One grouping pairs An Essay on Vision, an illustrated 1789 treatise on the human eye, with similar pages from Codex Seraphinianus, the whimsical faux encyclopedia compiled in 1983 by the Italian artist Luigi Serafini.
Classes are now in session at UW-Madison, which means that students are once again dozing through lectures, flirting at the library and drinking heavily at their favorite downtown taps. But I issue this plea to Badger undergraduates: Make good use of your time here.
The University of Wisconsin is a world-class institution. You'll likely never have a better chance to read great books and talk about them with thoughtful people. And you'll likely never again be amid such a concentration of brilliant lectures, concerts, exhibits, films and other provocative events. As ever, there is a lot going on, all over campus.
Here's just one suggestion: Go to the Kohler Art Library and examine The Scientist's Eye: Dialogues between Art & Science. Curated by art history graduate students Amy Noell and Beth Zinsli, the small exhibit groups antique books on science -- astronomy, anatomy, entomology -- with recent artists' books that playfully interact with those splendid old volumes. The Scientist's Eye has many pleasures, and it is a useful primer on the artist's book, a relatively new genre whose practitioners design volumes that are, intrinsically, works of art.
One grouping pairs An Essay on Vision, an illustrated 1789 treatise on the human eye, with similar pages from Codex Seraphinianus, the whimsical faux encyclopedia compiled in 1983 by the Italian artist Luigi Serafini. The effect is complex. Codex Seraphinianus seems to mock the very notion of publishing technical information in books, but by example Serafini's work also suggests that, aside from their scientific uses, An Essay on Vision and its ilk are lovely works of design.
Another intriguing work is Nova Reperta: New Discoveries and Inventions, a 1999 book by Johanna Drucker and Brad Freeman. It recalls the 16th-century Flemish artist Johannes Stradanus, whose own Nova Reperta collection celebrated the technical achievements of his time: navigation, milling, and corrective eyewear, among other things.
Drucker and Freeman's Nova Reperta is an almost comically oversized volume that likewise documents technical achievements, but with ambivalence. In it, grim photographs of our civilization and its discontents -- power lines, armaments -- are accompanied by cryptic, unsettling captions, like this one that goes with a picture of a McDonald's: "Give us back the ancient art of oblivion now that our moods of production have shifted to consumption." I can almost smell the McNuggets.
Unlike the exhibit's other books, which are in cases, Nova Reperta is available for reading. Visitors, though, are instructed to don white gloves (provided) before they dig in.
The Scientist's Eye: Dialogues between Art & Science runs through Feb. 16 at the UW-Madison's Kohler art library, 800 University Ave.