Daniel E. Kelm. American, 1951-
Photocopy transfer and spattered acrylic on Moriki tissue and Canson paper, with leather, stainless steel wire, paperboard, cloth, thread, and wire edge binding. Collection of the Kohler Art Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Video by Kevin Derose and Jeff Derose, One Match Films.

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Earth III
March 1989

One of the earliest of Kelm’s books to fully embrace his interest in alchemy, Earth III is also one of his earliest mutable books, one that transitions from a flat to a three-dimensional form, expressing new levels of meaning as it is thus transformed. The books in this series are keyed to the four elements important to alchemy: Earth, Water, Air, and Fire.

Each book synthesizes key tenets of alchemical learning, as well as drawing upon the importance of mind/body integration, which Kelm sees as key to recapturing the wisdom and important historical contributions of the alchemist’s art. As Kelm explains in the Operating Manual that accompanies the sculptural book Earth III:

The alchemist perceived the operations of the physical environment as extensions of his or her own inner processes. This identification permitted the experience of direct participation within the material world.

The berm-shaped sculpture is one of several possible forms this book can take. It can also be laid out as an interconnecting spiral path. The various surfaces represent different levels of consciousness, from the “chatter” of the conscious mind represented by the fragmented text on the outer layer, which Kelm describes as “text as texture,” to the pure black elemental core of the physicality of human existence.

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