Book Arts

An online exhibition hosted by Bower Ashton Library, UWE Bristol, UK

The Herbarium – World Book Night 2021

Friday 23rd April – Sunday 23rd May 2021*

‘With freedom, books, flowers, and the moon, who could not be happy?’, Oscar Wilde, De Profundis and Other Prison Writings, Penguin Classics, 2013

This year United Artists for World Book Night invited participants to search for flowers in a book or poem. The text could have a flowery title, be about flowers or the mention of flowers, perhaps even prompting a new artist’s book to be made. Artists were requested to respond to their chosen flowery words by creating and sending a physical flower, for exhibition and a floral exchange.

We also asked our artists to make a note of the title author, publisher and date of the work that had inspired them, which in turn has created a bibliography of flowers for the catalogue of the project, The Herbarium.

The size of the work was specified to be less than 8 x 8 x 2cm, with no organic materials, but the brief was otherwise wide – paper, fabric, collage, drawn, printed, text-based, painted, photographic etc.

The response has been excellent, 141 artists from fifteen countries have sent 168 flowers. Blooms have arrived from: Australia, Denmark, England, the Kingdom of Fife, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Nepal, The Netherlands, Scotland, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Singapore, Sweden, & the United American states of Indiana, Pennsylvania & California.

The language of flowers flourished in the Victorian era, but it largely died out with the mores of the time, and is now mainly spoken by florists. The red rose still stands for passionate love, and the poppy is linked with remembrance of war. Chrysanthemums are a symbol of a long and happy life in Asia, but should never be given as a gift in France where they are reserved for the floral tributes of a funeral.

Although critics have panned Georgia O’Keefe for her reminders that plants use their flowers to attract the birds and the bees, humans are also attracted to flowers. They are powerful signifiers of emotion, carrying sensuous memories of colour, perfume and touch. We cultivate them in our gardens, and use them to punctuate and accompany the major times of life and death.

We are delighted that the acclaimed poet, writer and artist’s book maker Nancy Campbell accepted our commission to write for this project. Nancy’s beautiful poems have been hand-set and letterpress printed to make a very special keepsake, revealed in a short video on World Book Night 23rd April 2021. The printed keepsake will be included with the postal exchange of flowers when the exhibition finishes.

Blue skies and sunshine in April remind us that spring is a season of renewal and hope. Our flowers now are ready to leave the potting shed and the collection will be on display in the greenhouse vitrines of Bower Ashton Library, from 23rd April to 23rd May 2021.

The library is currently not open to the public, so we are sharing the flowers in an online catalogue available to the public and our fellow gardeners, which can be downloaded here.

United Artists for World Book Night 2021 – The Herbarium was organised by Sarah Bodman and Linda Parr. Text above – Linda Parr.

*Artefacts are on display for students but due to social distancing measures we cannot currently welcome visitors. We will be sharing selections with the public online via the pdf catalogue – (see link above) and Linda’s, Sarah’s and UWE Bristol Library’s Twitter feeds. Up to date info can be found here.

UWE Bristol, City Campus at Bower Ashton, Kennel Lodge Road, Bristol BS3 2JT.