Humument is maybe one of the most important artist books of the 20th century. Tom Phillips began creating it in 1966, with a second-hand book, an 1892 Victorian oddity called A Human Document by W.H. Mallock. He altered every page in the book by painting, collaging and cutting-up the pages to create a completely different book. Humument = A Hum(an) (Doc)ument. This particular altered book paved the way for a number of other book art related experiments. What I like about this book and what MASS MoCA curators tap into is how it represents his life’s work. Phillips artistic creation centers in the creation of these pages and pages like them, and has for over 40 years. I look forward to opening up this conversation with my students in the upcoming months.
I first discovered this book over ten years ago while making my own variation of an altered book. I used gesso to cover all the pages of an old book, leaving certain words uncovered to create a new text. I cut out words, made windows, embedded tiny objects and painted and collaged into the book. During the past couple of years I’ve returned to looking at Humument, sharing it with students, and looking at it for my own inspiration.