Book Review: Kelly Munoz on Doug Beube’s Breaking the Codex

Doug Beube: Breaking the Codex

Intriguing. If I was asked to use one adjective to describe Doug Beube: Breaking the Codex, or Mr. Beube’s art, it would be intriguing. As an avid book lover and someone who truly believes that printed books are still necessary even in this electronic age, my first reaction to Mr. Beube’s art work was shock. Here was someone who was manipulating and destroying printed books and atlases as a form of art. This went against years of being taught to protect and safeguard books. Getting past this initial thought and remembering that art is always an expression of the artist, I began really examining the artwork in this book, the wonderful essays on the work, and the composition of the book itself, and I was intrigued.

Mr. Beube uses books as others use canvas, paint, clay, etc., and he does it beautifully. The piece “Feast” (1993-ongoing) is a wonderful example. In this piece, Mr. Beube has placed a Bible open to the Ecclesiastes scripture that states, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven; a time to be born, and a time to die…a time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak…” in a bedside table. He then poured honey over the bible, filling up the entire drawer and covering the bible completely. This is an ongoing piece that is still on display. Over the years, dust, bugs, hair, and all other manner of things floating in the air came to settle in the honey, and the honey began to crystallize and harden. The close photos are unfortunately only from the beginning of the project, but it is noted that now the the book is obscured and unreadable. Essayist Betty Bright speaks to this piece, saying, ” In Beube’s treatment, the message is literally hardened, even corrupted, suggesting how easily comforting words of scripture can become rigid beliefs in the minds of religious extremists, who then invoke these same words to denounce others.” The ability of Mr. Beube to create something so complex with such powerful underlying meanings while using such simple and common items in his art is inspirational.

Maps, atlases–you use them to plan a trip, teach your child geography, and not a whole lot more. Where we see something for a basic purpose, Mr. Beube sees a way to create a political statement using art. In “Amendment” (2005), he cut the pages of an atlas into equal size strips and then added zippers to the end. The result is that now the viewer can change the entire political climate by moving country borders around attaching them in other places (such as moving a middle eastern country to be on a border with the United States…). With such an extensive ability to play with borders, this can spark conversation and debate for hours or days; not to mention the thoughts of peace that this promotes by trying to show that borders can just be things listed on a map.

My personal favorite is “Vest for the New World” (2008). Can you imagine a book becoming a weapon? Mr. Beube did. Using volumes of the New World Atlas, he created a new kind of vest style bomb, one that can explode knowledge instead of destruction. The pages of the New World Atlas are rolled and stuffed into tubes that are attached to a plastic vest with wires attached at the end. With sixteen tubes in all, eight attached to the front and eight to the back, this vest very much resembles a vest bomb. As with a large number of his pieces, there are so many implications that can be drawn from this piece that you almost have to go back and consider it multiple times, over a period of time, just to cover a few of them.

Books inspire thought, new ideas, the sharing of those ideas, and so much more; by using this medium, Mr. Beube manages to accomplish the same things with his artwork. All of the photographs are of such amazing quality that some of them can show you the small granular detail of the very fibers in the books. There are so many views of most of the art that you get a full appreciation of the piece; not quite as good as being there, but about as close as a book can get. The artwork is enhanced even more by the essayists that Mr. Beube chose to include. These individuals have such a wonderful insightfulness into his work and great use of written word, that the combination of the words and images create a book that is easy for anyone to read and enjoy, but one that challenges your every day thinking. This book will be on my coffee table, starting conversations for years, I am certain.

Breaking the Codex is more than just a book about artwork; it is an expression on how books are viewed today and how they could be viewed. We are slowly phasing out the written word; in doing that are we going to lose all that our books have to offer? Will we lose our physical connection to books? Who knows for sure; but, this I can tell you with certainty, if you read Mr. Beube’s book (which I highly recommend you do) you will find yourself with a whole new perspective on books. Maybe the next time you pick up your favorite book you will see it in a different light.

You can contact the reviewer, Kelly Munoz, at