SIFT launches books arts collective with a Happy Hour Salon!

By Tori Bush

While New Orleans has a rich history of literature and art, there are few places where these two media can cross-fertilize. Angela Driscoll, a member of the Antenna Gallery collective, and Yuka Petz have formed a new arts organization called SIFT in order to fill this gap in our community.

SIFT—which stands for “Sequence, Image, Form, Text”—is rooted in the intersection of book arts and fine arts, of image and text. Book arts have traditionally been marginalized in both the publishing and art worlds, and SIFT intends to highlight them as craft. Its co-founders also hope to use art in order to cross boundaries and build a community of artists and residents both in New Orleans and abroad.

SIFT’s official mission is facilitate the exploration and dialogue of interdisciplinary arts through workshops, events, exhibitions, and opportunities. SIFT’s inaugural event, “Bound in Japan,” will take place at the Antenna Gallery on January 26 from 6 – 8 p.m. Part of the Antenna Gallery’s Happy Hour Salon series, “Bound in Japan” is a presentation by artist Thien-Kieu Lam, a Louisiana native who lived in Japan for many years.

In cities throughout Japan, Lam produced book art workshops with both native Japanese and non-Japanese participants in order to encourage community building between immigrant and non-immigrant populations. Generally, Japan is perceived as a homogenous society, but rates of immigration have risen in the last decade. Lam’s workshops attempt to unveil Japan’s multiculturalism and encourage the swapping of experiences and stories.

While Lam will not be replicating the workshop at Antenna, it would be enlightening to explore the affects of this Japan-based workshop in New Orleans, historically famous for our multicultural mix but occasionally unwelcoming to outsiders. Sure, the ethnicities that comprise New Orleans are diverse, but how open is the culture to our large Vietnamese population, and what about the growing—yet frequently marginalized—Latino presence? This workshop was inspired by Lam’s desire to use art to create a social change. New Orleans may yet need more events that cross the boundaries between social change and the arts.

Bound in Japan is a bookmaking salon that encourages community involvement.

Driscoll and Petz, who both attended the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and have been collaborating since 2009, inform SIFT with their own artistic work. Driscoll, a professor of fine arts at Loyola University, creates work that focuses on systems of information and how those systems can be translated into other means of communication.

“In my most recent work I’ve been breaking down things and analyzing them,” Driscoll says. “If you look at the piece that is up at the CAC right now [Score for LOC Call Numbers], it’s analyzing the Library of Congress call numbers and breaking it into its parts, stretching out the sequence and figuring out how to slow it down. By taking information apart and putting it together, it allows me to not just analyze it but to reflect on it.”

Driscoll’s organization and translation of databases of information into visual and audio pieces of art suggests an inherent disposition to cross-fertilization of ideas and genres, which fits nicely with book art.

Petz’s work also crosses boundaries. The Most Important Things are the Hardest to Say Because the Words Diminish Them is a delicate work made from handmade paper and wire. Small boxes act as placeholders for the dimensional space that letters would hold. These small boxes replace traditional symbols with the simple space needed to identify particular letters. The exploration of human means of communication and the seemingly arbitrary symbols we use suggests that Petz, like Driscoll, is concerned with breaking down the boundaries of not only traditional communication systems, but of understanding the deeper meaning held within.

While SIFT is a nascent organization, events such as “Bound in Japan” and its co-founders’ personal work have the potential to explore bookmaking as a form of interdisciplinary arts practice and act as a resource for a diverse community.