Wednesday, 25 November 2015

the web within a book the book within a web

Recently we have been asked by the British Library to submit our site for the This has got me thinking about how the internet has a vast wealth of data that a library could potentially collect. They currently hold 14,929 websites represeting 27.48TB of data which is a small portion of the 957,324,487 websites that are currently on the internet. (

‘The UK Web Archive contains websites that publish research, that reflect the diversity of lives, interests and activities throughout the UK, and demonstrate web innovation. This includes "grey literature" sites: those that carry briefings, reports, policy statements, and other ephemeral but significant forms of information. Because websites are revisited and snapshots ("instances") taken at regular intervals, readers can see how a website evolves over time. The archive is free to view, accessed directly from the Web itself and, since archiving began in 2004, has collected thousands of websites.’ (

It is interesting how the the websites are given book like qualities. Collected by a library and presented to readers, in much the same way they would collect and catalogue a book. 


I have been looking at some artists and projects that explore this notion of collecting and the place the internet and the library have in relation to this. 

One of them being Chris Gibson from our collective with his work the Unassuming Collection. 

The book holds within it links to books that can be read online. Using the form of the book to collect and present these other books. The book becomes a library. A library of texts that sits between both an online collection and a physical one.

the unassuming collection - Chris Gibson
‘The Unassuming Collection is a paperback comprised of double-page spreads, featuring a disjointed but unfolding narrative on the left hand and a visual fragment (marginalia, an image, isolated text) taken from an existing book, on the right. The story refers to an imaginary library, but the images are taken from existing books. Below the right hand text is a QR code leading to a location where the book can be borrowed online, turning the fictional collection into an actual one.
The artwork emphasises the book’s role as archive – or keeper much more than its pages belie.’ (

Another project I have come across is the Library of the Printed Web.

Library of the Printed Web is a physical archive and Tumblr devoted to web-to-print artists’ books, zines and other printout matter. It is also the publisher of Printed Web. Founded by Paul Soulellis in 2013, Library of the Printed Web is “web culture articulated as printed artifact,” characterized as an “accumulation of accumulations,” much of it printed on demand. It has also been described as an archive of archives. Techniques for appropriating web content used by artists in the collection include grabbing, hunting, scraping and performing, detailed by Soulellis in “Search, Compile, Publish,” and later referenced by Alessandro Ludovico.

They have collected together a lot of really interesting projects that like Chris’ book straddle that physical/digital divide. 

Experimental Publishing Studio at Rhode Island School of Design, COOKING WITH DOG, a one-hour Google doc book. With Jordan Hu, Drew Litowitz, Jane Long, Zhurong Qian, Francesca Capone, Mina Park, Stephanie Low, Ming Zhen, Lizzy Lim, Gyu Won Lee, Julie Rhee, Yoo Jin Jang. Spring 2015.

Mishka Henner, _IMG01 Australian-troops-passing-014.jpg. Self-published, PoD, 2014. Edition of 97 signed books and a 5x7 silver gelatin print. 740 pages.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

→ books in cyanotype


Some weeks ago - just in time for the World Photobook Day - I discovered Anna Atkins' 1841 cyanotypes for the Manual of British Algae: the first book to be photographically printed and illustrated. A copy of this book is kept at Horniman Museum in South London.

(both images from Horniman Museum)
Anna Atkins' prints were "photogenic drawings"(1), as she called them. Cyanotype process offered her an image reproduction technique, which escaped the need for accurate drawings. Blue background suggestive of the sea lent poetic beauty to her images of sea plants. While Atkins famously failed on scientific accuracy, she succeeded in producing an very elegant photo book.


Last year's MA Visual Arts (Book Arts) show at Camberwell College of Arts featured works by Ziyan Lu -  Unfolding Shaddow. Lu printed by setting up paper in various public locations; then impressing poetics of the flowing time into her books: abstract images were produced by the passing shadows from the objects around.


Christian Marclay is a New York based visual artist and composer whose innovative work explores the juxtaposition between sound recording, photography, video and film. In 2011, he published Cyanotypes, for which he used drawings of unwound the spools of old cassette tapes. Often using multiple exposures, Marclay created a labyrinth of lines, all tracing a distinct musical history that becomes abstracted, or at least estranged, on paper.

(images from GRAPHICSTUDIO)


In 2011 Ellen Ziegler produced an  artists' book, as she was grieving a sudden loss of her boyfriend. "Imbue” is a sheaf of abstract chemically-altered cyanotype prints inscribed with a crow-quill pen, the words chemically bleached out of the deep blue background. The poems by Patti Smith & Frances McCue reach the sorrowing depths of beautiful and ferocious grief.

(images from Ellen Ziegler website)


Vedos Project at Satakunta University of Applied Sciences / School of Fine Art Kankaanpää in Finland unites artists and teachers interested in studying and practising alternative printing processes in photography and printmaking. Their very informative webpage gives a fascinating insight into the processes, including paper and tinting tests.

(images from Vedos Project)

(1) Henisch, Heinz (1994) The Photographic Experience, 1839-1914: Images and Attitudes, University Park, Pa. : Pennsylvania State University Press. p317.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

GUEST POST. David Bomberg’s "Russian Ballet": a new beginning for English artist’s books? (Richard Price)

When David Bomberg published his slim artist’s book Russian Ballet in 1919 he was saying a fond farewell to the abstraction he had developed before the First World War.

Here was a booklet developed from sketches he had made before the War, using printing skills he had learned at that time, too.

The cover of Russian Ballet. The lettering is astonishingly ahead of its time: more 1960s
than 1919, and the large, all-capitals title, as well as the use of the artist’s surname (only), at a
perpendicular to the title, has a swagger, challenging conventional notions of ballet and asserting
the artist’s authority. (Image source: Wikipedia.

It is as abstract as anything he had produced in those Cubist-inspired days but it is not a ‘resumption of normal service’: he would soon entirely change direction, painting recognisablelandscapes and cityscapes pretty much for the rest of his life.

An image from Russian Ballet, c.1914/1919. As well as incorporating images into the artist’s
book, Bomberg seems to have made the lithographs available separately, as here. (
Image source: ©Tate,
used here for strictly non-commercial purposes.

There are many reasons why he might want quietly to assert the abstraction of what must have seemed like a bygone era, just five years ago. 

An independent artist rather than working through a movement or school, he had nevertheless flourished in the pre-War company of various kinds of literary and artistic avant-garde, admired by but at armslength from Wyndham Lewis’s Vorticists, and part of a loose grouping of men and women associated with Whitechapel, London.

It wasn’t just that he had been so excited by Sergei Dhiagelev’s company Ballets Russes, whose modern approach to dance had created such a sensation when it came to London in 1911. Other artists, such as August Macke, had also been stimulated by what they saw (in Macke’s case, seeing the ballet in Paris).

Ballets Russes, by August Macke, 1912. Macke’s post-impressionist style shares the same rich
aubergine palleteBomberg would adopt, a testament to the velvety light of the theatrical
appearance, and asserts, too, the important role of the audience in the overall experience. Bomberg
differs by moving firmly into abstraction. (Image out of copyright.
Image source:

The excitement was as much about possibilities of response as it was about new subjects. Remembering the exhilaration of finding new ways to praise, to affirm, of finding new ways to pattern celebration –Bomberg must have made Russian Balletfeeling all kinds of complicated nostalgia,including nostalgia for the idea of the good future. Russian Ballet even continues a theme he had addressed in bookform before the War: in 1914 he had provided a dancing image for the cover of Poems by the modernist John Rodker.

There had been so much loss since then. He had been at the Front and had seen the slaughter. Not a natural poet, he had yet been driven to write poems which tried to grasp the horror of the scenes he witnessed (these few poems would not be discovered until nearly the end of the twentieth century and contain some of the most violently explicit war poetry in English). Some of his friends, such as the artist and poet Isaac Rosenberg, had been killed in the War. He had suffered a devastating artistic shock, too, when, as an official war artist, the commission he had madehad been rejected by his paymasters, its anger and its relative abstraction surely the reason.

Caption: Further images from Russian Ballet, c.1914/1919. Image source: ©Tate, used here strictly for non-commercial purposes.

So this physically light-weight book, Russian Ballet, a pamphlet really, has far more emotional freight than its fragile frame suggests. Dance and in fact the human body are like that: people carry a density of experience which renders flat; in comparison to the emotional volume, presents weightless.

I think Russian Ballet is also one of the modern beginnings of the English artist’s book. The pamphlet form is part of this. You could say that one tradition Russian Ballet counters – though there are too many tributaries of the English artist’s book tradition to go into here – is that of the literally heavy religious work. The Lindisfarne Gospels is the prime example in its large lavishness, its huge, physical, sculptural presence. True, the stolidity of its scriptural ‘republication’ of the Gospels is set against the freer improvisations of its beautiful visual decoration, but Russian Ballet takes such abstraction and separates it entire. Figuratively speaking, the Gospels tries to ground its readers, but Russian Ballet encourages them to take to the air.

One of the ways it does this is by using a single, short, text and eking that text out across the whole book. The poem starts with an artistic explosion – “Methodic discord startles” - which is nevertheless described in distanced language, so that we don’t know exactly what is being disrupted and we also feel that a commentary is being made rather than a closer, realistic sally into whatever is actually happening. This strange relationship between an intellectualisation and an experience is maintained all through the book, and is in fact one thing that abstraction is: you may feel closer to the essence of something by being able to understand its reduced but heightened metanature, you come round to what you may think is essence by disengaging to a great degree from specific reality. 

Because each line of poetry is given a whole page to itself, the book emphasises either a contemplative role for the textor a speeding up of reading (the reader can decide). In the first interpretation the exposed short text slows the reader down: the page is saying, “dwell on this, I have place this sentence amid so much white-space in the way that I have placed a visual work on the other side of the opening”. Yet the whole book is about movement, the fast movement of dancers: in the early days of cinema Bomberg is giving us a slow motion effect while foregrounding the dilemma visual and literary art has in
the depiction of movement. The line that the book and poem conclude with – “The mind clamped fast captures only a fragment, for new illusion” – suggests that velocity, admitting that there cannot be a totality of interpretation, is also the book’s theme.

The language is highly unusual for the poetry of the day. It asserts unashamedly a place for theoretical observation in poetry, and yet places a premium on concision: a six line poem becomes a whole book. 

Finally, Russian Ballet was one of the places where poetry and art were joined in physical performance, in theatre of a new kind. It is recounted by Bomberg’s biographer Richard Cork that David Bomberg and his then wife Alice Mayes pretended to be programme-sellers at an actual performance by Ballets Russes, selling Russian Ballet to unwitting attendees of the Ballet. Diaghilev, who was present at the performance, discovered the ruse and apparentlymade the buyers return their books. However, this was not before Bomberg had placed himself in the history of the arts as an innovator in no less than
three fields – the artist’s book, English poetry, and performance art.

There are a number of digitised versions of Russian Ballet available on the net, and free to use under US copyright law. Because of restrictions elsewhere, we have avoided directly linking to those, but draw readers attention to their existence. Of course, for artist’s books, it is usually better to experience them in person. In the UK, libraries which hold Russian Ballet include Birmingham University, The British Library, The V&A, the National Library of Scotland, the National Library of Wales, and the Tate Library (Tate Britain).

John Rodker, Poems, London: [Privately Printed], 1914.
David Bomberg, Russian Ballet (London: Hendersons, 1919).
Richard Cork, David Bomberg (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987). See
especially: pp.122-126.


How a book could be 

by Richard Price
Bomberg’s Russian Ballet, 1919

This is how a book could be –
tonight it’s ballet, tomorrow
apply a different progression code
within the hyper lex transfer protocol.

There’ll be a future name for a flicker render, mimicking film.
It’s fine, you can theorise in poetry,
sing analysis in. There’s lyric in the language of the intellect –
lyric can be intelligent, breathing out a thought, attentive adoration.

This is how a page could be –
mostly whitespace for the text wall, and the windows varying in size, varied in
colour saturation, force of light.

It is all dancing and stage-build today, rich reds by design,
but you can still cherish resolving in the eye / hands.

Tomorrow this is how pauses work

This is how ellipses…
and now dashes –

           positioning, movement
                                         and you make it all a performance –
Would you like to buy this programme?

(The contents resemble everything I once wanted, worked for, resemble…
nothing you could have seen before,

                                                              and now they’re all alight.)

Richard Price’s poetry collections include Lucky Day, Rays, and Small World. He has collaborated with the artists Ron King, Karen Bleitz, Julie Johnstone and Caroline Isgar on various artist’s books. He is Head of Contemporary British Collections at the British Library. More information about his work is gathered at

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Join us at the Small Publishers Fair this Friday and Saturday

This Friday and Saturday Collective Investigations will be at the Small Publishers Fair, at Conway Hall, London. We will also be speaking about Book as an Object; a subject that has kept us busy for the past year or so.

Our interest in the physical book form first made its way into our work as supplements to the book Codex: Between this and That (our very first project in 2012, for bookartbookshop).

Codex: Between This and That at the bookartbookshop

Each of us produced a book (entitled Codex: Between One Hand and Another) that explored different aspects relating to the physical aspects of the book: Mine looked at the book as container or repository for content (which I made absent by striking out text and leaving just section headings), Egidija looked at how the physical object had been represented in culture, specifically its representation in painting, and George used arrows and imagery to draw attention to the movement of the page as it is turned.

Codex and our three supplements.

Although the theme has been touched on in different works, we explored it again at South Lambeth Library where we filmed participants handling books with eyes closed telling us what they thought as they imagined the book in their hands.

Participants handling books at South Lambeth Library

This led to a brief talk at BABE earlier in the year and a visual essay for the Artists Book Year Book. Finally the project has come full circle and at the Small Publishers Fair we will be presenting a new book work based on the book handling at South Lambeth Library.

It would be great to see you there.

Full details here: