Interrogating the Boundless—Through Book Binding

Someone needs to give Jeff Rathermel a kind word and a pat on the back. Because the guy—printmaker, professor, executive director of the Minnesota Center for Book Arts, and all around champion of the robust beauty of bound pages and text—strikes an alarmingly humble tone in promoting his new exhibition at Traffic Zone.

Jeff Rathermel, “Alpha and Omega”

For Articulating the Infinite, which quietly opened yesterday, Rathermel describes his chief artistic aim, “defining one’s existence in an endless universe,” as “an unattainable goal” pursued with “inadequate tools” and “with failure acknowledged and ensured.” Damn. It’s almost as if he’s sorry for what he’s put up on the walls. And he shouldn’t be. Because Rathermel’s “failure” is actually a great delight.

The show is a clean exaltation of book arts’ prosaic materials—namely paper. Cardstock paper, handmade paper, found paper. Rathermel adorns his gorgeous leaves minimally, lacing them together with sewn bindings or stamping them with a solitary typographic symbol. On occasion, he positions them beneath a stand magnifying glass, the lens craning over a teeny ledger like a man studying a bus schedule. It’s a loving, antiquarian touch. But it’s also a humble brag; the magnification allows you to romp through the forest of texture ingrained in his materials. It’s no surprise, then, to learn that the show was curated by Chip Schilling, the so-called Gutenberg of the North Loop, a nationally acclaimed book artist whose Minneapolis studio uses 19th-century printing equipment.

There are lots of numbers, including infinity lemniscates. But Articulating the Infinite doesn’t feel mathematical. The show is much too warm for that. If anything, the numbers remind of us of time’s passage, of the power of the physical, and of the curious effect that tangible documentation—the stuff not stored in the cloud—can have on us.

Does Rathermel “define existence in an endless universe”? No. But his print on paper makes us want to touch the stuff that surrounds us right now. And that’s no failure at all.

Articulating the Infinite
Opening reception Friday, January 11
5:30–8 p.m.
On display through February 15
Traffic Zone Center for Visual Art, 250 Third Ave. N., Mpls.