RALEIGH — In artist Maureen Cummins’ new exhibition at Artspace, books don’t contain her art; they are the art.
Using a variety of materials – from photographs to documents to everyday objects – Cummins creates books with themes far different than the materials originally held.
A book called “Accounting,” for example, uses the pages of a datebook that tracked someone’s finances from 1911 to explore the Triangle Factory Fire, which occurred the same year and killed 146 women and girls.
Inside the book, Cummins layers in an imagined list of losses the factory owners could have composed with original testimony from the fire’s survivors.
When it’s closed, the book simply looks like a beautifully designed, vintage accounting ledger.
“I like to play with a sense of expectation,” said Cummins, an artist-in-residence at Artspace.
Her show, “Accounts,” opens this week during First Friday at the gallery at 201 East Davie St. and is on display through Sept. 7.
It includes more than 10 works from the past 15 years, as well as a work in progress.
At this stage, the work in progress is composed of two sets of prints that examine two original diaries – one kept by Cummins’ mother in the years prior to her suicide and one kept by the British explorer Robert Falcon Scott in the final months of his life.
Cummins’ mother had referenced Scott in her diary.
Cummins, who lives and works in upstate New York, said it’s exciting to have viewers see her work before it is complete. She hopes to learn how people perceive her ideas and what questions they may have.
“To get that kind of feedback is invaluable,” she said.
Cummins earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Cooper Union in 1985 and worked in fine press publishing, but she eventually found herself wanting more freedom. So she moved toward artist books.
“I think that’s a really exciting point in anyone’s life: when they get really, really bored,” she said.
While that time can be scary, it also allows for dynamic change, she explained.
Turning to artist books allowed Cummins to incorporate her other interests such as creative writing, history and women’s history in particular.
She has created 30 artist book editions, is represented in over one hundred public art collections, and recently was awarded the Pollock-Krasner award.
Cummins said that while First Friday is an excellent chance for many people to get exposure to artist books, she hopes viewers will be inspired to come back and spend more time absorbing the stories her books tell.
In addition to the First Friday opening, Artspace will host a conversation between Cummins and author Zelda Lockhart on Thursday from 6 to 7:30 p.m. They’ll discuss the merits of the printed page in an increasingly digital world, as well as the hidden histories and issues of social justice in their own work.