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Book of the Week — Nature Abhors

“Evening snow starts to fall outside. It starts as large fluffy flakes. Day after day snow falls, week after week. Will it never end? The sidewalks become like narrow alleyways. For every snowflake there is regret: for words never said, for trips made and not made, for feelings never expressed.”

— Philip Zimmermann, Nature Abhors

Nature Abhors
Philip Zimmermann
Rhinebeck, NY: Spaceheater Editions, 2003
N7433.4 Z54 N38 2003

Nature Abhors is an artists’ book created by Philip Zimmermann in 2003. Originally made for “Love/Terror” —a curated artists’ book show at the University of Arizona — Nature Abhors is a book “about loss, the inevitable by-product and, (perhaps pessimistically) the final result of life and love.” For Zimmermann, the years leading up to Nature Abhors were full of loss: the death of both parents, a complicated relationship, and the tragedy of 9/11. In response, the book is “a rumination on what loss has meant.”

In Nature Abhors, loss is represented in woven book form, developed by Claire van Vliet and originated by Hedi Kyle. The form is excellent for display. Stretched out like an accordion, the book only shows one face of each sheet at a time. In the first few pages, this allows us to see a plane’s shadow grow as it descends on the desert. In the last few pages, we see the ascent as the view zooms in on birds in a cloudy sky, then past them, into the air.

There are many variations of the woven book form. In the case of Nature Abhors, it binds card stock pages together with a concertina spine that is glued to and woven through the pages. The spine takes up a fair amount of a page’s real estate, but allows the book to be spread out to display the verso (or recto) of each page in the book. One can also thumb through it, as with a standard book. The structure creates a loose book that can feel like a codex one moment, then unsteady and mobile the next. Nature Abhors presents the text and images in many ways, some of which are unexpected, but all of which can work into fresh interpretations of the narrative.

It feels natural to read Nature Abhors by flipping through it, but on his website Zimmermann says the book is “to be read through on one side, then on the reverse.” Because of Zimmermann’s short passages, either method creates an interesting narrative. The text of any page can relate to surrounding pages, as they float largely separate from each other in time and space. Some take place in New England, some in a desert, or by a beach. Some passages have the narrator freshly wounded by a relationship, while others show him having made peace with the loss after time passed.

We can make connections between the passages and those connections can vary depending on how the book is read. Questions of time, emerging hope, or resignation echo through the book. Spread out it can be flipped again and again, making a kind of infinite loop of loss. The human experience, encapsulated in this artists’ book, is held together with images of a human spine.

Nature Abhors was printed in an edition of one hundred and thirty-six copies. University of Utah rare books copy is no. 136, signed by the artist/author.

 Contributed by Jonathan Sandberg, Rare Books Assistant


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