Cause and Effect
By Jessica Peterson
Northport, Alabama: Paper Souvenir, 2009. Edition of 55.
5.5 x 8.5"; 30 pages. Letterpress printed on handmade paper using photopolymer plates. Illustrations printed from newspaper and microfilm clippings. Drum leaf binding structure. Bound in paper over boards with cloth spine. Front boards acts as title page; back boar illustrated.
Jessica Peterson: "Cause and Effect is an editioned artists’ book about how racial identity is formed through geography and history. It is an autobiographical story about the connections between a race riot in my hometown, my upbringing, and my racial awareness."
This book was created in as a thesis project for Peterson's MFA in Book Arts from the University of Alabama. The excerpts that follow, from Peterson's thesis, show bookmaking as a process of self-discovery: "Evolution of concept: The goal of my thesis project was to create a well printed, conceptually clear and structurally sound artist book about my race development. In my original thesis proposal I wrote: 'The content of the thesis book will investigate the role race has played in my life both culturally and historically. I want to highlight events that have informed my awareness of race. The project’s text will be a combination of historical facts, newspaper excerpts and autobiographical commentary. These texts will be organized along two dueling chronological narratives that will chart significant race-centered events in places I have lived. The narratives will focus on two distinct time periods: the first, 1830-1960 (United States history from slavery through desegregation); the second, 1976-2008 (my lifetime). I hope that the exploration of my own experience will inspire the readers of the book to consider how race has affected their own cultural and historical development….'
"My original idea was to retrace the history of slavery and racism in the places I frequented while living in Alabama. Since I moved to the South, I have been disturbed and perplexed by the lack of acknowledgement of race-based events, both the atrocities and the positive occurrences. These histories seem to be undiscussed, but deeply buried in memory. While considering these things about the South, I considered my life, to see if there were any race-based events or defining atrocities in any of the places I lived prior to Alabama. Before moving to Alabama, I lived in New York, Chicago, and Maine… all places that in my mind represented emancipation, equality, and desegregation.
"I spoke to many Alabama natives while trying to find the history I was looking for. One of my friends, a Southerner, said to me, 'You know, people always say that the bad stuff only happened down here in the South, but I know that same kind of stuff happened in the north, it’s just that no one talks about it.' To me, at the time, this was a standard thing that a Southerner would say to a Northerner like me who was investigating Southern history. While part of me dismissed what she was saying, I decided it was important to make absolutely sure my own personal history did not contain direction connections to slavery, or any civil rights events. This is when I learned about the race riot in Rochester.
"There wasn’t a single defining moment of discovery. I gradually learned the riot and my connections to it in small snippets of information: civil unrest, a helicopter crash, riots in New York City and Newark. I researched these snippets until I found sources of information about the Rochester riot which were so large and obvious that I couldn’t believe I had never heard about the riot."