Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Liberature : Literature in the Form of the Book (Sally-Shakti Willow)


Based in Krakow, Poland, Katarzyna Bazarnik and Zenon Fajfer are creating, curating, documenting and theorising a literary revolution : Liberature.  Since Fajfer coined the term in 1999 – which could be used not only to describe the kinds of works that he and Bazarnik were creating together but could also be applied retrospectively to works by writers such as James Joyce, Stephane Mallarme, William Blake and Laurence Sterne and equally applied to a range of more recent and contemporary works by writers such as B.S. Johnson and Jonathan Safran Foer – the couple have been prolific in producing, publishing and researching around this previously undocumented area of literary activity.
Katarzyna has published widely in academic contexts on Liberature, including the 2014 Incarnations of Material Textuality, and has a book forthcoming this year.  Zenon’s collected essays from 1999-2009 can be found here.  Together they edit and run the Liberature imprint at Krakow-based small publisher Korporacja Ha!art, which has published several notable works including the first publication in Poland of Raymond Queneau’s One Hundred Thousand Billion Poems, a specially-formatted version of Mallarme’s Un Coup de Des following the writer’s original directions for the text, and the first foreign translation of Nobel Prize winner Herta Muller’s Der Wächter nimmt seinen Kamm.  The Liberature imprint has also published works by B.S. Johnson, and publishes a range of liberatic works by Bazarnik and Fajfer themselves.

Liberature takes its name by replacing the Latin ‘liter’ (letter) with the Latin word for book, ‘liber’, which also means ‘free’.  

What distinguishes Liberature from literature is the focus on the form of the book as an integral element of communication within the structure of the whole.  Where generally the bound codex is rendered invisible – and in the digital age, almost obsolete – as simply the carrier of the message of the printed word, Liberature recognises and foregrounds the book’s physical materiality as a vital component of the literary work printed onto its pages.
What distinguishes Liberature from the Artist Book is that the primary focus is on the literary text in its relationship with the book object – the marriage of material form and literary content – where the Artist Book in general explores the possibilities of the book form without requiring specific literary content.
On 12th August, Joe and I met Katarzyna and Zenon at the Liberature Reading Room in Krakow where they showed us their collection and spoke about their work.  The Liberature Reading Room is a research resource housing books from their own personal collection, theoretical and scholarly publications, promotional material and press clippings, all related to contemporary and historical works that are considered to be works of liberature, or ‘liberatic’.

Liberature Reading Room, KrakowLiberature Reading Room, Krakow

The book for which the term was coined, Oka-leczenie (2000), is formed of three interlinked codices bound together – a deliberate decision to present a physical experience of the book’s content in material form.  Spanning the stories of a death, a birth and an intermediary period between the two, the book can opened at the beginning of any of the three codices which never end but open onto one another in an intentionally endless cycle. Thus the book is no longer an invisible component, subordinate to the text in the communication of meaning, or at least intention.  In a work of Liberature, the material structure of the book is employed as an integral dimension of communication in the design of the text as a whole.  This, for those who have attempted it, is a radical act that questions some deeply held assumptions.
The focus of Western literary production and its critical reception has overwhelmingly been on the words of the text, rather than the design of the book as an object.  This echoes the cultural prejudice that has traditionally valued the intellectual over the physical.  The physicality of the book remains invisible and unquestioned, as it has largely been the intellectual work of the writer in creating the text that has been most valued.  In this way, it’s become easy to ‘lose yourself’ in a good story – the physical act of turning the pages becomes no interruption to the mental and intellectual act of reading the words and reconstructing an imaginary narrative.  But this kind of reading can neglect, or at worst negate, the body: the physical processes at work not only in the act of reading, but in the experience of being human.  To me, this replicates the age-old theological dichotomy between the body and the soul, which again demonises the former in favour of the latter.  Liberature aims at bringing the material form back into play, to foreground its relationship with the immaterial and raise questions about its role.

The codex form itself, far from being an innocuous and insignificant vehicle for the written word, developed at a culturally and spiritually significant point in time.  The first codices were Coptic – designed to encode the biblical narrative.  In the structure of the codex form, with its linear temporality and teleological focus, we can see the structure of the biblical narrative embodied in material form.  Every novel ever written and produced within this set of structures is to a greater or lesser degree reproducing the structure and story of the Bible.  Its structures and codes have dominated our narratives for so long that they are now an unconscious and unquestioned part of our lives, shaping the ways that we think, interpret and experience the world.

For these reasons and others, I believe it is the vital work of writers and artists to draw attention to and question our unconscious assumptions about the material form of the book.

In his ’emanational texts’ – the literary texts that become the content for the liberatic material forms – Fajfer goes further still in probing the relationship between the physical and the spiritual.  Each book contains both a visible text and an invisible text: the invisible text emanates from a close reading of the first letters of each word of the visible text, until only a single seed word remains.  The seed word becomes both the origin and the end point, or the birth and the death, of the visible text on the page.  In this way, both the visible and the invisible carry equal significance and weight, as each gives rise to the other.

Oka-leczenie, Katarzyna Bazarnik and Zenon Fajfer (2000)
An exploration of the relationship between the physical form of the book and the physical form of the body, and the energising of silent spaces in relationship with the word, are integral elements in the work of our book The Unfinished Dream, which we donated to Katarzyna and Zenon for the Liberature Reading Room while we were there.  It was exciting to discuss our work in the context of Liberature: particularly being told that The Unfinished Dream is a liberatic project in their opinion.  Overspilling the boundaries of the codex, The Unfinished Dream is also a performance and a film with each element of the project designed to foreground the relationship between the physical forms of the book and the body and the interrelationship between word and silence in speech and on the page.

The physical object of the book is a central concern of The Unfinished Dream.  The project explores the ways that the materiality of the book is ignored and made invisible at the expense of the words and ideas it contains, in a similar way to the relationship between the physical human body and the concepts and ideas that are generated by the mind.  The Unfinished Dream explores writing, drawing and creative practice as embodied, physical processes – processes that take place in, of and through the body, and which may be experienced physically, viscerally and emotionally by those who come into contact with them.  The foregrounded interrelationship between word and silence is intended to raise questions about the relationships between self and other, subject and object, writer and reader: creating a non-linear multiplicity that requires the collaboration of the reader to engender meaning.

It was incredibly inspiring and energising to meet with Katarzyna and Zenon to discuss Liberature, and we’re grateful to them for their generosity and their genuine interest in our work as well as the vibrant and animated conversations we had that sparked so many ideas.  We hope to continue the conversation for many years to come.
  Sally-Shakti Willow

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

leaf, leave, leaves


A book is a set of written, printed, illustrated, or blank sheets, made of ink, paper, parchment, or other materials, fastened together to hinge at one side. A single sheet within a book is a leaf, and each side of a leaf is a page.1.

The word "page" comes from the Latin word, "pagina", which means a "column of writing" or "to arrange vines in a rectangle"; "pagina" is derived from the word "pangere," meaning "to mark out the boundaries" or "plant vines in a vineyard."2.

The idea of a page as a boundary is an interesting one and is quite fitting for this post. As we are beginning to rethink the role of the blog and what form it might take in the future. We will begin to wind down the regularity of the posts. They will still continue to appear, but instead of a weekly offering there will be a more in depth output. The blog may even become physical as we extend its boundaries further. We have built up a great resource here and great connections with guest post writers and to do this justice we have to evolve it. So watch this space. 

An interesting fact about the blog, though you could probably guess, is that the word ‘Book’ appears 1236 times (not counting this post). So thats an average of 12.5 mentions of ‘Book’ per post. Thats a lot of book chat. So it’s obvious that we will be talking about books for a long while to come, at least to get our 12.5 mentions of books a week. Which I hope will still happen.  

So as we leave you, though we are not really leaving we are still going to be leafing through books. So as not to bring down our average I’ll leave you with this:

book, book, book, book, book, book, book, book, book, book, book, book, bo

2. Emmanuel Souchier, "Histoires de pages et pages d'histoire," dans L'Aventure des écritures (History of Pages and Pages of History" in The Adventure of Writing), Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, 1999

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

MA Book Arts show & South London Gallery - a few WOW moments of one day

As were walking across Camberwell, Chris, George and myself were talking about how exciting it is to see something new: new, meaning an unexpected arrangement of old building blocks, which makes you go "WOW, clever/nice/beautiful/thoughtful/etc.!". We were talking about that as we were walking towards South London Gallery and Camberwell College of Arts MA shows.

This post is a about some of the WOW moments of that day.

1. Luis Camnitzer Art History Lesson no.8 @ South London Gallery

Empty slide projectors arranged around the room casting irregular rectangles of light onto the wall in a seemingly random sequence. Art history (as well as literary history, or any other history in fact) is written by those in power, and tends to exclude certain accounts (including Latin America’s). The work’s empty projectors present viewers with a space within which to imagine and, potentially, write these “other” narratives. Don't you think it is a particularly bookish installation?

2. Tim Burrough Silver on Gold @ Camberwell MA Book Arts Show

Tim's final work consits of an installation and a book Silver or Gold, which address the layering of memory and the impermanence of those layers though a volume of text, printed across  pages with only one layer (book) or one word (installation) visible at a time. The whole installtion, in fact

3. Wenjing Mou Sun in Smog and Under the Mask @ Camberwell MA Book Arts Show

Wenjing's final work considers pollution in China as it’s main subject. Photography is essential to her works - the viewer navigates though sequences of images establishing the connections between the space of the book and reality of what it represents. Wenjing uses Chinese paper, articulating fragility of the environment and reinforcing the cultural and spacial associations. Here is a nice interview on the subject

4. Lena Wurz 
,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, -line
out_ -                            @ Camberwell MA Book Arts interim Show

Lena's work is different. Beautifully simple yet visual, it consists of layers of papers with only remnants of textual symbols visible from behind the corners. The absence of text is very much there. It speaks of the relationship about the presence, the assumed, the supposed, the expected and balance between them all.
Lena is not graduating until next year. Very intersested to see what her final show will be like! 


Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Fantasy as Truth as Book

Truth is fundamental to fairy tales and fantasy fiction. If you look beyond the otherworldly settings these stories teach us something about our lives, they ask questions and throw light into the dark places of the world, holding up a mirror to the things we hide from, bury or ignore. Coming packaged in fantasy makes these truths easier to accept and to learn from. Fantasy fiction is not the sole property of literature. The visual arts have the same power to create and tell fantastical stories; stories that ask questions and pierce through our perceptions of the world and ourselves. 

My newest work, The Ellentree, is a short fantasy story through text, photography and the book form. The narrative follows Evelyn and his encounters with unnamed character You. Evelyn slips between our world and another following a path of leaves left by the mystical Ellentree. Central to both the story and the greater questions behind it is the saying ‘Seeing is Believing’. This idea is threaded throughout the book, particularly in my use of photography and text. 

I could not photograph the imagined other world in which Evelyn finds himself. Instead I chose to construct a surreal reality, making, installing and photographing hundreds of origami birds in various natural landscapes across the country. It is through the contrast between image and text, the space between what we are seeing and what the text is describing, that the fantasy world is constructed and the story told. The text brings to the photographs new readings not contained within the image, these readings are fantastical ones that state categorically that what we are seeing: origami cranes and copper piping are actually a fantasy tree in another world. The surrealism of the photographs aims to make this fantasy easier to believe. When aided by the text the origami becomes a symbol for something other. Rather than paper birds they become the impossible leaves described as belonging to an impossible tree. This reading is steadily built upon as the origami is used repeatedly throughout the book. Appearing each time in a new location or season this symbol of the other world is able to drive the narrative journey forward. The birds anchor the reader in the imaginary, allowing me to use real world landscapes as a springboard for the reader’s imagination. 

Telling this story requires the audience’s active participation: our assumptions, expectations and most importantly, our projections. We complete the narrative almost instinctively, filling in the blanks from image to image, connecting the dots from text to photograph. This process needs a space to be enacted, the story needs a space in which to be told, contained and encountered. The artists’ book is the perfect space. The book can encompass the meeting of mediums, ideas, stories and questions. As a form the book is an intimate thing, one we are at once familiar with and yet still willing and able to be surprised by. It is also a structured space, and one that can act as a foundation upon which these different elements can be built. The Ellentree is a book of duality and contrasts: between the real and the fantasy, third and second person, photography and text. It is through the design and structure of the book that this duality becomes harmonious. As we turn the pages of The Ellentree we encounter and re-encounter photographs, page layouts and font colours, discovering a rhythm and pattern intended to that acts as signposts through the story and the questions it asks us. The relationship between the text and photographs depends upon the white space of the page to link them together. Our eye travels across the page, reading across both forms and so blending them together, reading them as one. They become part of the same thread, one that we are able to access through the quiet intimacy of the space of the book. This intimacy is important for the questions and emotional story; it is why The Ellentree was always intended as a book. The story of The Ellentree is at once uplifting and thought provoking, sad and happy, real and not real. Whatever truth, whatever mirror might be found within this fantasy story is made possible by the contemplative, intimate, contained yet limitless space of the book.

Rosie Sherwood is an artist, scholar and independent publisher. At the heart of Sherwood’s interdisciplinary practice is a fascination with time and a desire to tell stories. In 2012 Rosie Sherwood founded As Yet Untitled and Elbow Room, successfully crowd funding to expand the publishing company in 2015. Sherwood graduated from Camberwell College of Art with an MA in Book Arts in 2013. She has delivered conference papers and University lectures across the country. Sherwood has taken part in both group and solo exhibitions as well as artist book and small publishers fairs. Sherwood’s works can be found in special collections including The Poetry Library, Tate Library and Archive and the National Libraries of both Victoria and Queensland, Australia.



Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Three Unconventional Narrative Structures

Narrative takes a central role in most, if not all of my artworks. I am often to keen to tell a story, something that develops over time. When it comes to site-specific works that I have made, the narrative might even be driven by details from a place.

Recently, my artwork has been becoming more stand-alone and often a narrative will be confined to just one book (as opposed to a series) and because of this I have been keen to think how I might escape the linearity of the form. Instead of looking out there at other book-objects, I will look at three works in different media to see whether ideas from those could translate across.

Journey Into Fear, Stan Douglas
Journey Into Fear, Stan Douglas
The first is a video installation called Journey Into Fear by Stan Douglas (2001), which I saw at the Serpentine Gallery many years ago. The work is a single screen projection which at first glance appears to be a feature film; some kind of drama set on a ship. The film is mostly made up of exchanges between characters inside the boat - these scenes are interspersed with exterior shots or views of the ship at sea. Except for the exchanges appearing a little cryptic and the dialogue jarring slightly, as if it has been dubbed, the film seems like any other thriller of the genre. Things begin to change however once the viewer sees the same scene repeated, but with the characters saying different dialogue. It turns out that the scenes loop randomly and have several possible dialogue tracks for each, changing the nature of the interaction and subsequently the flow of the story itself. A viewer would have to watch the film for 157 minutes to witness all the possible permutations - this in itself means that each gallery visitor is likely to have a slightly different experience of the artwork, as they are unlikely to see the entire work.

Her Story, Main Screen.

The second example I would like to talk about is Her Story; a video game (Android and Apple) where players must assume the role of a detective, watching interview footage from a case in order to work out the details and solve it. On the surface the game sounds straightforward, but compared to others, it is pretty unique. When you first open the app you are presented with the desktop search terminal from a police computer (circa 1994) and apart from viewing the 'Read Me' files on the desktop, all you can do is enter key words into the search bar and view the footage that is returned.

Her Story, Interview Footage
Each interview clip is short, only giving you a partial scene, so you are forced to think up different key words (terms that you think might appear in a dialogue) in order to piece the scenario together. This technique makes the game mysterious, but compelling, as the player has to listen and look out for clues that might suggest a key word or phrase that might broaden the search. As clips are sorted by key words and not date, the player might be hearing interview footage from any part of the enquiry. Playing the game makes you feel like you are creating a huge jigsaw, but without knowing how many pieces you have left. This narrative device is fascinating and hugely compulsive.

Still from Imitation of Life.
Imitation of Life is an imaginative music video for the group R.E.M., which features a crowded scene at what appears to be a party. The camera zooms in and out and the footage plays backwards and forwards throughout the video, highlighting snippets of action at the party. The thread that ties the video is that characters in the midst of actions at the party appear to be lip-syncing the words to the song. The technical devices used make us unaware of the real duration of the events we are seeing, and the constant refocusing of the frame tease out new narratives, making us think of the endless possibility in each moment.

Still from Imitation of Life.

Is there scope for this type of story telling in the book form? Could the author replay scenes but with different elements as Stan Douglas does, or could a reader be guided through a book in different ways in order to discover different events first as in Her Story? Or maybe the reader could pick a new narrative out of an existing one like Imitation of Life? 


Wednesday, 29 June 2016

the sharing and spreading of people - the sharing and spreading of ideas.

I’m going to take this post to write about the sharing and spreading of ideas, through learning from other people. What other people have to show us is not foreign or wrong but comes from a whole wealth of experience. Everyone has different backgrounds and it is obvious that we have learned the most and gained the most from our closest European neighbours. It is also only right that we preserve these networks for learning no matter what comes our way.

So as this is a book arts blog lets get start with books. An early form of the book is called an Incunable. An incunable is a printed book that was made before 1501 and comes at the formative stages of printing. "Incunable" is the anglicised singular form of "incunabula", Latin for "swaddling clothes" or "cradle", which can refer to "the earliest stages or first traces in the development of anything.” 1. And these first stages incidentally began in Europe.

As we all know Gothenburg invented a form of printing with moveable metal type in the mid 15th century. He used this technique to print his 42-line Bible in Latin, printed probably between 1452 and 1454 in the German city of Mainz. 2.

Gutenberg lost a lawsuit against his investor Johann Fust, so Fust put Gutenberg's employee Peter Schöffer in charge of his print shop. After that Gutenberg established a new one with the financial backing of another money lender. With Gutenberg's monopoly on printing revoked, and the technology no longer secret, printing spread throughout Germany and beyond, diffused first by emigrating German printers, but soon also by foreign apprentices. 3. Along with the sack of Mainz in 1642, the instability and unfavourable business climate created by the war caused an exodus of printers and other tradesmen, who sought more politically stable cities with commercial potential. As many early books were printed in Latin, the universal language of the scientific and religious communities throughout Europe, it made it easier for the pioneers of print to establish themselves outside their countries of origin. 2.

By convention, a printer's travels are indicated by a line representing the shortest, or most likely, path between two places. The thickness of the line indicates the number of journeys from one place to another. The dotted lines indicate itineraries within a region for which a precise destination could not be established. A question mark is used to indicate uncertainty. 4.

In rapid succession, printing presses were set up in Central and Western Europe. Major towns, in particular, functioned as centres of diffusion (Cologne 1466, Rome 1467, Venice 1469, Paris 1470, Kraków 1473, London 1477). In 1481, barely 30 years after the publication of the 42-line Bible, the small Netherlands already featured printing shops in 21 cities and towns, while Italy and Germany each had shops in about 40 towns at that time. According to one estimate, "by 1500, 1000 printing presses were in operation throughout Western Europe and had produced 8 million books." 5. According to another, the output was in the order of twenty million volumes and rose in the sixteenth century tenfold to between 150 and 200 million copies. Germany and Italy were considered the two main centres of printing in terms of quantity and quality.

Spread of printing in the 15th century from Mainz, Germany 6.

If the printing press was so successful, it was because all of the physical conditions for its success were present – paper, a Chinese invention, was introduced into Spain by Muslims, and it expanded throughout Europe during the Middle Ages. Paper mills could be found in Sicily in the 12th century, in Fabriano (Italy) in the 13th century, and in both and Germany starting in the 14th century. 4.

The craft of printing evolved very quickly as printers sought to improve their techniques, carrying the tools of their trade and new ideas across Europe. Along the way the process grew into a more complicated business, with a number of allied trades and specialists supplementing and enriching their work. 2.

So I hope this tradition of sharing skills through the freedom of movement is maintained. Where people are valued for what they bring to a country and are not subjected to the hate of a few. Also I hope for us, that it does not dissuade people from wanting to do so. More so than ever we need to look out, rather than become stagnated from within.  


1. Oxford English Dictionary, 1933, I:188.
5. E. L. Eisenstein: "The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe", Cambridge, 1993 pp. 13–17, quoted in: Angus Maddison: "Growth and Interaction in the World Economy: The Roots of Modernity", Washington 2005, p.17f.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

→ John Dee, Aby Warburg, library as a portrait and a bit about tomorrow.

With tomorrow approaching fast, I was intending to write something suitably pro-European. Unfortunately, I am not a very politically eloquent person. Even yesterday's BBC debate failed to inspire me with their power of speech on the subject.

As result, I was flicking though the notes from the events I had attended recently. (It is that time of the year, when there is a lot happening!). I was lucky to be part of two exceptional events in the past two weeks: a Book History Research Network study day Collections within Collections at UCL organized by Anne Welsh (trully the happiest librarian I have ever met!) and Aby Warburg 150: Work, Legacy, Promise conference at the Warburg Institute. The common thread that ran though those days was that of a collection, a unique curated group of objects and ways of approaching it, organizing it, working with it.

Aby M. Warburg, «Mnemosyne-Atlas», 1924 – 1929
Mnemosyne-Atlas, Boards of the Rembrandt-Exhibition, 1926 | Photography | ©

Book History Research Network is run by ever-amazingly organised Catherine Armstrong from Loughborough University. The study day Collections within Collections was attended by a small but enthusiastic international group of researchers from various libraries across Europe, speaking about book collections: some being as big as Hospitaller Order's Library in Malta, others being as small as a parochial English library with six books. I was interested in the collection as an identity, in particular. The common denominator in each private library is the collector, after all. Kate Birkwood (Royal College of Physicians) spoke about John Dee’s library and Alison Walker (British Library) spoke about reconstructing Sir Hans Sloane’s library. Each of them mentioned collection as a sense of self. There is currently an excellent exhibition at the Royal College of Physicians  Scholar, courtier, magician: the lost library of John Dee, which illustrates the idea very well: carefully selected and very heavily annotated books draw Dee’s life paths and interests. The exhibition is supplemented by three very informative films, which are certainly worth watching

Dee built, and lost, one of the greatest private libraries of 16th century England. He claimed to own over 3,000 books and 1,000 manuscripts, which he kept at his home in Mortlake near London, on the River Thames.
The authors and subjects of Dee’s books are wide-ranging, and reflect his extraordinary breadth of knowledge and expertise. They include diverse topics such as mathematics, natural history, music, astronomy, military history, cryptography, ancient history and alchemy.
These books give us an extraordinary insight into Dee’s interests and beliefs – often in his own words – through his hand-written illustrations and annotations.

Predictions of solar and lunar eclipses to 1606. Eclipsium omnium ab anno Domini 1554 usque in annum Domini 1606 accurata descriptio et pictura | Cyprian von Leowitz, published Augusburg, 1556 | Royal College of Physicians

Aby Warburg 150: Work, Legacy, Promise conference started a Tuesday later with screening of a wonderful documentary by Judith Wechsler  Aby Warburg: Metamotphosis and Memory. Aby Warburg was a book collector and his greatest legacy is his library now housed at Warburg Institute. The library represents Warburg's distinctive interdisciplinary vision not only though the type of works it contains, but also though the unique system of classification he envisioned:
The categories of Image, Word, Orientation and Action constitute the main divisions of the Warburg Institute Library and encapsulate its aim: to study the tenacity of symbols and images in European art and architecture (Image, 1st floor); the persistence of motifs and forms in Western languages and literatures (Word, 2nd floor); the gradual transition, in Western thought, from magical beliefs to religion, science and philosophy (Orientation, 3rd & 4th floor) and the survival and transformation of ancient patterns in social customs and political institutions (Action, 4th floor).
In other words the Library was to lead from the visual image, as the first stage in human's awareness (Image), to language (Word) and then to religion, science and philosophy, all of them products of humanity's search for Orientation which influences patterns of behaviour and actions, the subject matter of history (Action).

Warburg Library plan

The library is a joy to visit! Fluid intuitive system of filing images (for example) creates unexpected parallels, not unlike those in his Bilderatlas Mnemosyne. The idea of juxtaposition and layering seems to play an important role here. A small but curious exhibition on display illustrates Warburg’s interconnected way of working, when each of his projects was conceived as part of a greater totality.

Systems of Warburg Library.

Library recreates the collector behind it. Private or public, it is a representation of the mind, the individual, the society which curated it and found importance in certain titles, orders, systems, but not the others. Warburg’s or Dee’s collections are their portraits, in a certain way. What portrait does my library paint?


And the referendum?

"I am not an Athenian or a Greek, but a citizen of the world." (Socrates)

"When life ends up breathtakingly fucked, you can generally trace it back to one big, bad decision. The one that sent you down the road to Shitsburg.” (Deadpool)

Fingers crossed for tomorrow


Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Documenting Artists' Books

After a recent embarrassment of handing out a business card to a friend and gently being asked why my website was almost empty, I resolved to spend some time bringing it up to scratch (i.e. adding at least some coherent content to it!).

Original - Cover
Original - Interior
Starting the process I soon remembered why I had given up months before. Building a website and adding content in a straightforward, appealing way is quite a challenge and central to that challenge is taking clear documentation. I overcame the problem in quite a straight forward way, so I wanted to talk about it here. I'll use the example of an artwork called 'Between the Lines'.

The two original photos (above) were taken with my smartphone from the slightly battered proof copy that arrived from the printer. It was hasty because I wanted to get the photos on my website in time for them going on sale at the Whitechapel Book Fair. Shamefully I've been using those photos ever since!

One simple way of establishing how I wanted the new documentation to look was by addressing what I didn't like about the old photographs:
  • Both of my original images were cropped and didn't give a true impression of the cover design or the page layout. I had originally taken the photos like this in an attempt to make them look visually interesting and (particularly regarding the cover) to hide the roughness of the book itself. As the book is merely documentation, I realised that clarity was more important than visual interest, so documented the cover and pages in their entirety and from above.
  • Both images are different sizes (one square, the other rectangular), so they looked uneven next to each other. The simple solution to this was to choose a standard size - making them square meant that I didn't have to remember what ratio I had picked.
  • Using my smart phone camera meant that the colours were very uneven. The simple solution to this was to use a better camera.
  • The background didn't match other documentation, so I opted to pick a particular shade and use that across all my documentation.

Strange how these things sound so simple, but had never really occurred to me before. So I set up a little studio in my front room and took some photos with my compact camera.

Using this set-up the only two elements that I needed to control were the background and quality of the image. These could be done together in Photoshop. All I had to do was to separate the book and the background and work on them separately.

For the book element I improved the contrast and changed the colours slightly to match the original. For the background I increased the contrast so that the paper textures of the background disappeared, but the shadow stayed. I then filled the background with a specific shade of the grey that provided a contrast. Noting down the details of the shade of grey were important, as I then used the same shade on all subsequent documentation. The finished images are here:

New - Cover
New - Interior
Below these are other books that I documented using the same technique - I hope it gives you an idea of how straight forward the process can be.

Mrs Dalloway Variations

Mrs Dalloway Variations


Wednesday, 8 June 2016

GUEST POST: The Book as Utopian Object (Sally-Shakti Willow)

For my practice-based PhD in utopian poetics and experimental writing at the University of Westminster, I’m researching the utopian philosophy of Ernst Bloch and the artist books of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha.  I’m coming towards the end of my first year, and the first fruit of creative practice is the project called The Unfinished Dream, a collaborative work with illustrator and animator Joe Evans.

The Unfinished Dream began as an experiment in applying Ernst Bloch’s utopian theory to creative writing practice, inspired by the text works of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha.  Both Bloch and Cha explore the relationship between subject and object (self and other).  Bloch suggests that the experience of non-alienation, where the subject (the individual) experiences itself as not-separate from the object (the world/the other) is the essence of the utopian.  Cha embodied this desire to create an experience of non-alienation between the subject and the object in all of her major text, film, and performance works.  The Unfinished Dream experiments with these ideas and has developed into a collaborative project that keeps growing and shifting – an unfinished and unfolding creative process.

For Bloch, the utopian function of art and literature is to facilitate the ‘self-encounter’ (100), the recognition of oneself in and through an encounter with the other.  For Cha, as for Bloch, the art object becomes a space of encounter between the artist and the audience where each fulfils the roles of both subject and object in their interrelationship with one another through the work.  One of the forms used by Cha for realising this connection was the artist book.  The book is an object of intimacy, a space in which the reader and writer are drawn together through the page.  The book, as an object, is designed to be held and engaged with in a one-to-one relationship between the writer/maker and the reader.  Cha uses scriptovisual techniques to create a relationship between text and space, words and silence, self and other in her artist books.

I’m interested in exploring this strange relational space between artist and audience, writer and reader, self and other as an experiment in the kind of non-alienation that Bloch ascribes to the utopian function of art and literature.  I’m interested in the ways that the book form can facilitate this kind of an encounter between subject and object, self and other.  What kinds of spaces need to be opened up within the text for the reader to project herself into?  How might the relationships between text and space / word and silence / text and image / image and space engender a performative experience of non-alienation for a reader encountering the book object? 

To experience something, we often need to encounter it physically, via our sense organs.  In this sense, and in others, the physical relationship between the book and the body is integral to the project.  I’m also deeply interested in the physicality of the book form, its materiality and its function.  Below, I describe some of the processes and ideas behind the creation of The Unfinished Dream, the first part of my creative practice for this three-year PhD.

The Unfinished Dream illustration details

 ‘May I write words more naked than flesh, stronger than bone, more resilient than sinew, sensitive than nerve’. Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Dictee
The Artist Book:
The physical object of the book is a central concern of The Unfinished Dream.  The experimental writing collection explores the ways that the materiality of the book is often ignored and made invisible at the expense of the words and ideas it contains, in a similar way perhaps to the relationship between the physical human body and the concepts and ideas that are generated by the mind.  The Unfinished Dream explores writing, drawing and creative practice as embodied, physical processes – processes that take place in, of and through the body, and which may be experienced physically, viscerally and emotionally by those who come into contact with them.

Similarly, the general invisibility of the book form means that culturally we take for granted the codex structure which has become synonymous with what a ‘book’ is.  Historically though, and across geographical and cultural spaces, different forms such as scrolls, wrapped papers, and now digital platforms have provided alternative ‘book’ forms with different relationships to structure, linearity and temporality.  The codex form developed with Coptic Christianity and encodes the linear, teleological (end-focused) structure of the biblical narrative.  What happens when we question these invisible assumptions that structure the stories we tell ourselves, and the stories we tell of ourselves, so implicitly?  The Unfinished Dream explores the human relationship to the codex form and the teleological narrative it encodes and embodies.

Ernst Bloch describes utopia as ‘in the process of being’ (15).  For Bloch, utopia is a process rather than a destination and as such it is non-teleological.  Cha’s major artist book Dictee embodies a non-teleological structure in that there is no temporal narrative development throughout the book, and her use of repetition to return to key thematic images and ideas gives the book a cyclical or circular structure, despite its codex binding.  The Unfinished Dream embodies a similar structural rhythm in an attempt to disrupt the teleological structure of the codex form via its content. 
The book also explores the relationship between words and silence as represented by the spaces between words and phrases on the page; the relationship between words and images; and the relationship between parts of words through the non-standard use of the square bracket.  Each of these relationships has the potential to generate multiple possibilities through the gaps in between two elements and/or the dissonance generated between two or more contradictory parts placed together.  This is intended to have a twofold utopian function in that it disrupts teleological structural development by offering a profusion of possible pathways through the book as well as situating the reader as a co-creator of meaning, as each person encounters and experiences the book differently.  In this way the boundaries between writer and reader become more permeable.  The  co-creative relationship between the reader and the writer/artist is at the heart of The Unfinished Dream, as the reader must complete and interpret the work of the writer and illustrator from the multiple possibilities that are offered both within and beyond the text.

When making The Unfinished Dream we also wanted to question some of the invisible assumptions which suggest that artist books must be artisan products, requiring specialist skills, materials and equipment to produce and displaying the skills of fine craftsmanship.  We love those kinds of artist books of course.  But we were interested in a kind of democratic creative process that didn’t fetishize the book as an object, that embraced real life physical processes and that aesthetically embodied the ideas contained within the book.

 A4 school exercise books, hand illustrated, cut and pasted
Binding with Sally’s hair
The Unfinished Dream – artist book
The Unfinished Dream – interior pages
The Unfinished Dream – interior pages
The final poem is left unfinished, with space for the reader to complete the work

In addition to the artist book, The Unfinished Dream is also a short film and a performance.  Click here to watch the film (90 seconds; contains nudity).
To find out more about the project, including the film and the performance, please click here.
A still from the film, projected as part of the performance

The Unfinished Dream is a project by [Sub]Atomic Books: Sally-Shakti Willow & Joe Evans

Bloch, Ernst (1988). The Utopian Function of Art and Literature: Selected essays, trans. Jack Zipes and Frank Mecklenberg.  Cambridge Massachusetts and London: The MIT Press
Cha, Theresa Hak Kyung (2001 [1982]).  Dictee.  Berkeley, California: University of California Press