A friend asked me a very good question yesterday after lunch: What is an "altered book?" I'd invited her to sit in on a meeting at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts, with a group of artists who focus some of their talents on visual journaling, book making and altered books. An Altered Book is a commercially-bound volume (in most cases) which has been physically changed and adapted to contain an artist's vision. Books might have pages removed to create cavities for embedded objects -- you can even create a drawer in the body of a book! Painting and drawing on the pages, stamping and glueing, everything is an option. Change the cover, and use the book as the starting point for something new. That's an altered book.
Last night's meeting started with an in-depth discussion about paper: the qualities different artists look for, ways to shop for and purchase the types of paper you need, basic terminology. Some of the women there (only one man out of perhaps 30 attendees) used only recycled papers, like myself - paper that is "found," not necessarily archival, used for collage and other activities as well as drawing or painting. We scavengers didn't know a great deal about paper-making or terminology, but before the end of the two-hour session we'd absorbed quite a bit.
The meeting concluded with a swap: about ten of us came with altered books already started, and we'll spend the next 8 or 9 months swapping them "round robin" style once per month, after each artist has had a chance to add something to each book - I gave my book to Roxanne, and Brianna gave her book to me, etc - next month we'll each mail the books we've worked on to our contacts, and eventually we'll each have worked on every book started. The volumes will be photographed for documentation, and our original volumes will return to us as collaborative works, signed by each of the 8 participants. I didn't get a chance to photograph my book before I handed it over (darnit!) but I'm looking forward to watching it travel down the line. Meanwhile, I have to get started on the book entrusted to me for this month.