On the Making of Three Constitutions

A Talk by Russell Maret and a Discussion with Amy Borezo and Ed Rayher

Friday, December 3rd, 2021 at 3:30pm in The Workroom at the Northampton Community Arts Trust at 33 Hawley Street, Northampton, MA, 01060

Book artist and letter designer Russell Maret's recent artist’s book, Three Constitutions, grew out of the increasingly contentious political divisions that have been tearing this country apart for the last decade. In this talk, Maret will discuss the inspirations, methods, and motivations behind the book, followed by a discussion with bookbinder Amy Borezo, of Shelter Bookworks, (Orange, MA) who designed and executed the books' bindings and enclosure, and Ed Rayher, of Swamp Press, (Northfield, MA) who cast Maret’s Hungry Dutch type for one of the volumes.

Over the last four years the content of Maret’s printing has steadily changed, he says in his blogpost dated January 4, 2021. “The political and social upheavals that have riven this country into splinters have slowly seeped into my work. It has not been an entirely welcome change—I have never been a fan of overtly political artists' books—so I have been exploring ways in which I can make politically-inspired work that is both consistent with my aesthetics, and meaningful without being preachy or self-righteous. It is a difficult balance to strike,” he writes.

Three Constitutions. The book was inspired by the increasingly contentious conflict between "originalists," those who view the Constitution as a prescriptive cultural artifact delineating American "civilization," and those who view the Constitution as a flexible instrument conceived to adapt to the evolving political and social realities of American "nationhood." This is a conflict we are all familiar with, but what got me started working on Three Constitutions was that in the blaring echo chamber of the hourly news cycle, the originalists were, and are, dominating the discussion,” Maret writes.

‘The problem with these zealous, self-described Constitutional "patriots" is not dissimilar from that of religious zealots: if (and it's a big IF) they have bothered to read their primary document—the Constitution or whatever their holy book happens to be—they have done so through self-justifying blinders. How many Constitutional "originalists," for instance concentrate on the fact that the fourth phrase of the preamble is to "insure domestic Tranquility" or that the sixth is to "promote the general Welfare?" How many self-proclaimed "Proud Boys" understand that the second amendment is an amendment, and therefore provides its own justification for being revisited and amended further? The more likely scenario is that these originalists have not read the original documents at all. Instead they encounter the Constitution at a remove by relying upon the interpretation of others for their beliefs,” he writes.

‘The idea that developed from these musings was to print the Constitution in three ways. One large volume would contain the actual text, but it would be printed in a typeface that is difficult, though not impossible, to read. This volume would be accompanied by two smaller volumes, each of which presented an interpretation of the original text. In thinking about the primary contemporary means of doctrinal interpretation, it struck me that there are two: 1) party apparatchiks (President, senators, media commentators, communities, churches, etc) and 2) the internet/social media. One's party interprets by lopsided emphasis and redaction, resulting in an edited version that fits their political aims. The internet interprets by algorithm—providing you with either a best guess version of what someone like you (or who the algorithm assumes you are) would want to hear, or a version that is determined by the limitations, or motives, of the person who conceived the algorithm.

For the redacted version, I had the full text of the Constitution and Amendments set in my Hungry Dutch type. I then went through the text and highlighted key words or phrases to be redacted by physically turning the type upside down. These inverted pieces of type print as black rectangles, resulting in pages that look similar to how redacted government documents look.

For the internet version, I fed the original text through a series of translations using Google Translate. It was first translated into Esperanto, as an expression of the Utopian ideals behind the text and the language. From Esperanto, the text was then translated into Russian, from Russian to Chinese, and Chinese back to English. The resulting text is something like the original, but different in subtle yet meaningful ways. For this volume I designed a typeface that feels very much like a digital design, using simple geometric forms,” Maret writes at http://russellmaret.blogspot.com

Three Constitutions was printed over a three-month period (November 2020 to February 2021) while Joseph Biden defeated Donald Trump in the presidential election, with Trump spewing the “big lie” that “deep state operatives” rigged the election. Trump incited a violent insurrection by a treasonous mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol building on January 6th,2021, Maret says.

“Three Constitutions is my response to these events and the culture that bred them. It consists of three volumes. The largest contains the full text of the Constitution and its twenty-seven amendments. It is set in a typeface that, though difficult to read, is legible once one becomes accustomed to its forms. It is housed in a vitrine as if it were an immutable relic rather than a living, adaptable document. The texts of the two smaller volumes were arrived at via the most prevalent modes of constitutional interpretation: selective redaction and algorithmic skewing. The volume titled Constitution is set in my metal typeface, Hungry Dutch, and subsequently redacted by physically turning key words and phrases over and printing the underside of the type. The resulting text is not the hopeful re-write I might propose; it is intended to reflect the cynical, ineffectual state of political discourse in the United States. The text of the volume titled Constitution. United States. was arrived at by feeding the Constitution and amendments through Google Translate. The text was first translated from English into Esperanto, then from Esperanto into Russian, Russian into Chinese, and Chinese back into English. Esperanto was chosen to represent the Utopian ideals of America’s founders; Russian and Chinese to reference two of the primary disseminators of the internet-borne disinformation that has taken such firm root among Trump loyalists,” acken as a whole, the books in Three Constitutions are intended to embody the fractured state of political discourse in America,” Maret writes in the on-line description of his latest work.

Three Constitutions

Ninety copies printed on Zerkall and Twinrocker papers, of which eighty-seven are numbered and three are proofs. Three separate volumes housed in a three-tray drop-spine case measuring 11.25 x 15.75 x 2.625 in.

Constitution, Redacted

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a…..zine?! Yep, that’s right. The United States Constitution and Amendments, Redacted contains the text of the redacted volume from Three Constitutions printed on four newsprint broadsides. Each broadside measures 22.75 x 28 inches when unfolded, roughly the size of the parchments on which the original Constitution manuscript was written in 1787.

Maret lives and works in New York City. He began printing in San Francisco as a teenager before apprenticing with Peter Koch in Berkeley and Firefly Press in Somerville, Massachusetts. He set up his own press at the Center for Book Arts, New York in 1993 and has been printing and publishing ever since. In 1996 Maret began teaching himself to design letterforms, leading to a twelve year study of letterforms before he completed his first typeface in 2008. In 2011, he began working to convert some of his type designs into new metal typefaces for letterpress. Since then he has produced four metal typefaces and four suites of metal ornaments. He is a Master Lecturer in the MFA Book Arts & Printmaking Department of University of the Arts in Philadelphia and the current North American Vice Chair of the Fine Press Book Association. He has been the printer in residence of the Press in Tuscany Alley, San Francisco (1990); Artist in Residence at the Center for Book Arts, NYC (1996); Fellow of the American Academy in Rome (2009-2010); and a trustee of the American Printing History Association. Russell’s books and manuscripts are in public and private collections throughout the world.


About Amy Borezo and Shelter Bookworks

Shelter Bookworks is an edition binding studio located in Western Massachusetts, owned and operated by Amy Borezo specializing in edition binding of books and presentation boxes for artists and fine press publishers. Amy is also an artist working in the book form. Her artist's books have been shown widely and are in over thirty artist's book collections including Yale, MIT, Harvard, Stanford, RISD, Columbia, Smith, and the Library of Congress. Amy Borezo received an MFA in Painting/Printmaking from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2000 where she studied Letterpress and the Art of the Book with Walter Feldman of the Ziggurat Press. After graduating, she worked as a specialist at a library bindery and for Master Bookbinder Daniel Kelm, focusing on the editioning of artist's books and boxes with a high level of craftsmanship. Shelter Bookworks opened its doors in the Orange Innovation Center in 2007.


About Ed Rayher of Swamp Press

Ed Rayher is a publisher and fine letterpress printer. Swamp Press produces letterpress books, invitations, broadsides and other ephemera for a variety of clients. Rayher also runs a montype foundry. www.swamppress.com

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