Mirabelle Jones & the Artist’s Book as ActivismJanuary 16, 2014
In 2011, workspace resident Mirabelle Jones began collecting the stories of 22 anonymous survivors of sexual assault. She broke the narratives down into three parts, keeping each part in a colored glass jar. In a green jar: the beginning of each experience. In a red jar: words and phrases describing the assault. In a blue jar: personal reflections on the experience.
“As the stories began to build, the jars began to take on their own symbolic meaning as containers of a complex and socially repressed discourse,” says Mirabelle. “The more I listened, the more I felt very strongly that these stories needed a place where they could be honored and serve as a platform for discussion about sexual assault and rape in our communities.”
In the time since, Mirabelle’s project has developed into JARRING III, a set of three books meant to mirror the colored jars and to archive and make accessible the personal stories of survivors of sexual assault. Artists’ books serve as a point of convergence between Mirabelle’s interests in photography, sculpture, zines, creative writing, and activism. For her, the book form is an opportunity to create objects that manipulate, re-interpret, or revise narratives.
Mirabelle’s work employs a wide range of media–including found and manipulated objects and interactive performance–that deeply inform how she’s approaching JARRING III. No matter her medium, she is always striving to address the gap between private and public space, always asking her audience for participation, and often confronting issues that are easier left unconfronted.
“When people ask what kind of artwork I do, I generally respond ‘creative interrogation,’” says Mirabelle, who has letterpressed a series of performative “anti-catcalling cards” and poured powdered sugar over her naked body while asking her audience to yell the worst insults they’d heard hurled at women in public. “For me, the questions asked are the primary focus; determining the medium is a natural part of that interrogative process.”
Having explored questions related to sexuality, power, and the body through performance work, Mirabelle’s approach to producing JARRING III is to create an object-based art experience that engages her audience in an intimate, non-confrontational space.
“I wanted to present these real life stories in a way that would make the reader feel comfortable engaging with them,” she says. “I also wanted the reader to allow space to acknowledge their own experience, which is why the last panel of each book remains blank.”
Mirabelle spent the month of December at WSW printing the first item in the set: an accordion book that relates the beginnings of her collected narratives in subtle, quiet gray ink—each page setting the scene for a different survivor’s assault—outlined by a bright cerulean jar. It’s a minimal approach that Mirabelle feels preserves the stories by avoiding distraction or re-interpretation.
“Working with real-life stories of survivors has been extremely humbling and challenging,” Mirabelle says. “I feel immense pressure to both the reader and the 22 anonymous contributors to present these stories in a way where they are honored individually and related to each other as threads of a larger social issue.”
In her four weeks here, Mirabelle created photopolymer plates from her photographs of her original green jar, mixed ink to just the right green, hand-set all the type, and printed the 24 panels of text. With the goal of creating an edition of 50, Mirabelle spent her last two weeks on our Vandercook printing around the clock. Now back in her Los Angeles studio, she is laser cutting the pages to create the illusion of strips of paper stored inside a translucent jar.
There is still much to be done before JARRING III will be a complete set but Mirabelle has clear goals for the final product. The books in JARRING III are to be stored together in a slip case and made accessible at rape crisis centers (RCCs) and college campuses, with all profits from sales of the set to be donated to RCCs. She is driven by her belief that her books can be a form of activism: to unite the voices of survivors, to challenge stereotypes of sexual assault, and to shed light on an uncomfortable, publicly taboo conversation.
For Mirabelle, being in a supportive environment is essential to creating JARRING III, a process that has been by turns emotionally exhausting, revelatory, and healing. Like many other women artists she’s found that kind of safe place in WSW, which strives to support difficult work that is controversial for the public or challenging for the artist to create.
“It was extremely inspiring to work in an environment with such a rich history of nurturing and promoting women artists. It was absolutely the perfect place to produce a book of this nature,” Mirabelle says. “I believe strongly that every story has a place. This includes true stories which we find difficult to tell, and those which are difficult to hear.”
Mirabelle Jones is a writer, book artist, and performance artist who has worked and exhibited in the Bay Area, Los Angeles, and Berlin.She has an MFA in Book Arts & Creative Writing from Mills College. Mirabelle’s motto and artistic directive is, “Make the impossible more probable.” To see more of Mirabelle’s work, visit www.mirabellejones.com, and check out her writing about book arts at The Book Art Blog. For another in-studio glimpse at JARRING III, check out the video she made for her Indiegogo campaign.