Erica Van Horn was born in New Hampshire. She was the weird kid.
Rushing back home from school and witnessing the reigning despair on the day President John F. Kennedy was shot, the adult world falling apart, the eight-year old Van Horn decided to document her experience. Drawings, text, fabric, paper. She didn’t want to forget.
She became a book artist.
Soon she parted ways from her family, and America, forever. After art school, Van Horn ended up in France, then in Italy, then in England. Now she lives in rural Tipperary, Ireland. There, she has found comfort next to her husband, poet-artist Simon Cutts, and with Coracle, the small press they founded together, remodeling a barn nearby.
An artist of the everyday, most of her creative life has been a journey to immortalize fragments of the present that might otherwise have dissipated into nothingness. January 13 to March 27, the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library exhibits Van Horn’s memories — a collection of the easiest things to forget — in “The Book Remembers Everything: The Work of Erica Van Horn.”
She makes books, she has been doing that for a while. In her own words, she produces “receptacles of stories, facts, criticisms, or any other ideas.”
Her work can be placed anywhere in the vast gray area between the literary and visual arts, sometimes tending more toward the visual end of the spectrum, and sometimes toward the literary end. It is poems, it is stories, it is just words. But it’s also colors, shapes, textures.
Van Horn’s art is a direct consequence of very specific experiences and observations. She’ll raise the status of a rusted piece of metal from refuse to high-art any day — she’ll collect envelope interiors obsessively, intrigued by the variety of designs and how we tend to undermine them. The sleeves of a ripped dress make a fine cover, always — old immigration documents become the ideal canvas for a piece on foreignness.
“Folded Napkins” is arguably quintessential Van Horn. The first of its yellow-and-blue checkered pages explains: “When we have guests staying for a few days, I ask them to fold their napkins in a particular way so that they will remember which one is theirs. Sometimes they remember and sometimes they forget, so I often make a drawing.”
“If [“Folded Napkins”] provides a whimsical record of visitors, it also obliquely highlights the importance Van Horn places on breaking bread with friends,” according to the museum catalogue. “Furthermore, in documenting this tradition, the artist considers behavior and tradition reflected in the personalization of social customs.”
But maybe she just pays too much attention to irrelevant things. Maybe she is alarmingly egocentric. After all, she is selling wood peelings and publishing snippets from the details of her own life, gathered from events that occurred to her and are, presumably, relevant only to her.
In her struggle for remembrance, Van Horn finds comfort in bookmaking — designing, writing, printing, assembling, selling “receptacles of ideas.” The epitome of simple aesthetics, her work combines paper and ink on two different levels, revealing the smallest details of her own life while inviting viewers to celebrate the everyday.