1. There are two main traditions of book art-making: one based in the history of the printed book which dates back to before 3000 BCE in early Mesopotamia. The other emerged in the ‘60s out of the Fluxus and conceptual art movements. In this recent history, the book is conceived as both concept and art object. Artist Felicia Rice works with a combination of these two venerable traditions. In her work, the word is still important, which means that the book is still perceived as a vessel for the word, but it also explores materials, unusual structures and unique printing techniques.
Felicia is not just a book artist. She is also what insiders call a “letterpress printer,” which means that she masterfully utilizes raised metal type and combines it with new digital tools. In this sense Felicia’s praxis extends from ancient book making techniques all the way to cyber-art. Her collaborative projects create book structures in which word and image meet and merge into a total experience.
Moving Parts Press has published handsome and innovative books, broadsides and prints under the direction of Felicia Rice since 1977. These editions of new literature, works in translation, and contemporary art explore the relationship of word and image, typography and the visual arts, the fine arts and popular culture.
Her involvement with Chicano art and artists stems from early exposure. “Throughout my life, my parents’ circle included former apprentices of Diego Rivera, and friends of Frida Kahlo. As a young child I would sneak into my father’s studio to study José Guadalupe Posada’s prints sensationalizing fire, murder, freakish births. I grew up in California with the legacy of the Spanish land grants, the Californios, the Mexican muralists and their saints (San Francisco, Santa Cruz). I am a member of a hybrid community of immigrants and artists; we use multiple languages.”
2. I was fortunate to meet Felicia in 1993 when she proposed to painter Enrique Chagoya and myself our first collaboration; the now legendary CODEX ESPANGLIENSIS. Our creative process was as follows: I provided her with a manuscript, a poetic non-linear performance script tracing “the history of colonization of the Americas, from the arrival of Columbus to the signing of the Free Trade Agreement.” My carnal Chagoya provided her with a set of 15 visual art pieces in his quintessential “post-Columbian commix” style, which in many ways echoed my literary imagery. There was no sequence whatsoever. Felicia’s formidable challenge was to make a “third object” by constructing a surprising visual and textual narrative able to integrate both discourses into a total experience. The objective (in her own words) was “to create an interplay between the two languages in which the text would speak as loudly as the image.” The result was truly fantastic. In a sense the book managed to perform my text without me being physically present, and at the same time it provided the visual art of Chagoya with a literary meta-narrative.
The CODEX was first reproduced as a limited edition of 50 artist books on original amate paper. Six books included manual interventions by both Felicia and Enrique. Eventually, City Lights Books decided to reprint it as a trade edition, which remains widely available in bookstores.
3. In early 2007, filmmaker Gustavo Vazquez and I contacted Felicia with a new collaborative challenge: To help us find an interface between book art, performance, video, sound and theory, stretching us all into a new territory. To attain this, we formed a unique collaborative crew: Gustavo and I are making an interactive video that attempts “to personalize the viewing experience.” My performance personas address each viewer individually and invite him or her to interact with the book in performative ways. Art historian Jennifer González is writing an essay that places the book in a historical and art context while Felicia is contributing an essay on the relationship of video and book making. Composer Zachary Watkins is adding sound engineering and brief compositions to the final product. Once again, Felicia’s role will be to incorporate all these elements into a total artwork including a book. Titled “Documentado/Undocumented,” the result, still in process, combines 19th-century print technology with performance art and 21st-century digital video and sound technology; and the format of the old curiosity cabinet with Chicano altar making.
The main challenge driving this project in the works can be described with a question: How do we create a more intimate, performative and ritualized experience for the viewer/participant/owner of this unique book object? To solve this we are providing instructions, both written, spoken and in video, of how to interact with the artwork, and this interactive dimension may be its main contribution to the field of experimental book art or rather “performative book art.”
The object itself carries within a crisis of identity: What is it exactly? A stage for an intimate one-on-one performance? An unusual video screening room? A personal multi-media altar? A “vanity” used for preparing for a performance? It is all these things and it is also an original book devised by Felicia; a book in search of a new format and a new audience. Each element (the book itself, the vanity/altar box, the performance video, the critical essays, the aural experience) stands by itself, but together they form an indescribable whole. And it is precisely this whole that we are after.
We have all challenged one another to step out of our zones of comfort. Perhaps the most ambitious challenge is for Felicia: She has to engage in the multiple tasks of co-writing, drawing, printmaking, typographic exploration, fundraising and finally publishing it as part of her legendary Moving Parts Press. Felicia writes, “Each medium, each partner in this collaboration provokes my imagination and extends my ingenuity. This will be an artifact unique to a very complex corner of the schoolyard, our shared worlds. It will be an invitation to freely engage with an interplay of materials and eras, cultures and vantage points that drive invention and propel us forward.”
Felicia, thanks for your adventurous spirit. You are now an honorary performance artist.