Report by Sarah Bodman
I had the honour and privilege of being an invited speaker at this event organised by David Paton at the University of Johannesburg as a celebration of artists’ books in South Africa, and in particular the life and work of Jack Ginsberg whose collection of artists’ books has inspired the colloquium and accompanying magnificent exhibitions.
Before the main event, many workshops took place on campus for students and visitors to engage with physical practice, for example, papermaking with Nkosinathi Ndlandla - Phumani Paper / FADA and Paper engineering and paper structures in book format with Stephan Erasmus - Printmaking Department, FADA.
Pre-colloquium events included:
On Wednesday, a free public lecture by visiting speaker Prof. Buzz Spector: The Book under (De)Construction was a wonderful launch to the series of talks over the following days.
In the evening a visit to the inspirational Artist Proof Studio (APS) in Newtown, showcased printmaking by studio master printers, current students and alumni from the APS training programme: ‘APS was founded by Kim Berman and the late Nhlanhla Xaba to ‘reflect the spirit of a healthy democracy’ and the non-racial ideals expressed in the new constitution. Printmaking was seen as a counter force to the suspicion and division left from the apartheid years and, as a democratic medium, it was considered to be especially appropriate in helping to build a truly egalitarian society.’
On Thursday - a supplementary exhibition and a presentation on the work of Dieu Donné paper and printmaking studio by co-founder Susan Gosin with poet Eliza Kentridge showing her new artist’s book produced at Dieu Donné, and a talk by Prof. Kim Berman.
The colloquium talks began in earnest on Friday morning, and packed in numerous presentations by national and international speakers over three days. From themed panels to round table discussions, so much was shared and enjoyed by the audience and presenters. Topics ranged from discursive practice to collecting and archiving, from South African Book Arts As A Democratic Force to The Artist’s Book and Performativity. You can download the full colloquium programme at: http://www.theartistsbook.org.za
On Friday evening, a special opening talk by Robbin Ami Silverberg (New York, USA) launched the exhibition BOOKNESSES: SOUTH AFRICAN ARTISTS’ BOOKS at the FADA gallery. This showcases 100 works by national artists including Kim Berman, Elbé Coetsee, Stephan Erasmus, William Kentridge and Fabian Saptouw amongst many others. The exhibition continues until 5th May 2017.
After the talks on Saturday, we moved on to the opening of the spectacular exhibition BOOKNESSES: ARTISTS’ BOOKS FROM THE JACK GINSBERG COLLECTION at the UJ Art Gallery. The exhibition curated by David Paton and Rosalind Cleaver includes an astounding 260 international artists’ books from Jack Ginsberg’s collection, interpreted thematically from an original copy of Blaise Cendrars and Sonia Delaunay-Turk’s La prose du Transsibérien et de la Petite Jehanne de France (1913). You can read a copy of my opening speech which contextualises the event and some of the wonderful publications on show here.
The exhibition is on show until 5th May 2017. A hefty, fully illustrated catalogue of the exhibition, with essays and an interview with Jack Ginsberg is available from http://www.theartistsbook.org.za
The colloquium concluded on Sunday with a special public event at the UJ Theatre in the evening: JACK GINSBERG and WILLIAM KENTRIDGE in CONVERSATION, moderated by Prof. Jane Taylor. This offered many insights into the long history of artist’s book practice by Kentridge.
Booknesses was a great success, bringing together artists, academics, curators, librarians, students and interested parties from South Africa, Europe and the USA for an intensive exchange of knowledge and ideas. As a participant I came away with a huge amount of information on the field in South Africa and an understanding of the many wonderful individuals and organisations involved in supporting South African artists to make books. The remit of Booknesses was to build greater awareness of artists’ books in South Africa, and it certainly will continue to inspire growth and connections nationally and internationally.
Many thanks are due to David Paton, Jack Ginsberg and Rosalind Cleaver, and all the staff and students involved for their massive efforts in hosting a jam-packed, open and extremely rewarding series of events. For more information on South African artists’ books and the colloquium – including the forthcoming conference proceedings, visit David Paton’s research website: http://www.theartistsbook.org.za