Sara Press, “Evolve = Unroll”

Book, closed


Snake scroll emerging from egg.


Snake can be displayed in a number of ways.


The blind-embossed snakeskin on the back of the scroll began as a photograph of a snake, which was then turned into a photopolymer plate. I then ran it though an etching press without ink to emboss the paper before printing the text.


The text summarizes several aspects of Snake Detection Theory. Colophon (at tail) gives information about where to research further.


Artist: Sara Press (Pasadena, CA)

Title: Evolve = Unroll

Medium/technique(s): Letterpress on blind-embossed paper scroll snake; cover (egg) is felt and thread.

Edition size: 42

Number of pages: 1 scroll

Dimensions, open: 7″ x 23″, variable

Dimensions, closed: 4″ x 4″ x 5″


Artist Statement:

My book projects have differed outwardly from one another, but share a common goal: to parse human behavior, particularly in our relationship with the natural world. Our response as a species and as individuals to the raw substance of nature – whether we are breeding dogs to suit specific needs, evolving our brains, or trying to cheat death – has provided me with rich material to mine for my work. The book form has allowed me to imbue my projects with conceptual and intellectual depth at the same time as I indulge my love of fine craftsmanship and beauty. Images and descriptions of my 12 projects so far, made in as many years, are on my website,

In Evolve = Unroll, I present and consider an idea that is currently under consideration in the anthropology community. Snake Detection Theory proposes that we humans might have developed our stereoscopic vision and complex brain structure as a result of our co-evolution with venomous snakes. People tend to notice snake-like forms first in a cluttered visual field, and often have a strong reaction when they do; therefore a viewer’s own visceral response (or lack thereof) to my bookform itself might inform whether one agrees with the theory described within it, or not. The text is letter-press printed on a modified scroll in the shape of a snake, blind-embossed on the back with an image of a snake, and curled inside a felt egg with red blood vessels inside (made for the project by Laurie Whitehill-Chong). The book perfectly embodies my strong belief that a book’s form should reflect its content.

The project was inspired by my irrational fear of a ball python that was kept in my home for some years by a relative – a phobia I have since learned is by far the most common one, shared by a third of adult humans. In researching ophidiophobia, I stumbled upon the writings of Lynne A. Isbell and other anthropologists investigating Snake Detection Theory, and was captivated by the idea that our bodies and minds might have been so profoundly shaped by an “evolutionary arms race” with another creature.