Leftovers A distinctive feature of Erica Van Horn's artistic practice is her frequent reuse of materials left over from other projects or salvaged from her daily life. "I have a long habit of not wasting anything," the artist writes, "[I have made] a great many books from the detritus of my own work process. For me, they retain all of the excitement and the imperative quality of the act of making." In addition to documenting her creative process and the effort involved in making her books, Van Horn's practice of reusing and repurposing saved and salvaged fragments reveals the ways such fragments make meaning. Histories and narratives can be embedded in ephemeral bits and pieces; scraps can carry substantial information. In Van Horn's work, reworked and re-envisioned image and text fragments also become visual representations of the incomplete and irregular nature of memory.

Two Peelings: 1993 & 2004

Two Peelings: 1993 & 2004, Ballybeg, Grange, Clonmel, Tipperary, Ireland: Coracle, 2004

This modest pair of folded cards illustrates Van Horn’s gift for locating complicated worlds of information in small remnants or fragments. In this case, the “Two Peelings” contain the shadows of stories that cross time and space. The brief information on each card suggests absent narratives about the times of Van Horn’s initial interaction with these materials, when they were whole, and her later rediscovery and reuse of them as incomplete peelings to be incorporated into her work. The brief text further locates the peelings by tying them to the artist’s three primary homes—New Hampshire, where she grew up, and Docking, England, and Tipperary, Ireland, two places she’s lived for much of her adult life.

Beinecke Call Number: Zab V3115 2005T

Scraps of an Aborted Collaboration

Erica Van Horn & Some One Else, Scraps of an Aborted Collaboration, Docking [Norfolk, England]: Coracle, 1994

In this short, image-rich narrative, Van Horn relates the story of a failed collaborative project. She uses illustrations she made for a proposed children’s book, appearing here as details and pieces, alongside a comic tale about her collaborator’s failure to produce a promised text to accompany them. Van Horn mimics the lined pages of a school notebook and handwrites the text, establishing an atmosphere not unlike a children’s book, creating a lively tension with the story’s biting wit.

Beinecke Call Number: Zab V3115 994S

Remnant Book of Practice Pages for Gumigas Zimogs

Remnant Book of Practice Pages for Gumigas Zimogs, [London: Coracle, 1996]

Remnant Book... and I Fingerprinted.. (below) are examples of Van Horn’s practice of reusing the test sheets and practice pages created as byproducts of making a book. In part these derivative books serve to document Van Horn’s practice: “These books evolved from not wanting an integral part of the book process to be lost,” Van Horn writes. “After rubber stamping into 300 books, the practice pages stayed important as they reminded me of the point when the stamp colour and pressure was just right. The same was true for the perfecting of my own fingerprints.” In addition to recording Van Horn’s creative process, these spin-off books are visually compelling in their own right, asserting Van Horn’s gift for creating and recognizing aesthetically appealing visual patterns in unusual configurations and repetitions of print, color, and shape.

Beinecke Call Number: Zab V3115 996R

++ See also Gumigas Zimogs in Language: Foreign & Local

I Fingerprinted Italian Lesson no, 13

I Fingerprinted Italian Lesson no. 13 (Impronta Digitale) with Official Fingerprinting Ink: Scotland Yard Told Me What Kind of Ink to Use & Where to Buy It, The Pages of this Book were My Test Sheets, They Were Too Lovely to Discard [London: Coracle, 1996]

Beinecke Call Number: Zab V3115 996H

++ See also Italian Lessons, 1-17 in Language: Foreign & Local

Eighty-Nine Women Drawn in a Book

Eighty-Nine Women Drawn in a Book: 10 February 1987 - 1 February 1988, [New York: s.n. 1988]

Within a found financial ledger book (several pages of which contain figures and calculations) Van Horn blends drawing, painting, and collaged pages from magazines to create eighty-nine images of women. Reusing found materials in combination with her own drawing allows the artist to revise and re-imagine commercially produced depictions of women: a woman in a photographic advertisement, for instance, might be transformed into a portrait of Saint Lucy, who happens to be the patron saint of salesmen.

Beinecke Call Number: 2009 Folio 66

++ See also Portrait & Likeness

Stoppage, or, The Possibility of Mending Invisibly

Stoppage, or, The Possibility of Mending Invisibly, Ballybeg, Grange, Clonmel, Tipperary, Ireland: Coracle, 2006

Sixteen years after publishing a book called Sans Signaux, Van Horn made this piece, using leftover materials from the project: “In 1990 I cut 100 holes out of a page of the book Sans Signaux (with Simon Cutts). The holes remained in an envelope until now. There seem to be only 85 left, so that is the edition.” The title of this piece refers back to the original project, but it can also be read as a kind of reflection on Van Horn’s process in making the work, the possibility or impossibility of making the artistic process invisible, and the aesthetic value of “mending” or restoring something to usefulness.

Beinecke Call Number: Zab V3115 2006S

++ See also Sans Signaux in Language: Foreign & Local

Some Words from that Letter

Some Words from that Letter, [S.l.: s.n.] c1985

That Van Horn’s habit of reusing materials extends even to language is evident in Some Words from that Letter. A work produced in several variant editions, including one in which several small books are housed in a house-shaped box, Van Horn uses text and image fragments to suggest a narrative: “Some Words from that Letter,” Van Horn writes, “is the boxing up of the end of a relationship. The letter signaled the end.” The work acknowledges the letter as the central fact of the relationship’s resolution, but by transforming its language into the raw materials of her work, the artist cuts the letter loose from its original context; in this way, Van Horn remakes the letter, taking charge of its content and reimagining its possibilities.

Beinecke Call Number: Zab V3115 984S

++ See also Visual Narrative & the Plot of Pattern

Eulogy-Favorite Clothes who Died in France

Eulogy—Favorite Clothes who Died in France, 1983, [France?: s.n. 1983]

Beinecke Call Number: Zab V3115 +983E

++ See also Odyssey, Paris, 1982 in Visual Narrative & the Plot of Pattern

On Fruit & Vegetable Bags

On Fruit & Vegetable Bags, 31 Portraits, Self & Projected: One a Day, May 1986, [Paris: s.n.], 1986

This book is the result of Van Horn’s daily practice, for 31 days, of making self-portraits. By drawing her own portrait—“self and projected”—each day, Van Horn documents the unglamorous daily work of the artist, while also exploring her own image, day by day and into an as-yet-undescribed future. Thus, Van Horn creates an unfolding visual autobiographical narrative, creating a record of her own evolving sense of herself. Of her choice of materials for this book, Van Horn writes “I loved the small paper bags given out in the greengrocers. This was a way to use them without having the bags be the focus. The bags were the everyday.” In her choice of materials, Van Horn reveals her interest in reclamation, reworking, and repurposing the things of daily life, including in this case the artist’s own self image.

Beinecke Call Number: Zab V3115 +986N

++ See also This Is the Everyday + Portrait & Likeness

Envelope Interiors

Envelope Interiors, [Norfolk, England: Coracle, 1996]

Describing her inspiration for this book (the idea of collecting envelope interiors was suggested to her by her friend, artist David Bellingham), Van Horn writes, “I felt that such a scrapbook belonged as much in the world of train spotting and stamp collecting as in the world of art.” By extension, Van Horn’s book suggests that even the most mundane kind of collecting might be imagined as a kind of art project. This volume is one in an edition of only nine copies, each hand assembled over time as Van Horn acquired the requisite number of envelope interiors. Describing the edition Van Horn writes, “9 books . . . may take me awhile to finish because I will be filling the spaces as I find the envelopes. I will stay inside the lines.”

Beinecke Call Number: Zab V3115 996E

++ See also The World of Interiors

Black Dog White Bark

Black Dog White Bark, [United States?: s.n.], 1986

This unique hand-painted book was later produced in a printed edition, which described the work as a collaboration: “text by Louis Asekoff; drawings by Erica Van Horn.” The work, Van Horn has written, “evolved from a conversation with the poet Louis Asekoff. What I refer to as his story was nothing more than the four words which stayed with me after the talking.” Black Dog White Bark clearly illustrates Van Horn’s interest in experimenting with the most pared down elements of narrative. This hand-painted edition of Black Dog White Bark is made up of cards advertising an exhibition of Van Horn’s work, which she has recycled for use as painted pages.

Beinecke Call Number: Zab V3115 986B

++ See also Visual Narrative & the Plot of Pattern


Rusted, Ballybeg, Grange, Clonmel, Tipperary, Ireland: Coracle, [2004]

The first page of Rusted describes the images that follow: "six small iron articles of unknown use found & drawn." Describing the work in greater detail, Van Horn writes: "Over the last ten years, I have found these metal implements: sprockets, chisels, cotter pins, mostly things for which I don't have names. They appear regularly in the soil of this former farm in Tipperary. Each metal piece was a part of something, a solution to a specific problem. That is all I know. I draw them in this simple silhouette form so that I will not forget them." Much of Van Horn's work elevates the unassuming articles and quotidian practices of daily work, be it domestic labor in and around home and property or the work of making art.

Beinecke Call Number: Zab V3115 2004R

++See also Visual Narrative & the Plot of Pattern + This Is the Everyday

[Illuminated Books #18: Demon Tumbling Down Stairs]

[Illuminated Books #18: Demon Tumbling Down Stairs], [Paris: s.n.], 1988

Van Horn calls these painted books “a bit of play with the term Illuminated Book”; this spine-painting is, also, an inversion of the rare and beautiful book art of fore-edge painting, in which landscapes and narrative scenes are painted on the edges of an open book’s pages. The artist struck upon this unusual format as “a way for people who have no wall space to have a painting, and for people who don’t read to have books.” To make her Illuminated Books, the artist purchased inexpensive books at a used bookstore in Paris, until the booksellers discovered what she was doing with them—wiring them together and rendering them unreadable—and refused to sell her any more.

Beinecke Call Number: Zab V3115 988D

++ See also Visual Narrative & the Plot of Pattern

Reference Files of Envelopes Received

Reference Files of Envelopes Received, December 1983-December 1996

This singular work of artistic and archival practice includes some 3,500 envelopes sewn into 154 books, housed in six large boxes. The envelopes are all addressed to Van Horn (or to her and her husband, Simon Cutts) at locations in the United States, England, France, and Italy, over a period of more than ten years. After keeping all her incoming correspondence for many years, Van Horn decided to discard the envelopes in an effort to pare down her possessions: “I decided the envelopes were dead weight. After sorting through and separating a few years worth, I felt very sad. The envelopes were a record of where I had been at moments during a peripatetic time. My solution was to sew them together in monthly batches.” The resulting work is an exploration of memory, its fragmentary nature, its insistence, and its repetitions. By transforming the postmarked envelopes into something new, Van Horn both records their original meaning (her connection and communication with a particular person, at a particular time, in a particular place) and creates a new and separate meaning for each envelope, now the raw materials of a work of art, the component parts of a large-scale art project.

Beinecke Call Number: Zab V3115 +983R

++ See also This Is the Everyday + Portrait & Likeness