Karen Hanmer

Artists' Books & Installation


My sculptural books and installations fragment and layer content to mirror the experience of personal and cultural memory. The work often has a playful presentation, taking the form of puzzles, maps. games, or decks of cards. Many include text, often archival, usually first person accounts. The pieces are made to be handled. The intimate scale and the gestures of exploration required to travel through a piece evoke the experience of looking through an album, a diary, or the belongings of a loved one.

The Mementos series explores how memory affects our daily lives and how memories of an individual can evoke memory in the collective. Each book is a collection of memories, mementos and family stories that recapture the feeling of experiences or relationships. I began the installation and artists’ books that comprise Crossing the Divide shortly after the death of my father. My mother predeceased him by 34 years. He never remarried. I am intrigued with the idea that they are now reunited, at least figuratively, and perhaps in a more tangible form.

The Farm series connects the viewer to the rural Midwestern landscape. It can also evoke a more personal connection to the land, along with memories of grandparents, great grandparents and the farming tradition. This work chronicles both the milestones and the daily routine in the 90-year history of an immigrant farming family. Each piece requires a heightened level of engagement – leafing through a book whose pages are interleaved like grains on a stalk of wheat; winding forward and back through a movie-like, time traveling scroll; walking through rows of an installation that becomes a walk around the boundaries of one’s farm to evaluate the progress of their crops.

The History and Technology series links the creative process of the artist with that of the inventor, explorer or scientist through first person accounts and archival photographs and artifacts. As I researched and developed a series of artists’ books on the history of aviation, I felt a kinship with the Wright Brothers, them in their bicycle shop’s back room and me in my spare bedroom studio, carefully and methodically experimenting, and creating and refining prototypes. The Beautiful Software Project documents interviews with software engineers regarding what they find beautiful or compelling about well-written software and the act of programming. Celestial Navigation explores what people are searching for, and what they find, by performing the ancient ritual of looking at the stars.

A number of works address cultural icons: Mona Lisa and Poker dogs, Elvis, sport utility vehicles, Jackie Kennedy and the crying eagle atop the American flag.