Three-time National Book Award winner Karl Castro first designed a book when he was a freshman at University of the Philippines Diliman. The book was a marvelous collection of poetry by Marie La Viña, Karl’s schoolmate at the Philippine High School for the Arts in Los Baños, where he had been given an Artistic Excellence gold medal for Visual Arts upon graduating the previous year.
Twelve years and many books later, Filipinas Heritage Library (FHL) is presenting Secret Lives of Books, Karl’s first solo exhibition of book designs, this May at Ayala Museum. For what better way to kickstart FHL’s Printed Word education program for 2016, when the library also turns 20, than turning to books and finding out how they begin and remain—if they do stand the test of time? Since its inauguration in 1996, FHL has ventured into the digitization of its collection, as well as the development of online databases and exhibits. Like a large part of the world, it has been treading the digital path.
“Books exercise a huge influence on my art,” says Karl, who has designed books by stellar authors such as Ricky Lee, Rolando Tolentino, and Floy Quintos. “I never aspired to be a book designer, but looking back, it was a natural progression. I love reading, I love art and design; it’s not surprising that I found myself in a job that requires me to wrangle with words, images, and meaning.” As a Film major in UP, he had also served as Layout Artist, Managing Editor, and Editor-in-Chief of the Philippine Collegian.
Secret Lives of Books aims to educate viewers on the process of bookmaking in the Philippines, a process that “involves incalculable hours and so many people.” It wants to highlight how design affects the consumption of books. “The sheer beauty of paper, the nuances of ink, a substantial spine and sturdy binding; book design has the power (or duty) to arrest the reader even before they read a single line. An effective design can crystallize content, while bad design can ruin the reading experience.”
The exhibit will try to show how science, art, culture, ideology, and imagination all intersect in book design: “One should be able to engineer the physical attributes of the book so that it, too, will tell a story.” The exhibit will feature selected books of literature, history, and culture and the stories behind their (un)making. Among these are the novels of screenwriter Ricky Lee; The Light of Liberty: Documents and Studies of the Katipunan by Jim Richardson (Ateneo de Manila University Press); The Last Tattooed Women of Kalinga by Jake Verzosa (Silverlens); and Recca: From Diliman to the Cordilleras, edited by Judy Taguiwalo (Southern Voices Printing Press). Providing a glimpse on local book production, the books to be exhibited are on the Philippine experience, published by Filipinos, and designed by Karl. The process to be revealed “represents 12 years of trial-and-error, harsh lessons, and hard work.”
Open for free to the public, Secret Lives of Books will display actual books that can be perused; short videos; and installation art. It will be supplemented by book design workshops on May 23 and 30; panel discussions with writers and book scholars on May 28 and June 4; and an artist’s talk on May 25.
“Books preserve, and they destroy,” Karl says, and he could be referring to anything from the reputations of individuals to centuries-old heritage that gets lost in war and fire. “They transport us, they locate us. Each book is an intervention, and a legacy. It is my great honor and pride to say that I help make them.”
Secret Lives of Books: Karl Castro, Book Designer will run from May 18 to June 4. For inquiries and to register for the activities, email email@example.com or call 759-8288 local 45 or 36.
Secret Lives of Books: Karl Castro, Book Designer
2F Ayala Museum, Makati City
Opening – May 21 (Saturday), 3:30 PM
Artist’s Talk – May 25 (Wednesday), 3:30 PM
Book Design Workshop – May 23 & 30 (Mondays), 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM
Book Talks – May 28 & June 4 (Saturdays), 3:30 PM