This online display showcases a selection of artists’ books on mental health, wellbeing and recovery, and thinking about how we live within our environment. It links to themes of interest at the university and some upcoming events for students and the public over Spring 2021. Phil Owen, archivist at Arnolfini has written a text to accompany this exhibition:
It is widely recognised that reading can have a beneficial impact on mental health. There is nothing new in this idea – the entrance of the library of King Ramses II of Egypt was decorated with the motto ‘the house of healing for the soul’ – though today psychological research has led to bibliotherapy being recommended to sufferers of anxiety and depression. People have used reading in various different ways through the course of the Coronavirus lockdowns, from ‘doomscrolling’ through social media, overloaded with often confusing or contradictory guidance; to the celebrated case of former East 17 singer Tony Mortimer, who having never read an entire book before lockdown, made up for lost time by reading over 70, being amazed to find the extent to which ‘your worries disappear’ when fully absorbed by an engaging narrative.
There is something special about the way in which an artist’s book, in particular, can exemplify the curative quality of reading. The way in which an idea might be expressed through an object, taking its reader through a process of steady revelation – perhaps by the way in which pages might be turned, or the relationship between words and images – seems especially contemplative. The appeal of beautifully crafted pieces, or deeply considered design… The pleasure of the book as a physical thing, taken further than the average paperback, on top of the enjoyment of whatever story it happens to be telling.
This display has been put together as a joint effort between Book Arts at the CFPR and Arnolfini, in response to Arnolfini’s A Picture of Health exhibition, celebrating perspectives on mental health and well through the work of a number of female photographers; and partly in response to a more generalised awareness of the issues faced by all of us living through the strangeness of a global pandemic. The work included presents a rich, compelling range of ways in which book artists have been responding to some of these themes.
Delpha Hudson’s Theatre of the Self documents an action the artist undertook in 2017, in which over a 30-day period she read, rewrote and burning over 30 years’ worth of diaries – a book-based ritualised action to cleanse and repurpose old self-image (‘the truth is we become the stories we tell about ourselves’).
Tamar MacLellan and Philippa Wood document the shift from working from home, as university tutors, through creating pieces by using conceptual art-derived, process-based methods which follow pre-defined rules. Their use of a rules-based system of course echoes the way in which we are all now having to pay attention to new rules and regulations governing ordinary activities we have always taken for granted.
Eva Voutsakis’ Traces Within is a photo book filled with images redolent of the subconscious, underwater or nocturnal scenes, solitary figures in landscapes, domestic interiors witnessed as though in dreams. This winter’s lockdown especially, with time outdoors so much more limited due to the weather, and our daily exercise frequently taken at the end of the working day after darkness has fallen, may make this book’s introspective images seem particularly relatable, especially to lonely home workers.
We hope you will enjoy finding your own connections to these pieces, and that they might go some way in reminding us that whatever our experiences of mental health and Covid 19, reading can help us feel less alone.
Phil Owen, Projects Producer/Archivist, Arnolfini
Please visit the links for each of the books listed below to find out more about them and their creators:
List of books in this exhibition:
Artist’s Book Club UWE and Beth Calverley (The Poetry Machine) Word Binding. Last April a group of ABC members came together virtually to take part in a Word Binding party hosted by Beth Calverley of The Poetry Machine. During the workshop we shared words and inspiration about our love of collaboration and our own practice, especially during lockdown. These words inspired a poem which Beth wrote at the end of the workshop. This became the book Word Binding, with text by Beth and images by ABC members. More info on ABC and The Poetry Machine.
Batool Showghi – The weight of tradition 1, 2020. Social, economic and political situations constantly affect the Middle East people more than others. At the same time women are fighting hard for gender equality and freedom of choice. The weight and the burden of tradition is felt more by them than men. Artist’s book with 2 hard covers, Mixed Media printed on Archival paper. 31 x 22 cm when opened 21 x 168 cm. Edition 1/5. More info.
Corinne Welch – Lockdown Manifesto. Eight-page single sheet folded book created as a manifesto for everything I felt was important to focus on in the Coronavirus Lockdown situation. A personal manifesto, small enough to keep in your pocket. This is a digitally printed version of an original book created with hand-carved rubber stamps. Printed on 150gsm fresco gesso paper. £5 from the sale of each book goes to Bristol North West Foodbank. more info.
Delpha Hudson – Theatre of the Self. Taking its starting point from a 30-day performance of reading, editing and burning 30+ diaries in 2017, the Theatre of the Self documents a personal journey through life stories and encourages us to re-think our stories for good mental health. Delpha Hudson is an interdisciplinary artist who has been making work about women and motherhood since 1998. Her paintings, installation, performance, film and sculpture have all used personal stories and sometimes diary entries to explore gendered Subjectivity and the Self.
‘Performed’ in 2017, the performance score became a starting point for a research project about women, autobiography and telling stories. It was also a practical project that dealt with 30 years of diaries; a personal and cathartic project dealing with trauma; a process of exploring the mental health benefits of revisiting and re-writing our stories for good mental health. more info.
Elizabeth Willow – within. within is a small book about staying inside, either physically or emotionally. Words rest in the internal spaces of letterforms (known as ‘counters’ or ‘islands’), making such hollows into shelters or vessels, quiet places in which to hide, to find safety or sanctuary. Letterpress printed on Zerkall 145gsm paper. More info on Elizabeth Willow
Eva Voutsaki – Traces Within. I walk through this limited time given to me, named life. And in this transitory period I try to enlighten all my fears, my emotions and desires. My camera travels with me into this symbolic voyage of nocturnal light; from darkness to light and then back again.
The photographs: seascapes under the full moon, animals, lonely women and men- form an anecdote diary with spontaneous and accidental images that enable the viewer to travel smoothly and secretly into his own memories. The outer reality is transformed into a stream of dislocated and ambiguous images. I try to re-mythologise and re-invent myself.
Intuition is my only guide and the traces are always to be found within me, in my early memories, my dreams and nightmares. View online.
Helen Fry – Cocoons. I am a hand weaver based in Shropshire who works predominantly with natural yarns, often taking inspiration from the landscape and the natural environment. As a member of the Marches Book Arts Group (MBAG) over the last few years I have begun weaving with paper yarns, in order to create new pieces of work, which incorporate and explore folding and book binding techniques. My weaving is more often a two-dimensional piece of fabric that is used to adorn an interior setting, but in weaving paper pieces of ‘fabric’ and creating three dimensional structures I am able to challenge the inert qualities in the material and explore form and texture.
I made the ‘cocoons’ during Lockdown 2020 in response to self-isolating as a family at home. Whilst we have all been living more intensely in our own personal spaces recently, as individuals in a family unit we can often feel very alone. We often hide our emotions and find connecting with others difficult: as each ‘cocoon’ stands separate, the ‘tails’ cover its mouth forming a barrier, protecting the space inside, like our thoughts and feelings, whilst extending out beyond the spherical form, they are also trying to reach out to touch and connect with the next ‘cocoon’. @helenfryweaving – Instagram.
Jean McEwan – We find ways. Last summer, I found myself rummaging through some unsorted boxes of found 35mm slides at home. Spending hours looking and sorting the slides into little piles, I noticed that some of them had a really strong pull on me, and I kept looking at them over and over.
After a while, I realised the images were, for me, speaking to the times we are living in somehow. It felt like they were offering something – moments of connection, endeavour, play, space – people finding ways to live, thrive and be ok. In putting these together as a collection in this zine, I wonder if other people might find strength and resonance in them as I have – I hope so. More info on Jean McEwan
Jean McEwan – Games of Now. Figuring out how to live in these days. A colour zine of collages made in August 2020. More info on Jean McEwan
Jean McEwan – I Am Blue Sky. Yearnings, learnings, hopings, dreamings. A zine of collage, drawings, text and inspirations from Greta Thunberg, Werner Herzog, Toni Morrison, Maggie Nelson, Olivia Laing and Thich Nhat Hanh. View the zine online here. More info on Jean McEwanhere.
Kate Bernstein – Love and Toothache. Love and Toothache is a first aid kit for the Wife of Bath. A medieval cure for toothache and a love poem are given a contemporary twist with screen printed images and text. In a soft leather binding with inlaid Middle English and lines that reference the manuscript guide lines used by scribes. The unique vellum case is screen printed with an image of the Wife’s Prologue taken from a1561 Chaucer. The whole fits into a box with a raised image of the Wife of Bath. More info.
Katie Green – The Green Bean Vol 1, Issue 3. My work is primarily drawing, in the form of illustration, design and comics. The act of creating – more than any finished product – is why I do what I do. I relish the meditative quality of my hands and mind being utterly absorbed in the making. I am a nature-lover, bookworm and (redbush) tea-drinker-extraordinaire. I am also a knitting nerd and designer, and I create a regular video podcast which shares all of my creative endeavours. more info on Katie Green
Magnus Irvin – Cancer Times. Written and illustrated book by the artist. It tells the story of my recent hospital experiences following a prostate cancer diagnosis – it’s not entirely serious but it is factual and hopefully helpful to other men and their families who are going through the same daunting process. More info.
Mel Brown – That Little Jackdaw. ‘The Jackdaw of Rheims’ is the tale of a jackdaw who attends a grand banquet, steals the Cardinal’s precious ring, is cursed for his sins and eventually absolved of his crimes and sainted. The poem is part of ‘The Ingoldsby Legends’, parodies of medieval prose, myth and folklore written by clergyman Richard Harris Barham, first published in 1837.
When we first meet the Jackdaw, he is mischievous, irreverent and very much alive. However, he becomes a broken bird – firstly as a result of the Cardinal’s violent and excessive curse and secondly when the lifting of that curse leaves him pious and devout with his most natural characteristics buried deep. Drawn to this tale of theft and redemption, artists, illustrators and composers have adapted the poem ever since and This Little Jackdaw is my own interpretation where the imagery is stripped back, with no reference to the Cardinal, his guests or the lavish display of the banquet. Instead, this is the Jackdaw’s tale, and his alone. The use of marks, smudges and flourishes threaded throughout the book in one moment simply suggests a place to perch and in another becomes the violent and excessive curse delivered by the cardinal, thus distilling the narrative right back to its most basic elements.
The circumstances of my recalling of the poem during a long period of recuperation after surgery in 2017 are vital to my own process of interpretation. The Jackdaw’s fate becomes my own: a broken bird (my pre-op/post-op self) has a curse lifted (cancer removed and a scar healed) – my love letter to the NHS. More info.
Mireille Ribière – On Standby. There are numerous photobooks and series of photographs that document the ravages of time or the progress of ill health, be they testimonies of witnesses or self-portraits. But how does one convey by photographic means the feelings of helplessness and the sense of alienation from oneself and others generally experienced by hospital patients? This photobook constitutes such an attempt. It is about an intensely personal experience with which most people who have spent time ill in hospital will identify.
This work is informed by the need to preserve the confidentiality and privacy of patients and staff, the technical limitations of the iPhone 6 used, as well as the severely weakened state of the photographer herself. More info.
Molly Lemon – Be Kind to Yourself. Molly Lemon is a printmaker who specialises in wood engraving. Working onto end grain wood, Molly engraves images inspired by nature and the rural landscapes surrounding her.
Molly works onto each woodblock using traditional hand tools creating thousands of fine marks which make up the final image. The block is then inked up and printed on her 1868 miniature Albion Press. Concerned with conservation and global warming, Molly aims for her prints to reflect the beauty and vulnerability of the plants and animals we share this planet with. More info.
Petra Schulze-Wollgast (psw) – Superficial Knowledge. Reflections during the 2020/2021 pandemic by psw. Made with modular type stencils on old Gestetner stencils. Mimeo printed on old computer listing paper in an edition of 46 copies, 34 pages, 16 x 20 cm, 2021. more info.
Sarah Nicholls – Make the earth say beans. The summer 2019 Brain Washing From Phone Towers informational pamphlet is about community gardens, land use, zoning, urban agriculture, and the history of Flatbush. Printed in an edition of 250. Brain Washing From Phone Towers is a series of informative and entertaining Informational Pamphlets produced by hand on a seasonal basis.
These small-scale publications combine text (handset in metal type) and image (carved in wood or linoleum) produced via obsolete technology in editioned works which are distributed at will to a chosen audience. The content of the series aims for historical interest, commemorative intent and a healthy dose of humour, and the distribution methods are based on the values of the gift economy. more info.
Tamar MacLellan & Philippa Wood, The Caseroom Press – 168. During lockdown we produced a body of work documenting the adaptation of living and working at home which resulted in 40 individual pieces of artwork (20 each). We have subsequently cut each artwork into quarters, and through a pre-determined system paired them to form an edition of 10 books, called 168 (the duration of the project in days).
168: This edition was inspired by a charity shop typewriter, each 18pp concertina book is unique and contains a section of eight pieces of paired work that utilise a range of materials and making processes available in our homes. The eight keys represented in each book are documented on the front cover and arranged in their position on a typewriter keyboard. Each book is contained within a hand-made envelope. The story of this collaborative journey can be seen here.
You may also find this video made by Emma Gregory helpful. Artist Emma Gregory (Bristol, UK) talks about the experience of being an artist in relation to wellbeing: sharing how she makes a living, personal experiences of mental health issues, being an artist pre-Covid 19, resilience during the period of Lockdown and ‘finding a purpose’. Emma has also made a transcript of her talk from summer 2020 with links to organisations and wellbeing support, which can be downloaded here.
*Due to lockdown/social distancing measures we cannot currently welcome visitors. We will be sharing the books with the public online via the links above and UWE Bristol Library’s Twitter feed. Up to date info can be found here.
UWE Bristol, City Campus at Bower Ashton, Kennel Lodge Road, Bristol BS3 2JT.