Mark Wagner


Mark Wagner




Edition Size



Collage, Letterpress


Hand-sewn, Loose pages, Pamphlet


Box Set


19 × 24 × 5 in


Bird Brain Press


$ 45,000.00


letterpress, collage, drawing and painting, 80p album accompanied by 124p narrative and more than 1,000 pieces of ephemera, post binding, unique case w custom-fitted compartments

THE BOOK: Smoke in My Dreams is the seminal work by writer, artist, and bookmaker Mark Wagner and his Bird Brain Press. Letterpress printed, collaged, hand-drawn, and painted–the edition of seventy books was nearly a decade in the making. Since completion, Smoke in My Dreams has been collected by dozens of leading museums and libraries. It has been “taught” in universities, presented in lectures and symposia by librarians and curators, and exhibited by the likes of the Smithsonian Institution, Libraries of Congresses, Metropolitan Museums, Getty Research Institute, and Central Academy of Arts in Beijing.
THE ARCHIVE: The Archive for Smoke in My Dreams was itself four months in the making (or nine years and four months if you count the span of time represented by all its included materials). Its production called upon the artist’s skills as a designer, box maker, bookbinder, trained conservator, and practiced writer to make a completely integrated visual and literary work. Its goal…to serve as a comprehensive tour of not only the book’s production but to examine, as closely and honestly as possible, the imaginative and creative process. It is a complex and intricate object that evades quick description.
THE ARCHIVE CASE: A meticulously-crafted case, designed for both storage and display, houses the entirety of the archival materials in custom-fitted compartments. The 5x24x19” box unfolds into four panels totaling over six feet in length.
THE CONTENTS: This case contains a maniacally thorough collection of all materials relating to the production of Smoke in My Dreams. Found within is a copy of the finished book and two working mock-ups, also two artist books (Travel by Dancing and the one-of-a-kind I Smoke in My Dreams) which were precursors to the edition. Included inside are not only the notes, manuscripts, and proofs one might expect, but also the ruler, french curves, x-acto knife, and pencils used in editioning. All materials left over after the archive’s assembly were burned, and these ashes too are interred within the archive.
THE LARGE ALBUM: The centerpiece of the archive is an 80-page album measuring 21x16x1”. Its post binding is capable of easy disassembly for display. Inside, mounted wall-to-wall, are over one thousand pieces of ephemera pertaining to the project: photographs of related works of art, manuscripts, drawings, notes, diagrams, proofs, and trial collages–all presented in chronological order. Of these materials, 140 items have been footnoted and explained in detail.
THE NARRATIVE: This 124-page book explains the contents of the archive and details in writing the making of Smoke in My Dreams.  In eight essays (seven by the book’s maker and one by Christopher Wilde) the project is approached from a number of different perspectives: from the maker’s personal history of cigarette smoking and bookmaking to an analytical page-by-page discussion of design and production concerns. Also reproduced here are 23 page spreads from the artist’s journal, offering further entry into both his private and productive life.
MORE THAN AN ARCHIVE: More than the record of the making of a book, the Smoke in My Dreams Archive becomes a singular, integrated piece of artwork. In its presentation of the entire creative process–with all its mistakes, misdirections, and anxieties–the archive surpasses in scope the polished product which is its subject.

A blog article from the Smithsonian about this book can be viewed here.

Here is an excerpt from the “Diamond Leaves,” catalog’s essay by Mark Dimunation to be published about this book:

“Looking back to 1998, it now seems evident that Mark Wagner’s Smoke in My Dreams signaled an instructive example of how the standing notion of the book had been fully transformed in practice.  At the time there was nothing particularly radical about this work by the writer, illustrator, and bookmaker and his Bird Brain Press.  The letter press printing, collage, and hand-work were familiar and cleverly employed.  But how the book was “read” and understood was an entirely different matter.  There was, of course, the need to contend with the visual narrative in the self-consciously created world of the collage.  But the meaning behind the rebellious connotations of smoking and the romantic fugue-like state of a dream were wildly dependent on who was doing the translating.  It remained an open question whether the decisions Wagner made on aesthetic, expressive, or contextual grounds were received as intended.  What was clear, however, was that the reader was now required to initiate a dialogue with the artists’ book if meaning and intention were to be properly culled from the experience.

Such is the dilemma.  There is a moment in which an artist’s intentions are transmitted, released, and comprehended.  It is at this intersection that the dialogue commences.  It is here where the private becomes public; where individual expression becomes collective meaning; and where that which is voiced is heard.  The success of Wagner’s work then, or of any of the many artists represented in this exhibition, is whether these dialogues are successful; of whether the interrelationship of idea, material and expression has substance, and whether the work imparts meaning beyond the intimate and private act of simply creating it. 

In a fashion, Wagner acknowledges that approaching the artists’ book as a reader can be a complex matter.  Perception, experience, and interpretation come into play in a manner which may or may not speak to the impetus behind the work.  By releasing The Archive for Smoke in My Dreams in 2000, the substance of the intended dialogue was laid clear.  The Archive’s goal is “to serve as a comprehensive tour of not only the book’s production but to examine, as closely and honestly as possible, the imaginative and creative process.  It is a complex and intricate object that evades quick description.”  The working archive is accompanied with a narrative, a series of essays by Wagner and Christopher Wilde that addresses all aspects of the book’s making, from the back-story to the production process to its reception.  The narrative, in essence, provides what traditional readers might be able to elucidate on their own from a more traditional book.  That Wagner has taken the step to release the archive suggests that in this instance, the artist is better present when the reader is engaged in a dialogue with the modern artists’ book.”
— Mark Dimunation, Chief of Rare Books, Library of Congress, August 2011