Review by Douglas Stockdale •
I will need to admit up front, I have been a long-term fan of the book artist Julia Borissova and was very intrigued with announcement that she was reimagining her artist books in a new Zine Collection.
She has assembled the first five of her Zine Collections as a group titled V, which includes Running to the Edge (Zine Collection No. 1), The Further Shore (Zine Collection No. 2), Address (Zine Collection No. 3), Dimitry (Zine Collection No. 4) and White Blonde (Zine Collection No. 5). Three of her self-published artist books, and one that is a limited-edition book published by Editions Bessard, that these zines are based on have been previously reviewed on PhotoBook Journal. This serves as an opportunity for me to review The Further Shore for the first time.
A theme that runs through her artistic series is the use of Russian culture and its complex history to poeticly explore the fragility and unreliability of the human memory. This review is not meant to be exhaustive for each of these Zines, but to provide an understanding of how Borissova appears to make the transition of an artist book to a Zine. I will also provide a short synopsis of each zine in this collection and invite you to read the earlier in-depth reviews of each title. Her Zine Collective is predicated on a unifying book design (size, papers, printing, and pamphlet stitch binding), with modifications as to the overall page count for each zine.
In comparing the new Zine format, it becomes quickly apparent that she is not attempting to recreate her earlier artist books but rather a re-interpretation of her subject and use of subject-matter. She augments her zines with new images from her earlier artist book and perhaps the most notable for the zines is the lack of stitching, cutting, glued panels, and other design modifications that she incorporates into the artist books to create her narratives. Her artist books can become very complex. Nevertheless, she uses a variety of page layouts and sequencing in her zines to illustrate her stories while slipping in some design elements for a few of the zines. Her Zine Collection is similar in concept to the serial zines and books published by Editions Bessard, Peanut Press and Nazraeli Press.
For Running to the Edge (Zine Collection No. 1), she has slightly pared down the number of images and eliminated the inclusion of the hand-written notes from the 1917 album she had found. Some of the same images are now larger while others have an interesting paring, repeating colors or forms. She had also included a small folded insert (English text) with the artist book to provide an introduction that is now incorporated into the zine template. This book is remarkable for the visual collages she creates, layering flower petals on top of the found photographs as a contrasting element of new on the old.
As stated earlier, The Further Shore (Zine Collection No. 2), is the singular artist book of Borissova’s that I do not have to make a comparison with. She does incorporate a printed half-page, similar in design as to her introductions for each zine, that functions as alternative reading of the page it is layered on as a novel book design element. She investigates an event in the 1930’s when the Volga River was altered to create a hydro-system but in the process obligated countless cities, villages and towns. She weaves found photographs with those of her own to investigate this site. During the flooding, rumors are that individuals were choosing to stay and not leave, perishing in their homes, and her question as to why people would make this choice?
From past experience, I have come to understand that in Borissova’s books, nothing happens by chance, thus I make note of the page spread in the middle of this book. Each zine has a unique colored thread for the pamphlet stitching and the color of the tread in The Further Shore is an intense red, a color I associated with the Russian flag. This stitching thread bisects the full-page photo spread in the middle of the book of what appears as an isolated church ruin surrounded by the murky water. An abandoned church ruin created by the 1930’s communists’ regime that had little interest in preserving history and heritage, and even less interest in things with religious connotations.
For Address (Zine Collection No. 3), her artist book appears to be similar to a hard cover trade book until taking close notice that not all of the book’s illustrations are printed, but many are glued-in prints. These tipped-in prints have a brighter (glossy) luminance, compared to the matte pages that create more depth to the illustrations. For her zine, in addition to reducing the number of illustrations and pages, she continues to include a brilliant new design element; printed translucent (vellum) pages. We are unsure of who the subject is that is printed on the translucent pages, while it reads that when these pages are layered over the accompanying page that we are in her shoes, observing what she sees. I am finding that I enjoy the zine a little bit more than her artist book in this regard.
Dimitry (Zine Collection No. 4) as an artist book has all of the ear-marks of a hand made book; exposed spine that reveals the hand-sewn signature with the exposed hardcover boards that have been hand-cut to reveal a blood red pattern. For her zine, she has incorporated a similar narrow horizontal red panels that function as a demarcation. She is investigating an intriguing Russian event, the last son of Ivan the Terrible, Tasarevich Dimitry, who died under mysterious circumstances from a knife wound to his throat, thus investigating the ideas of myth and reality. Her images for this book are like her artist book created by collage, frequently jarring and composed of many visual elements.
White Blonde (Zine Collection No. 5) is a recreation of her signed and number limited edition hard cover book (250 copies) with print that was published by Editions Bessard. As with her other zines, she has modified the layout, sequencing and design of the illustrations, and for this book she has included a center gatefold that works well with her zine design template. This book has an autobiographic element and for this project she froze historical photographs from Russian explorations of Antarctica that are interspersed with her frozen self-portraits.
One other observation is that her zine paper she has printed on does permit a small amount of image ghosting to show through the reversed page, which some may find distracting in how this can alter the image being viewed. I have found that her new zines series are a wonderful re-visualization of her earlier artist book projects that illustrate her careful consideration of design, layout and sequencing in order create an intriguing narrative.
Other books by Julia Borissova which have been previously published on PhotoBook Journal include; Nautilus, Let Me Fall Again, J.B. about men floating in the Air, DOM, Address, Dimitry, Running to the Edge, and White Blonde.
V (Zine Collection No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, No. 4, No. 5), Julia Borissova
Artist; Julia Borissova, born Talinn, Estonia, and resides St. Petersburg (RU)
Self-published, (Pateron) St. Petersburg, RU, copyright 2020
Essays (Introductions): Julia Borissova
Text: English and Russian
Stiff covers, tipped-in image, set of five, board cover with glued symbol and red rubber band closure, pamphlet stitching, signed and numbered, edition of 200, printed and assembled St. Petersburg, RU.
Photobook Designer: Julia Borissova
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