Today’s article is from our friends at Art Practical, where Christine Kesler discusses the new work from the arts book A Thousand Several by Emily McVarish recently on view at 871 Fine Arts Gallery and Book Store in San Francisco.
I recently had drinks with a friend who’d just relocated from the Bay Area to New York City. We discussed the phenomena of connection and connectivity, anonymity and intimacy, as they relate to living in a massive city like New York, and the comparatively small-town San Francisco. Years ago, when I lived in New York, my daily struggles with this spectrum of fleeting intimacy often struck me with the feeling that we are all alone together. Today, in San Francisco, Emily McVarish’s new body of work at 871 Fine Arts Gallery and Book Store, a subterranean space directly downstairs from Crown Point Press, brings these thoughts rushing back to me. A Thousand Several examines a contradiction in terms, investigating themes of disconnected, anxious, and individualized communities in the format of a book and its eponymous exhibition.
For the last two decades, McVarish has focused on making finely written, designed, die-cut, handset, printed, and bound books. While this was the first exhibition of hers that I’ve seen, A Thousand Several convinced me that her books are her most successful work. Through her medium, McVarish asserts the importance of the book format, and strikingly so in the face of such modern subject matter: information containment, conversation avoidance, and distraction to the highest degree. The exhibition consists of McVarish’s book and prints that hang on the gallery walls. A glass case holds books, and I was permitted to look more closely at A Thousand Several, which is in itself the book form of the exhibition: a compilation of the works on the wall. The contents of the book—unbound and disconnected—create a new code of severance that doesn’t quite translate. This book, much more than the exhibition and works on the wall, captures a real failure of the will to experience the world around us—and McVarish depicts it with great poetics.