Wednesday, 30 September 2015

The Cranach Hamlet

A couple of weeks ago I went to see Hamlet at the Barbican and maybe because the play was in my mind or maybe for totally different reasons I came across this wonderful printed edition. 

"Why echo [the author's] words—how can there be anything in that?  But then if you don't do that, how illustrate the book?" —Edward Gordon Craig 1

This book is immensely beautiful not just for it’s layout and typography but also for its illustration. The book was published by The Cranach-Presse in 1930. The Cranach-Presse was set up by Harry Graf von Kessler in 1911 in Weimar, Germany to print fine editions. One such being this version of Hamlet by Shakespeare. Together with woodcuts by Edward Gordon Criag the overall effect is to try and create a synergy between illustration and text. ‘Craig envisaged a book that reflected the drama being played, with ingenious ways of illustrating each opening of the book.’ 2

It makes me think about the ephemera that surrounds a theatre production. Is there any value in a programme in relation to the way that the script here is treated. The relationship to the production could be really interesting, than just mere functionality of information. I think there may be a whole other post in that idea…





Some Images of the production of the book from 1927 - 1929 E


Colin Franklin’s Fond of Printing: Gordon Craig as Typographer and Illustrator
A History of the Book in 100 Books, Roderick Cave and Sara Ayad - 2014

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

→ books & braille: reading with the fingertips


At BABE earlier this year I met a Norwegian artist Randi Strand. Randi's work reflects on the physicality and meaning of language signs, exploring relationship between signifier and signified. Randi showed me her recent book BERØRINGSSTROFER, which runs a Norwegian text alongside a text in Braille. Norwegian words are printed in a gently raised glossy ink. A bind person would be able to read the Braille and detect the physical presence of another text without being able to read it. A sighted person, on the other hand, will be able to read the Norwegian text (subject to the knowledge of Norwegian!) and see the presence of Braille as asemic writing. This beautifully light and poetic book combines tactile and visual pleasure of reading.

When we close our eyes, the object between our fingers loses visual cues - such as title, text, colophon, index, images. Books become blank books - or libri illeggibile - books devoid of traditional attributes of book in favour of acoustic and tactile experience. (Reading Book as an Object, 2015)

Indeed, some books become less blank than the others: some books are produced for tactile reading and they can only be read with the fingertips. In those books materiality of the object merges with the verbal and the visual content into one tactile experience of a very physical reading. They are the books for the blind.


David Rumsay Map Collection holds a 1837 embossed atlas for the blind. The atlas is printed in Boston Line Type - it was not until 20th century that New England Institution for Education of the Blind adopted Braille. 

L: Back of embossed New Hampshire map page. R: Explanation of New Hampshire map. From atlas of the united states, Printed for the use of the blind, at the expense of John C. Cray; under the direction of s.g. howe. at the n.e. institution for the education of the blind. Boston 1837.(SLATE)

L: Back of page holding explanation of Vermont map. R:New Hampshire map. From atlas of the united states, Printed for the use of the blind, at the expense of John C. Cray; under the direction of s.g. howe. at the n.e. institution for the education of the blind. Boston 1837. (SLATE)


Contemporary embossed maps are produced by Princeton Braillists. The master drawings are duplicated by the Thermoform process to make clear, sharp copies onto plastic sheets, which are bound into volumes with cardboard covers and spiral plastic binders.




A few years ago Illinois Rare Books and Manuscripts library found a 19th century Moon's "First illustrated reader": a book for blind children, published in Moon type and decorated with eight embossed illustrations.

Bellow is a beautiful contemporary Braille edition of Piccolo Principe, with embossed illustrations, including this image of a boa constrictor digesting an elephant.

A very promising appliance for the blind was featured in September 2015 issue of BBC Focus Magazine. BLITAB - a tablet which will allow the 285 million of blind and visually impaired individuals to finally enter the "tablet revolution". BLITAB is the first affordable (potentially) and light tablet for the blind. It was developed by an Australian startup: it creates Braille out of tiny, liquid-filled bubbles. Up to 15 lines of Braille can be displayed, while built-in software can convert text into Braille from websites or USB sticks. BLITAB can also display graphs, pictures, maps. It is expected to go on sale in 2016.


The final body of images come from a photographic work by the above mentioned Norwegian artist Randi Strand. Her series Memoria feature a set of seemingly insignificant images overprinted with Braille, forming a drawing of embossed writing.
The works are at the same time images of language and inaccessible language images. They conceal their message and convert communication into decoration. One language decorates another. She complicates them, takes them apart and reassembles them in new ways. She challenges us to ignore the meaning of signs and draws our attention to the signs as such, in other words, to the visuality of language – as form, movement, image. In this way the signs are emptied of their original meanings, without becoming meaningless in the process. (text by Mari Aarre)
 [post by Egidija]

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

GUEST POST: Artists’ Book Fairs (Pauline Lamont-Fisher)

When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes. 
Desiderius Erasmus


Artists’ Book Fairs take place throughout the year in various cities in the UK. I have been to several as a visitor and I have had tables at quite a few too. I love the artists’ book fairs as they each have their own unique atmosphere and character. I remember going to one that had loud raucous music playing all day. It seemed so incongruous with books, which I associate with quiet contemplation, and prevented any discussion about the work. Another fair I visited in London was so crowded that I could hardly move. That was a zines fair and very different in character, content and visitors from the artists’ book fairs I am used to.

Artists’ book fairs offer a unique opportunity to present your own work and get feedback from the visitors. They also provide an opportunity to have work seen by private collectors as well as librarians and archivists from public collections. They give a good indication of how to price work and what sells and what does not.

Egidija at the Small Publishers’ Fair in London

Over the years you get to make friends with fellow makers and meet familiar faces, which is such an important aspect of the shows for me. Being an artist tends to be a solitary occupation so that interaction is a good opportunity to catch up and discuss ideas and new work. Artists come from all over Europe as well as the UK, which is stimulating and adds diversity.

My favourite fair is BABE; The Bristol Artist’s Book Event which is held biannually at the Arnolfini gallery in Bristol. The Arnolfini is an old warehouse with high ceilings and makes a superb venue for the book fair. It is the biggest fair I have been to and the gallery is so spacious that there is plenty of room for people to circulate. The ambiance makes it easy to talk and interact with interested visitors. The facilities are excellent too, not the least because of the tea trolley manned by Snoozie and laden with delicious cakes baked by Pearly King!

BABE 2015 photograph: Chris Evans

All the Artist’s Book fairs I have been to have been well organized and well
run. The table sizes are usually pretty standard and I have my own linen table
cloth that I take to each. Having said I love the fairs I always hate them before
I get there as packing up, organizing and finishing those last minute jobs can
be stressful. However as soon as I arrive at my destination I feel glad to be
there and enjoy unpacking and setting up.

Setting up at Liverpool Artists’ Book Fair

Talking to visitors is enjoyable. You can always spot the students as they want to know the name of the paper used and how the book was made, but that’s OK. Other visitors are more interested in what the work was inspired by or what it is about. The book fairs are held in different parts of the country and at different times. They make a good goal to be working towards as I try to make a new book for each one that I have a table at. Normally booking tables is about 3 or 4 months before the event and has to be done when the call for participants is made to avoid disappointment. Some of the events use the website Curator Space for applications and that is a great place to store images and details of the imprint.

I try to have a handling copy of each book on the table. I have found that most
people handle books carefully and considerately. However I have also had stressful moments when someone with dirty hands picks up a book. I have also had people holding cups of coffee over the table, which can be alarming.

Manchester Artists’ Book Fair

One of the most irritating things is a table blocker: someone who stands talking either to someone else or on a mobile right in front of the table. They are not looking at work but stopping anyone else from looking too. That has happened to me several times and on the last occasion I actually plucked up the courage to ask them to move on!


The upcoming artist’s book fairs are:
10th Manchester Artists' Book Fair on Friday 16th and Saturday 17th October,
11am – 5pm, in the Manchester School of Art’s Holden Gallery.
Plymouth Artists’ Book Fair Counter 2015 at KARST in Plymouth on
Saturday 24th October, 12-6pm.
The Small Publishers’ Fair at the Conway Hall in London on November 5th
and 6th, 11am-7pm.
Tables for these book fairs will have gone by now but for visitors the
admission is free and they usually have events alongside, so well worth a

Some annual Artists’ Book Fairs:
Edinburgh: The Fruit Market: Artists’ Book Market: February
Leeds: Pages Leeds Artists’ Book Fair: March
Bristol: Bristol Artist’s Book Event: April (bi annual - next one 2017)
Norwich: Turn the Page: May
Liverpool: Liverpool Artists’ Book Fair: July
Newcastle: Baltic Artist’s Book Market: July
Manchester: Artists' Book Fair: October
Plymouth: Counter: October
London: Small Publishers’ Fair: November
Curator Space

Pauline Lamont-Fisher is an artist, who makes artist’s books. Her principle inspiration is walking in both urban and rural environments and her artist’s books reflect her interest in the landscape.  She holds a BA (Hons) in Fine Art, a Postgraduate Diploma in Book Arts and Crafts from the London College of Communication and an MA in Visual Arts (Book Arts) from Camberwell College of Arts, University of the Arts, London.  She exhibits internationally and her work is held in public and private collections.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

OpenLibrary and the endless library

Welcome back after our summer break, we hope you had a nice few weeks!

To ease us back, I thought I'd start with a gentle post about one of my all-time favourite websites - For the uninitiated the goal of OpenLibrary is to be "an open, editable library catalog, building towards a web page for every book ever published".

As well as being a catalogue, OpenLibrary also contains millions of scanned copies of books that can either be downloaded, borrowed or read online completely for free. Below is a  selection of the the books to read and books to borrow.

This library is a huge resource -  according to the stats for the past month they had over 7m unique visitors, who borrowed over 95,000 books!

Open library is a resource I have used in three art projects (twice as integral parts of the work and once in the background):

For The Good Reader: Between the Lines, I created a narrative about Paris comparing my own recollections to the stifled descriptions from travel guides. Using a QR code reader readers can borrow electronic copies of each of the guidebooks referred to.

For The Unassuming Collection I created a fictional narrative about a library, illustrated by images from existing books. A QR code on each page linked to the full book behind each of the illustrations. The intention was to create a real library that sat behind the fictional one.

The third way I have used Open Library is to catalogue a small collection of books that was part of an exhibition called Folles de leur Corps at Cafe Gallery Projects, by Sharon Kivland. This was a great way to group the books so a more permanent record could be kept.

I hope this post has given a suggestion of the artistic possibilities of OpenLibrary - the potential of it seems immense to me.