Artists' Books exhibition at Sherborne House, Dorset.
1st - 24th March 2002
Click to view exhibition of images...
an exhibition of prints from Spike Island, Bristol; Porthmeor Printmakers; Poole Artist Printmakers and Bath Artist Printmakers. And a selection of artists' books selected by Sarah Bodman at the Centre for Fine Print Research, UWE, Bristol.
The exhibition included works by: Deb Rindl, Edward Summerton, Tim Staples, Carinna Parraman, David Kirby, Guy Begbie, Andrew Atkinson, Eilis Kirby, Paul Laidler, Sarah Bodman, Chris Taylor and Craig Wood, Alec Finlay, Kirsten Lavers and Cris Cheek; and a selection of publications from RGAP, Derby; Pocketbooks, Edinburgh and Book Works, London.
You Can See The Whole World from Here
Artists' books have re-emerged as a contemporary artform over the last fifteen years. Developing from their original materialisation in the 1960's as a way of bypassing the constraints of the gallery: as a vehicle for the dissemination of ideas, they grew from a radical idealisation of bringing art to a wider public through artists self publishing their work. This notion of making art in an affordable non-wall based format led to the growth of what we now recognise as the artists' book.
Artists' books have developed rapidly in recent years due to the accessibility of Desk Top Publishing and the continual improvement of computer imaging and printing capabilities. This has led to many more artists using the book in a visually creative format. Book works can now be produced, not only as we traditionally understand them on paper, but as CD or web-based carriers of text and/or image. These hybrid formats of artists' books will also continue to diversify as technology develops. This is not to say that traditional means of print production such as letterpress type, etching, woodcut and screenprint will cease to be used. The advances in technology have meant that the traditional and the innovative are combined to produce high quality artworks and the renewed interest in the artists' book has also led to a re-appreciation of traditional production methods.
The examples of artists' books in this exhibition have been selected to show the variety of work that constitutes a contemporary artists' book. The works vary from one-off, hand made pieces which explore the possibilities of the format, to works produced in large editions which demonstrate the original principles of publishing artwork as affordable, portable carriers of ideas.
Two examples of the best of contemporary, British artists' book publishers are Book Works in London, and Morning Star/Pocketbooks in Edinburgh. Book Works have been publishing artists' books since 1984, and continue to promote the work of new and established artists through their programmes.
The artists' books from Book Works http://www.bookworks.org.uk/ include Worldview (1999) by Emma Kay, a 212 page history of the world written from memory; from the big bang to the year 2000. A huge range of subjects are covered including legendary cities, Elvis, Machiavelli, the Battle of Agincourt, catalytic converters…. The reading of this history is in itself a challenge, your or my view of the history of the world may be very different, but the point is that this reading has set you on the path of your own version, has made you think about the events that you consider to be important, to be worth remembering.
David Shrigley's Err (1998) is a series of irreverent drawings by the artist, meanderings of the various possibilities that may arise from events such as The End of The Circus (the big top is too small…) or a Glossary of Terms of Annoying Taps and Faucets or how to be The Perfect Spy. Shrigley's work is accessible, yet quirky enough to make the viewer stop and check what it is exactly that they have just seen. The page turning soon becomes compulsive and it would be impossible to guess what will be overleaf.
Rex Reason'(1994) is a small format work by Simon Patterson, converting the periodic table of the elements 1-107 (solid, gaseous, liquid, synthetic) into more familiar and thus memorable formulae, so 73 Ta (tantalum) becomes Elizabeth Taylor and so on.
Harland Miller's First I was Afraid, I was Petrified (2000) is an account of obsessive compulsive disorder, how one person could not leave their flat without having first taken a polaroid of the four control knobs on the gas cooker. The polaroid could then be looked at during any anxious moments to prove that they had not left the gas turned on.
The detritus of life, is Under Hempel's Sofa (1998) an archive listing of everything owned by the artist Virgil Tracy. A documentation of all the items and their histories, which was in turn documented by an installation and the book itself.
Morning Star is a contemporary artists' publisher dedicated to bringing the work of visual artists in Scotland to a wider audience. Morning Star has also recently developed the pocketbooks series www.pbks.co.uk edited by Alec Finlay. The series is based on the premise of publishing high quality, small format artworks at reasonable prices. The titles represented here include Hamish Fulton's Wild Life a visual, typographic piece recording a series of walks made between 1985 and 1999. The book also includes an Aeolus CD with Fulton reading excerpts from his writing.
Helen Douglas'Unravelling The Ripple is a full colour series of vibrant images from the seashore and nature, and the most recent title Libraries of Thought and Imagination'edited by Finlay is a series of visions of books (which they wished existed) submitted by artists and writers.
Alec Finlay's Flowers of the North Sea consists of a book and cards which correspond with the spaces, of ships bearing the names of flowers, to be collected in a manner reminiscent of old cigarette cards. Finlay's Book Of Tea also featured in this exhibition, consists of a audience 'participation book', where the viewer may wish to make a cup of tea, and reflect upon the subject of each of the choices within the book: green tea in a Japanese cup (for Basho) and brown tea in a mug (for Wittgenstein).
Pavel Büchler's What the Cleaners Found is a boxed set of books published by RGAP: the Research Group for Artists' Publications at Derby. The set includes many exercise type books which use the format and language of educational administration, which have been altered, deleted and abused by the artist. One of the many titles includes A Top Ten in the Annual Report (in order of appearance) which the artist states finds "Titles of ten 1960's pop songs found, after removing word spaces and punctuation, in the text of an annual report…."1 All of the books in the set are the result of taking something as bland as administrative paperwork and furtively altering it to create a tongue-in-cheek study of the mundane and officious.
Guy Begbie's Architectural Bookworks'have been selected specifically in relation to the venue here. His works are visual references to the domestic environment, books in the sense that they deliver a history of the setting from which they are derived. His works include plaster and lead castings from the sites, often overlaid or etched with maps and traces from the local area. His three architectural bookworks featured here both echo the forms and dimensions of houses and their events.
In 1999, Kirsten Lavers and Cris Cheek of Object books, invited 1,000 willing participants to help create the Thingsnotworthkeeping Millennium Collection (2000). This book consists of many examples of things which people nominated to be thrown away and explained why this should be so. These ranged from 'old key- no idea what it opens' to jigsaws, bits of hair, badges and tax discs. The project evolved as a reaction to the millennium fever which encouraged a hoarding and celebration of millennia items. The Millennium collection is only a part of Lavers and Cheeks work, more of which can be found at http://www.thingsnotworthkeeping.com/
Eilis Kirby's work is the antithesis of this view; collecting items others may regard as rubbish in order to gather as much information as possible and in turn create something worthwhile. Kirby specialises in saving the unwanted and discarded, creating intricate bookworks from her finds. Words'(2000) consists of a tiny plastic dome, which houses a twist of used correction tape. It is often the words that are deleted or remain unsaid which would be most telling, here they are trapped in their transparent prison, a reminder of what could have been, had they not been so thoughtlessly discarded.
Deb Rindl's The Bookmaker (2000) is constructed so that the book folds from a single sheet of paper. "The form of the book demonstrates the subject matter of the text".2 Rindl's interest lies in the architectural and mechanical possibilities of paper formats. Her books involve intricate folds and shapes, printed so that the text or image is revealed through the workings of the paper.
A Circular Walk (1999) by Carinna Parraman also uses the construction of the paper to re-enforce the subject matter of the book. A Circular Walk is exactly that, a scroll of paper, unwinding to reveal a printed track, the traces of the walk itself, recreated in ink.
Chris Taylor and Craig Wood's Down on Paper explores the creative use of paper in the context of interactive engagement. The book is in the format of a wallpaper sample book. The pages offer the viewer a choice of categories: dot to dot, notations and colouring in. The paper takes on an active role through offering itself as a space for the viewer to collaborate with the artists.
Tim Staples Under Pressure consists of a washer and it's impression, printed, when under pressure. Staple's books follow a theme of the consequences of the insignificant upon the greater. The idea that "a broken penny washer can shut down a million dollar machine."3
Line Controller by Edward Summerton is a visual record of a Norwegian voyage. The book consists of a series of images taken from the natural landscape and installations of artefacts assimilated into the surroundings.
David Kirby's Last Night it Did Not Seem as if Today it would be Raining (1997)was initially made as a training guide for instructors teaching about HIV and Aids. It evolved into an artists' book which becomes a kind of game. A series of instructions are printed on the front of the envelope. As Kirby points out "It is essential to stress that the object is personal choice, and its consequences. Everybody has complete freedom to make their own choice, including the right not to play, since this is the context of the game every action is translatable as a metaphor related to sexual behaviour." This gives the viewer the opportunity to take the precautions that they see fit, the envelope is opened only after all have been assigned and swapped if desired. The results are opened in the same way as receiving a medical notification through the post, the anticipation does become nerve wracking. By the time the envelopes are ready to be opened you are starting to feel some of the apprehension and panic of awaiting such a test and hopefully have a better understanding of the subject matter as a result of this book.
Paul Laidler's installation boxes from his Mental Health Series are part of a larger piece of work which has explored mental illness and society's reaction to it. Much of the imagery is taken from his studies at the Glenside Hospital Museum in Bristol, which houses a collection of mental health history up to the 1960's and examples of scenes from the hospital. This includes the many modified objects (such as forks with webbed tines instead of full prongs) used daily by patients. There are also examples of the restraints inflicted upon them under the misapprehension of cure and containment. The images created by Laidler appear as a ghostly haunting with their sepia tones and apparition on to surfaces based in the present. We realise that these are real objects which have been used by real people, often helpless, desperate and misunderstood, that the objects here have a beauty which makes their true nature all the more disturbing.
Sarah Bodman's book works are based on nature (or aspects of plants / the natural world) and the many ways in which it can be used as a weapon even though it remains a thing of great beauty. The natural occurrence of the poisonous or carnivorous in things which at first glance appear to be harmless and the ways in which these things are used to bring about the destruction of others is both gruesome yet irresistible.
Fehling's Solution (2001) is a boxed book, with a pharmacist' bottle of 'Fehling's solution' containing an old biological slide. The book and bottle are housed in a wooden box with glass lid, reminiscent of old laboratory storage. Fehling's solution as a product was originally developed as a test for the presence of aldehydes, one of which being formaldehyde. The solution, in this case is hidden in the book where the diagrams explain the procedure for collect forensic evidence from the scene of a crime. The crime itself is somewhere in the pages.
GM Future'(1999) was made as part of a millennium project, of 2,000 books by 20 artists for the year 2000. The book was printed in sections and then interspersed with cut outs from old plant encyclopaedias and gardening books. The text begins with examples of how genetic engineering will 'improve' upon flowers, gardening and food crops in the future, but as the pages turn, it soon becomes apparent that this is all wrong and has much wider implications than we were originally afraid of.
Andrew Atkinson's Periodic Baroque has evolved as a bookwork based on an installation of origami flowers. The flowers were all folded from hand printed papers detailing aspects of the periodic table. These flowers in turn were used to form a large baroque flourish wall piece. The book shows the work in situ and uses the flowers to create more baroque elements within the pages of the book.
There are also some reference books to study if you would like to find out more about artists' books or some of the artists featured in this exhibition:
Repetivity published by RGAP, University of Derby
Artists' Book Yearbook 2001-2002
A Tale of Two Cities: artists' books from New York and Bristol
Inside Cover: 20 artists' books for the year 2000
Books by Artists Book Works: a partial history and sourcebook published by Book Works, London:
Places to visit for more examples of artists' books include:
bookartbookshop in London (contact Tanya Peixoto):
Hardware, London (books to view by appointment only, contact Deirdre Kelly):
Centre for Artists' Books (CAB) Dundee Contemporary Arts, Dundee:
The Zyarts website has an artist's book section at:
There are also some weblinks to some of the artists and organisations featured in this exhibition which can be accessed from this website gallery, click on the artist's images for link details.
1 Pavel Büchler, What the Cleaners Found RGAP, 1996
2 Deb Rindl, in the Artists' Book Yearbook 2001, p.117
3 Quote supplied by Tim Staples, from Facts about Washers- prepared by the Washer Division, American Metal Stamping Association.
Research Associate for Artists' Books
Centre for Fine Print Research UWE, Bristol
Faculty of Art, Media and Design
Kennel Lodge Road
Tel: +44 (0)117 344 4747
Fax: +44 (0)117 344 4824