Book Arts

Artists’ Books Exhibitions in the Bower Ashton Library cases, UWE, Bristol, UK

Ben Jenner – anagapesis.

3rd December 2020 – 31st January 2021*

Ben Jenner is a multi-disciplinary artist from Bristol, UK whose practice includes: visual poetry, printmaking, book arts and performance. His work is inspired by asemic writing, rooted in abstract expressionism, and asemic evocations of music and literature, depicting organic compositions that allude to a tension of conscious and subconscious mark-making.

In January 2020 Jenner’s proposal was selected to be the artist-in-residence at Bower Ashton Library. With previous works exploring asemic transcriptions of narratives that hold great personal meaning, he proposed to search through texts of which he had no prior knowledge. The unique opportunity allowed for consideration of what would happen when one explores books completely foreign to them. What would an asemic translation of a fashion magazine look like? Or perhaps a photography manual?

In order to keep the emotional attachment at the heart of the work he took inspiration from Dadaist poetry, composing poems with found texts in books discovered at random. The poems soon became an anthology of autobiographical love poetry, each with its own corresponding asemic transcription which acts as a further reflection of the same sentiment.

The project became a metaphor for finding love in unexpected places, and aims to inspire the concept of getting lost in the library bookshelves. In the digital age it is difficult to get lost in search engines when a definitive search is typed in, but there is nothing quite like the journey of discovery in the library; there is a need for the book in the physical space. Though digital catalogues are a great resource, they lack the serendipity of unearthing books by chance.

The resulting artist’s publication from this residency project is now on show at the library along with some of the working drawings and prints made during the research process. ‘anagapesis.’ is an offset lithography printed edition of five kettle-stitched, casebound books. As Bower Ashton Library cannot currently welcome external visitors the work is also available to be viewed /downloaded as an e-book here.

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A report on the Artist in Residence project at Bower Ashton Library, UWE Bristol – Shaun Oaten, Library Engagement, Bower Ashton, UWE Bristol
The Library Artist in Residence scheme at Bower Ashton began in 2018 when we were asked by MA Printmaking student, Cathey Webb, if she could use the library for a book making project. Myself and my colleagues were intrigued by her proposal and agreed without hesitation. This led to Cathey becoming, in effect, an unofficial library artist in residence. Her research involved selecting a shelf, opening each book and allowing her finger to fall on a word at random. Each word became part of a set that were then used to form a poem representing that shelf. This work culminated in the creation of a beautiful boxed set of books, one of which was donated to the library.

We were so pleased with the project that we decided to continue it in a more formal vein the following year with invaluable support from Sarah Bodman at the Centre for Fine Print Research (CFPR). We secured a bursary from the library in the form of art materials credit in the campus Art Shop. Proposals were invited from current UWE Bristol students and staff, stipulating that the final piece should be inspired by any aspect of the library at Bower Ashton in the form of a book, zine or installation of printed matter that could be displayed in one of the library vitrines.

The successful application came in the form of a collaboration between MA Printmaking student – Zelda Velika, and Angie Butler – Researcher at the CFPR. They asked library staff to collect all the scraps of paper left in returned library books, along with the little notes written at the desk during the day before setting about arranging these scraps together to make new narratives with an idea of collating a series of poems/statements into artists’ books.

They could have stopped there… but in a flash of inspiration Angie and Zelda realised that their poems could be digitally printed onto fabric and turned into a set of eight cushions that could be scattered around the library, thereby answering a question they had posed themselves about how to make their work available and accessible to library users. These wonderful, quirky cushions were accompanied by a set of three folded printed editions.

Our 2020 artist in residence was Ben Jenner, an MA Multidisciplinary Printmaking student, who proposed to explore the library collections and express his discoveries in the form of asemic writing, a body of calligraphy that contains no semantic content. Sadly, Ben’s residency was interrupted by the pandemic and temporary closure of the library, but he managed to carry on with his research, has made his book and is installing the exhibition on 3rd December.

At the time of writing the library has reopened with reduced access which means we have had to pause many of the activities that make Bower Ashton such an inspiring place to visit and work. However, I am looking forward to sending out a new call for the Artist in Residence scheme once we return to a semblance of normality.

*Physical books will be displayed in the library cabinets for students to see, but due to 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.