On ViewMuseum of Craft and Design
April 15–September 10, 2023
Anne Hicks Siberell’s series of book sculptures blur the lines between detritus, dailiness, and diary. Her “Concrete Journals” series, begun in the 1970s and now numbering in the hundreds, each measure about 4 by 5.5 inches and encase what to the naked eye appears to be trash: used tubes of paint, fortunes from cookies, scraps of newspapers and magazines, and museum entrance pins. But for Siberell, these represent collaged memories—or “memory jogs.” In one from 2022, a fortune affixed to the surface reads, “A good memory is fine but the ability to forget is the one true test of greatness.” The slab also includes fragments of two ceramic figurines: Dumbo the elephant and a broken piece from a ceramic mouse—mouth, nose, and whiskers emerge from the concrete. The relationship between these items and the memory they recall—beyond the old adage about elephants’ memories—remain obscure to the viewer. Like a ribbon tied to one’s finger, only Siberell knows what this collection will raise. And the fortune begs the question, are these journals meant to help us remember or are they instead a way to set memories in stone, so we may then forget?
Nearly a hundred of these bookworks are lined up in rows along the wall in Concrete Journals at San Francisco’s Museum of Craft and Design (MCD), illustrating the sheer breadth and range of objects encased in them. Though primarily sculptural, some of the “pages” do conform to the more expected journal format by including Siberell’s own scrawled pencil notes alongside the materials bound in concrete. (Some are even accompanied by a page of notes, not presented in the exhibition but projected on the wall alongside the grouping.) One journal, painted white, holds a receipt at the center. Around it the artist muses, “After French class, at the jazz club, I thought of the minutes in a day X weeks X months X years – How much does our subconscious retain?” Another features “FEAR” written in red in all caps along the top with “OF THE MOMENT” in pencil below it. At the center, concrete swallows a magazine image of two hands. The printed text below suggests it’s perhaps an ad for aging cream or something about skin changing over time.
Siberell’s journals embrace the passing of time as much as they fight against it. After all, it’s only once a certain amount of time passes that concrete sets, allowing the selected memorabilia to have a second life within the bookwork. The transformative act of giving up these objects to be consumed by concrete enhances their meaning. Unlike a scrapbook or other diaristic memory-keeper, the concrete both preserves and obscures these mementos. The exhibition frames this process in the context of Siberell’s interest in archaeology. Most of the journals do function more like archaeological mysteries to be decoded rather than journal pages, a quality the installation at MCD leans into. Rather than provide a list of the individual titles or dates for the works, they are hung chronologically in a grid of three rows, the lowest starting at about eye level, making the top row distant to read. The installation favors the whole series rather than individual pages, highlighting Siberell’s methodical, almost neurotic practice of making these bookworks over the years, and their shared aesthetic and formal qualities.
En masse, the variety of colors, from bright pink, green, and yellow, to more earthy dirt shades, and variety of three-dimensionality—many include small soldier toys that push the works towards ancient friezes—stands out. The diversity of forms comes across as much as the repetition of her process. But as Siberell’s series is framed in the context of books, as journals, it’s surprising then that the installation resists and actively hinders our ability to read and decode these individual pages in favor of a minimalist installation where the individual content is not as important as the whole. As bookworks, I look forward to an opportunity to see these works in a reading context, where I can unpack the layers of meaning in the concrete.