silence Unbound” curated by Heather Powell. The Journals had been something I kept parallel to my work, which is predominantly camera-based. But, in 1979, Alex Harsley of the Fourth Street Photo Gallery offered me a show and asked what else I did.

    When he saw the Journals, he suggested I create a book. That first book, Clues to Myself, 1981, and three subsequent ones: Sensations, 1984; Homo Futurus, 1986; and Soul & Psyche, 1998, were all published by Joan Lyons at Visual Studies Workshop Press. A fifth, Cold Turkey at the Dog Run, will be published by Joseph Quintela and Katie Peyton at Deadly Chaps Press later this year. They all contain edited journal-text, Surreal Photography, and elements from the outer world.

    -4BR Journal2010March14-2All the books and Journals depict a re-visitation of pages and texts to hone ideas and use as arenas upon which texts and images are placed in graphic and emotive relationships, rather than a linear one. This was first pointed out to me by Martha Wilson in her curatorial “The Page as Alternative Space‚” at Franklin Furnace in 1982, when she hung pages from Clues to Myself. This use of the surface is true for all my books and wall art, too.

    The Journals themselves, however (which I capitalize as a project), didn’t become of interest until 2010. I’d had a few shows of Existential Video and Surreal Photography in Berlin, and in discussions after, I was often asked how I got ideas. During one such talk at Lettrétage: Das junge Literaturhaus, Tom Bresemann invited me back to do a show called “Das Tagebuch gibt mir Ideen,” (The Journal Gives Me Ideas). Then, with some variation, I reprised that presentation in 2011 at Maddy Rosenbeg’s artspace, Central Booking, in New York, and in 2013 at Metro Arts in Brisbane, Australia. The Journal pages you are looking at now, from various volumes, show how ideas for artworks stem directly from life experience. Thinking about events of the day give rise to insights which inspire the works.


    The pages here from Homo Futurus are from the particular volume I do readings from. You can see the bookmarks, pencil changes, and highlighted text portions I read. I almost always tweak when I see things I’ve “completed” before. For me, it seems, nothing is ever finished, and this aspect of continual evolution, continually striving for perfection, is one of my themes.

    All my themes, such as time, space, and motion, are seen in the context of identity. I don’t mean confined investigations, such as “ethnicity” or “gender,” but rather a search along the extremities; what I am as a single individual, and what the species Homo sapiens is as a whole. In 1984, I had the idea that our next hominid would be genetically engineered, and that’s when I coined the term “Homo Futurus.” For the book, I used the material from my Journals and Archives as an individual, plus items from the news, to glean what might be engineered in, and out, of that next creature.

    The cover indicates that Homo Futurus is a book within a book, and comprises photographs. Those on the cover appear within. They are from the Surreal Photography project, and reflect my visions of instability borne out by text, reflecting the world-view developed via journal-keeping, of everything in constant motion and metanoia.

    By Barbara Rosenthal

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