Julie Chen, “Memento”

Close-up of box.


Compound shot of locket, book compartment side, closed and opened to show the book.


Compound shot of locket, token compartment side, closed and opened to show the woven memorial token.


Detail of book, page spread #1 showing the spread and the corresponding gatefold opening underneath the spread.


Detail of book, page spread #5 showing the spread and the corresponding gatefold opening underneath the spread.



Artist: Julie Chen (Berkeley, CA)

Title: Memento (2012)

Medium/technique(s): Letterpress printed book with copper locket and box

Edition size: 50

Number of pages: 24

Dimensions, book: 2.125″ x 3.25″ x .25″

Dimensions, locket: 1 7/8” x 2 7/16” x 3/4”

Dimensions, box: 5 3/4” x 6 3/4” x 2 7/8”


Artist Statement:

My approach to the artist’s book involves intensive explorations of both form and content. My work is heavily rooted in the ideas of the book as a physical object and a time-based medium. I view reading as an intimate act in which the reader must be in close physical proximity to the book, can control the pace of reading through the self-directed turning of pages, or equivalent action, and must interact with the book through the manipulation of the book’s physical structure. I strive to present the reader/viewer with an object that challenges preconceived ideas of what a book is, while at the same time providing a deeply engaging and meaningful experience through the presentation of my own text and imagery in a purposefully structured format. Often the reader must engage in unexpected physical actions such as the unfolding or sliding of pages, the turning of a wheel, or the tilting of a box in order to fully read/view a piece.

The idea of giving order to personal experience through the use of mapping, charting, and numbering is an important underlying theme that runs through much of my work. These systems of organization allow me to present content in ways that can be understood and translated through the reader’s own life experience. An essential part of my creative process involves a deep investigation of my understanding of and response to a chosen topic or concept through a combination of research, personal observation and inquiry, and intensive exploration in the studio of various ways to express my ideas through writing and image-making in purposeful combination with the physical form of the book. Enclosures such as boxes, along with the corresponding concept of creating a fully self-contained world within the piece, also play a major role in the presentation of my bookworks.

I use the crafts of letterpress printing and hand bookbinding, combined with more modern technologies such as photopolymer plates and laser cutting, to create work that is often designed digitally, but produced with an intense attention to the materiality of the resulting piece. For me, the physical manifestation of the book is often of equal importance to the visual and textual ideas expressed within the pages in conveying meaning and in affecting the experience of the reader/viewer. This experience begins with the initial perception of the container for a piece, and continues through the process of reading/viewing and through the manipulation of the piece’s structure and materials. My personal definition of the book is quite broad, with boundaries that are in constant flux. At the core of my interpretation is the act of reading, and the element of time that is essential to this act.



You live your life
careless of the liberty that you have inherited.
For you, the printed word has become commonplace
a substance that you take for granted
like air
like the inalienable right to think your own thoughts
thoughts made visible through words on paper and then
thrown in the trash without consideration
a thing so basic that you are not conscious of its contingency.
You value the written word only abstractly
not as though this value could be translated into such things as
time or money or freedom from persecution.
What if with each word you ever read you risked losing
one millisecond of your life
And with each word you destroyed without thought
you risked bringing your community
one millisecond closer to destruction?
A book would be a force of reckoning
An object to he cherished and feared
The dividing line between the free world and the unfree world
This is the reality you pretend not to see
You focus instead on
We focus instead on
The idea of freedom for all
ignoring the simple fact that this has never been
the way things are.
What will it take to wake us
from our collective dream?