Sunday, May 27, 2018

The Paper Machine: Gutenberg in the 9th Ward

The ghost of Johannes Gutenberg haunts the Lower 9th Ward. The 15th century German inventor of movable type not only made the Bible widely available for the first time, but almost everything else that has appeared in print ever since. Gutenberg's old technology lives on today in the letterpress and other laborious, yet personal, forms of printing favored by artists and eccentrics of all stripes. That said, the Paper Machine, a 5,000 square foot print shop for hand crafted printing on St. Claude Avenue in the lower 9th Ward, took people by surprise. What is it? The recent opening of its Artist Book Collection put it all in context with a lecture by University of Alabama professor and author, Jeff Weddle, whose Bohemian New Orleans: The Story of the Outsider and the Loujon Press tells the story of how Jon and Gypsy Lou Webb crafted beat poetry classics like Charles Bukowski's first published book, as well as their own edgy, literary journal, The Outsider, and even a deluxe Henry Miller monograph -- all on their letterpress in the French Quarter in the 1960s. 
The result of a collaboration between Atlanta's Dashboard U.S. and local New Orleans institutions Antenna and Southern Letterpress, the Paper Machine is housed in a two-story midcentury modern cement box transformed by Carl Joe Williams' vivid paint scheme into a kind of Afro-pop cubist mirage, top. In the lobby, a whimsical two story kinetic sculpture, Paper Machine, top left, by Chris Deris sets the tone. Rather like an ad hoc monument to the spirit of invention, it becomes improbably operational as gears and pulleys whir into action, ultimately yielding unique artist prints. In the rear, the fully functional printshop operated by Southern Letterpress offers an extensive array of custom printing processes for the often quirky needs of artists working with paper as a medium – but even here some vintage equipment on which the legendary Gosserand Printers produced classic bold face posters for the old Nola R&B music scene lends an aura of history to this relatively new facility that first opened its doors on November 29, 2017. The hand crafted artist books in the upstairs gallery add yet another dimension to this multidimensional space. ~Bookhardt / The Artist Book Collection at Paper Machine, Ongoing, The Paper Machine, 6330 St. Claude Ave., 264-8267.