Wednesday, 27 April 2016

→ intimate and cathartic is the constellation of cancer

Speaking in Tongues: Speaking Digitally / Digitally Speaking (2015) by David Paton

"Intimate and cathartic" refers to both: the process of making a book and the process of reading. Book as an object encourages intimate interaction between the maker and the object, the object and the reader. Art as an activity veers towards the cathartic experiences between the artist and the object; the object and the viewer. Adding to that a medical context, results in Medical Humanities and an approach to art, which considers artist’s books as a tool to aid healing and facilitate communication between doctors and patients.

Test Day II (1999) by Martha A. Hall


I was honoured to co-organise with Dr Stella Bolaki Prescriptions exhibition, which is now open until August 14 at The Beaney House of Art and Knowledge, Canterbury. The exhibition is part of Artists’ Books and the Medical Humanities project by the University of Kent’s School of English. It was originally structured around a set of Martha A Hall’s books, which she created from 1998 until her death in 2003 to document her experiences with breast cancer and interactions with the medical community. To extend Prescriptions further, I initiated an open-call, which resulted in over 200 artists worldwide submitting nearly 250 works, of which 88 bookworks were selected as a curated Medical Humanities artist's books collection, reflecting on the themes of illness, grieving, disability, mental health, surgery, birth, aging, recovery, history of medicine, treatments and wellbeing. Once the exhibition is over, the collection will be housed at University of Kent’s Library's Special Collection.

View of Prescriptions at The Beaney, Canterbury.

Illness, healing, grief are intimate processes. Like Martha A Hall, a number of Prescriptions artists have responded to their conditions by making books: some dealt with  their own diagnosis, others dealt with the grief at the illness of a friend. Like Martha A Hall, 25 of the participants have cancers, of which 11 are breast cancer patients and further 4 are friends or family of a breast cancer patient. 


Cancer is one of the twelve constellations of the zodiac. Its name is Latin for crab and it is commonly represented as one. Its astrological symbol is ♋. Cancer is a medium-size constellation with an area of 506 square degrees and its stars are rather faint. Cancer is the dimmest of the zodiacal constellations, having only two stars above the fourth magnitude.

Cancer is frequently represented as a combination of five stars. 

1. Lizzie Brewer
The first star in my Cancer constellation is Lizzie Brewer. Lizzie's work Prescriptions is a set of embossed prints, which reflect on the amount of pills taken during the five years of her breast cancer treatment. Each tablet is one little step towards healing: her work shows a long journey. Repetition is what stands out in Lizzie’s work: tablets look the same, pages look the same. There is meditative quality to an ongoing expanse of sheet after sheet after sheet. Other then details of her surgical report there are no other texts and there are no images. The person behind this data is very much absent - repetition hides her like a smokescreen.

 2. Carole Cluer
Carol Cluer was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004. Unknown is another seemingly detached work, which hides individual well behind volume, number and data. Carole considers the number of people diagnosed with breast cancer in the same year as her. Based on the measurement grids and tattoos used when you have radiotherapy, she had drawn a grid by dragging a fine gold wire across paper, so each dot represents one person - anonymous person - like herself. The books consist of pages and pages and pages of identical looking hand drawn grids: simple to look at, but exquisitely executed. If Lizzie’s work zooms into individual’s experience, Carol’s work zooms out to globalize it, by re-contextualising herself into the worldwide stream of data. 

3. Carol Pairaudeau
If individual is hiding behind the data in two previous two works, Carole Pairaudeau puts herself right into the center of her book. Not only is the work presented in a hospital sample bag with Carole's name printed on it, her book is a concertina, showing her scar and bruising on one side and words (about healing of the scar) on the other. The photo images of bruised skin are otherworldly in their blues, greens and purples. Their beautiful and painterly quality contrasts with their painful origin. The text complements images: it transports reader through stitch to fade of the scar in three concertina folds, producing six steps. Like in Lizzie’s work, Carol’s work is about time and healing. The steps might be bigger and may take more time of complete, but the work feels cathartic and emotionally true.

4. Ruchika Wason Singh
Ruchika Wason Singh builds her book as a journey of acceptance at the loss of her breast. Physical and emotional healing is replicated in her creative process. Ruchika paints breasts and tears them into pieces, which she then restores by painting onto them. She resurrects the breast visually as she completes her inner transformation into an honest acknowledgment of her situation. Ruchika then pastes images onto sheets of paper to form a book, which further contributes to the idea of archiving the experience. Her set of collages is loosely held together by fabric, resembling bandages. The cover image is a stitched scar. The book is wholesome, bold and honest. Ruchika’s work elicits anguish and grief that feel resolved as the book is closed.

5. Mara Acoma
A photo book by Mara Acoma documents her own experience of having her mother diagnosed with breast cancer. The work, Mara says, allowed her to demystify her own emotional journey. She is using the visual language of near death experiences and folklore surrounding ghosts. The images are dark, produced to the backdrop of gothic sets of crumbling castles, gloomy forests, abandoned hospitals and misted up windows. A lone ghost of a heroine is moving from one location to the next across sprawling spreads of large size monochromatic photographs. Those imaginary locations represent her mental states, which - like Lizzie’s tablet’s or Carole’s bruises - are steps towards emotional healing. 


Intimate and cathartic is a diary for the writer, as it is for the reader. The books above are diaries in the most generic sense of the word. They are non-verbal diaries. Their authors reach beyond language to say the unsayable. The (almost) lack of language evokes universal readability of the artwork, which in turn, resonates with universal concerns of understanding illness and understanding healing as a process.



Wednesday, 20 April 2016

The Complete Virginia Woolf - an eBook as a labour of love

Although I’ve changed ebook-readers a few times over the years, one book that has remained ‘constantly’ on my virtual shelf is the Complete Works of Virginia Woolf. It’s a beautiful volume, which seems to have been a real labour of love for the maker. I hesitated when I wrote the word ‘constant’, because as you’ll see the book as evolved a lot over the years.

The Complete Works of Virginia Woolf - book cover. Image source: Mobileread.
The Complete Works is an ebook created by the user Pynch on the ebook site Mobileread. As background Mobileread is an online community where users format and upload books that are in the public domain. In this case Pynch compiled the complete works of Virginia Woolf in one volume and uploaded it in 2012. Since then the volume has undergone 15 revisions (errors have been corrected, formatting conventions smoothed out and huge volumes of new material added).

When we think of books as a labour of love, I suspect ebooks aren’t the first things that spring to mind, perhaps a beautifully bound manuscript might be more apt, or something personalised in some way, or an example of excellent design. Ebooks have more of a cold, utilitarian connotation - they are after all devoid of so many elements we fetishise in paper books (the smell, the touch, the familiarity etc.)

Picture of Dorian Gray Interior
The Picture of Dorian Gray Cover
Book-binder Mark Cockram's beautiful books have been exhibited widely and often use mixed materials, striking end pages and interventions to the edges and interiors, enclosing and reframing an existing novel, to draw out certain plot points or create a certain tactility in the hands. (The images here show Cockram's bold rebinding of Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray).

The Complete Virginia Woolf has a cover that breaks from traditional convention (its restrained design and subdued colours compliment the text, without being showy or eye-catching) and uses Vanessa Bell's original woodcut cover designs to mark each individual work that comprises the collection. Instead of being merely a 9,500 page book, the use of Bell's imagery nicely packages the works, differentiating them from one another. Connecting Virginia's writing with the images that her sister conceived to accompany them, gives history to the collection, tying it to its original production.

Mrs. Dalloway section of the Complete Works.
Original Hogarth Press cover design by Vanessa Bell

Graham Rawle is a fascinating artist whose books often layer found imagery to build up a new story or give a certain depth or feeling to an existing one. The Complete Works of Virginia Woolf is a work in constant revision and as such also gains a certain gravity the more texts are added, or the further existing texts are revised or the design improved upon.

Pages from Rawle's Woman's World, 2005

Pages from Rawle's edition of The Wizard of Oz, 2008
Were this edition released by a major publisher we might remark what an achievement to bring such diverse material together, but to say the book is down to the labour of one individual means so much more. Our having evidence of the constant addition and improvement makes this all the more impressive, as it reminds us of the labour involved; with edition after edition we're made aware of the hands of the maker.

Penguin's Great Ideas series (released in 2004 and designed by David Pearson) is a excellent example of simple design and attention to detail that enhances a book, making it a pleasure to read. The designer's thoughtful and pared down aesthetic and attention to detail (such as the use of embossing and mixing type faces) harks back to both the simple Penguin covers of yesteryear and old fashioned printing techniques (such as letterpress).

Penguin Great Ideas Vol. 1 - spines
Penguin Great Ideas Vol. 1 - cover

One of the pleasures of The Complete Works is the crispness of design - typographic conventions are shared across the 30+ volumes that make up the collection and design is unified right across the 9,500 pages. In a world where even the big publishers can't always get formatting consistent (in a hard-back edition of Mrs. Dalloway I own the text is printed differently on alternate pages, making for a jarring experience and the references that accompany the text contain obvious errors), the ease of reading The Complete Works is refreshing.

As with many labours of love, the work has flaws (as each revision of the document testifies) but to say that it has been been created by one person, spurred on by helpful comments and encouragement, makes it all the more personal. Oh, and did I mention that in a bout of productive-procrastination I decided the Complete Letters of Virginia Woolf and Lytton Strachey  needed transcribing? You'll find it in this volume!

Why not pop along to Mobileread and get your copy now? Remember to keep checking back for revisions.


Wednesday, 13 April 2016

GUEST POST: Code-X as network (Danny Aldred)

Fig 1.

Code-X, re-mix of old and new

“If that person declares it a book, it is a book! If they do not, it is not. Definitions are not ageless laws, but current understanding. They grow with usage through insight and error. We extend our knowledge, as well as our false assumptions, and both of these change the way we think. Our definitions evolve, they are not cut in stone”Keith A. Smith

The Code-X project was conceived as an anthology of the current transforming of the book form and was edited by Danny Aldred and Emmaunuelle Waeckerle. The project was initiated by Book—Lab 1 and published by BookRoom2, it was launched at Printed Matter New York in November 2015. This text sets out to unpack some of the workings of the Code-X project in relation to past, and current forms of artist book publishing.

Context and post digital

The paper umbrella was torn apart in 2010 by the digital fall out of 0 & 1s. In the past we could take shelter from the everlasting outside chaos from inside the umbrella (the book) and this could be seen as a protective dome, or a vault as described by D.H. Lawrence. It’s a place where we validate and assess the external as we navigate through our own landscape, but now the tipping point has been breached as we drown in all bits digital3. Within a context of immersive digital experiences the digital becomes meaningless as everything is touched in some way by screen and pixel. We stream, watch and listen via online networks; even the printed page is constructed through a portable digital file (PDF). Post Digital is a recognition of digital technology as part of everyday life and not a revolutionary phenomenon and was coined by Cascone in 2000 in his essay ‘The Aesthetics of Failure: 'Post-digital' Tendencies in Contemporary Computer Music’. But it was Alessandro Ludovico’s book, ‘Post-Digital Print - The mutation of Publishing since 1894’ (Published in 2012) that really informed the early stages of the project 4, and the Code-X project grew from an interest in looking at this digital shift framed around artist books. The name Code-X makes references to both the analogue codex form and digital code.

Fig 2.

Working processes and production

Networks were brought together in the making of the Code-X project. Book—Lab and BookRoom came together sharing communities of practitioners and offering something that the other could not. BookRoom took the lead in driving the editorial aspects forwards as well as design editing; the challenging task of adapting Book—Labs ambitious design to the various content formats (interviews, essays, image and text narrative). Book—Lab working closely with design studio 30155 had a fairly clear vision on how the design aspects of the project should work. The original intention was to offer something in print that could not be produced digitally and, after several meeting with the Dutch printers lecturis it was decided on using an unconventional approach where the pages unfold as one continues strip bound with an Otto style binding. The final printed bound pages were then machine kiss cut afterwards leaving folded inserts to reveal the colour contents. The usual full colour litho printing process (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black) was disrupted by adding a percentage of fluro inks into the cyan and yellow print drums. This created a slightly psychedelic affect across the full colour images, similar to that seen within the San Francisco Oracle publications from the 1960’s, which were noted for their experimental multicolored design.

Fig 3.

Finitude, sequence and self-reflexivity

The meta focus of the book as a physical form maps against approaches by several 20th century book artists, in particular Dieter Roth6 where he used the basic codex DNA for the basis of structural investigation into sequence, binding and page size. Within code-X the turning of the page becomes a physical, sculptural element rather than an incidental activity and linear sequence becomes specialized across the format of the pages. The format engenders upon the reader physical contortions to navigate and examine the content, in this way making references to itself as a form, an object, and its own process of enunciationThis metacritical aspect is perhaps important with a book about publishing but it’s the playful and performative aspect that makes it engaging within Code-X. References to the digital are found throughout the pages, layered imagery page numbering that references time and not pagination. Glitched imagery has been used as cover patterns, the intention here was to create a modern equivalent to marbling, the original content that made the glitches were the source imagery of book submissions.

Fig 4.

Collaboration, and the network

Networks rely on the collective strength; we are stronger together as the saying goes. But is collaboration better that competition? The sharing and opening up of data is something that we are seeing more and more with open access, and we build new things upon the histories of the past. But in my view competition stifles creative practice. It closes off networks and creates an atmosphere of comparison and secrecy; these are never good ingredients for explorative creative practice. Indeed many designers and artists working within the fields of self-publishing prefer localized production over mass commercial publishing ventures and we have seen a huge popularity in such forms of publishing referencing the countercultural underground presses from the 1960s. Graphic designer Ellen Lupton points out “Publishing books has become the site of heated social activity, as seen in the rash of book fairs and short-run publishing houses worldwide”7. Risography is one printing medium that has really helped shape the self-publishing scene over the past decade. Risograph was developed in Japan in the mid 1980s for large print runs for small organization and has quickly been taking on board by book artists and self-publishers due to its cheap and easy set up costs. We have seen in recent years a renaissance in this form of print production due to the Internet and a global network of users keen to share work and knowledge, but also fueled by the do-it-yourself culture evident everywhere like Etsy and Creative Commons. We have seen this DIY movement before within Punk culture from the 1970’s, back then made visual by the Xerox or Photocopier machine. The Xerox machine allowed for quick and easy scanning of existing imagery and allowed complete freedom of expression. Underground networks grew from the circulating Xerox fanzines, like the tentacles of Architeuthis slowly wrapping around its prey. Fanzines have played a key role in the evolution of alternative printing and self-publishing history.

Fig 5.


The Code-X project linked some of these early forms of self-publishing by taking a sample of what’s happening within the world of artist book publishing today in relation to what it once was. Twenty-six contributors Give an account of or reflect upon their work from analogue production to digital experiences. The project constitutes a timely survey of this new chapter in publishing looking at a range of innovations and alternative approaches but also looking back at pre-digital strategies and examining some of the benefits and limitations of digital publishing. Code-X represents a pause and a reflection on past, to post digital that fully embrace the ideas of making and connecting (Making is connecting 8). The project is an important and timely assessment of what publishing actually could be today in a post everything media landscape.
Featuring essays, interviews and works by;
Delphine Bedel, Simon Cutts, Sebastien Girard, Hans Gremmen, Andrew Haslam with Rose Gridneff & Alex Cooper, Alec Finlay with Ken Cockburn, Alessandro Ludovico, Silvio Lorusso, Katharine Meynell with Susan Johanknecht, Grégoire Pujade-Lauraine, AND Publishing, Colin Sackett, Jodie Silsby, Paul Soulellis, Stefan Szczelkun, John Warwicker (Tomato), Eric Watier, Maria White, Beth Williamson, David Lorente Zaragoza.

276 pages. RRP £20.00 – ISBN 978-0-9576828-3-2
available online here

[1] Book—Lab is a multi-disciplinary research lab initiated by Danny Aldred in 2013 to explores new connections between Design and Technology with a focus on communication in book form. The lab is based at Winchester School

[2] BookRoom is a research group and publisher, based at UCA Farnham and led by Emmanuelle Waeckerlé, to support artists and researchers to engage with critical production, debate and dissemination of page and screen based works, and disseminate resultant knowledge through publication, conferences, exhibitions.

[3] The digital shift is discussed within the book ‘The Digital Turn, Design in the Era of Interactive Technologies’ Published by Park Books 2012

[4] Alessandro Ludovico, Post-Digital Print is available here as PDF download:

[5] Studio 3015 is a creative and educational space situated within Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton.

[6] Dieter Roth (April 21, 1930 – June 5, 1998) was a Swiss artist best known for his artist's books, editioned prints, sculptures, and works made of found materials, including rotting food stuffs.[1] He was also known as Dieter Rot and Diter Rot. Source 2016

[7] Ellen Lupton is curator of contemporary design at Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York City and director of the Graphic Design MFA program at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore.

[8] Making is Connecting is a book by David Gauntlett, in this he argues that through making things, people engage with the world and create connections with each other, both online and offline.

Fig 1: Code-X

Fig 2: Post-Digital Print Alessandro Ludovico

Fig 3: San Francisco Oracle

Fig 4: Danny Aldred - Glitches

Fig 5: punk zines - from
          CANYON, Dan Wilton / Josh Jones – DITTO Press

Danny Aldred's practice centres on publishing as creative practice with a
focus on artist book projects. His work has been chosen for numerous
international exhibitions and publishing projects within the UK, Germany
and the USA. Several recent artist book projects include 'woods for the
trees' published through Entbergen press and the 'glitch series' using the
Jacquard loom. Both project's mix old and new forms of technology.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

a definite beginning and end

Continuing on from Egidija’s last post I am going to take a look into curious structures. Or the curious structure of one particular book. 

A History of the Book in 100 Books, Roderick Cave and Sara Ayad - 2014

The Sulawesi reel-to-reel is a Lontar manuscript, created in South Sulawesi, Indonesia before 1907.

Lontar is the Indonesian word for for a palm leaf manuscript. It is the modern form of Old Javanese ‘Rontal’ which is composed of two Old Javanese words, ron "leaf" and tal "Borassus flabellifer, palmyra palm". Not only are the palms used for making books they are made into plaited mats, water scoops, ornaments, ritual tools, and writing material. The more traditional form of the Lontar is more recognisable, with strips of dried palm leaves held together with twine, between two strips of wood. 

An interesting side point is the way the form and material of the manuscripts have influenced the handwriting:

The rounded or diagonal shapes of the letters of many of the scripts of South India and Southeast Asia, such as Devanagari, Nandinagari, Telugu script, Lontara, the Javanese script, the Balinese alphabet, the Odia alphabet, the Burmese alphabet, the Tamil script and others may have developed as an adaptation to writing on palm leaves, as angular letters tend to split the leaf. Sanford Steever, 'Tamil Writing'; Kuipers & McDermott, 'Insular Southeast Asian Scripts', in Daniels & Bright, The World's Writing Systems, 1996, p. 426, 480
A History of the Book in 100 Books, Roderick Cave and Sara Ayad - 2014

Not much is know about this scroll variant but it is thought that the book was intended to be read from beginning to end so is probable that it was intended for formal use in ceremonies, where the order of things had to be recognised. It is interesting to think of it in this way. It is not a text that you can flick though like in the more conventional codex. It has a pace and an structured journey, that has to be undertaken. You have to follow it word for word.  It might be a thing to bear in mind when creating books. How much as an artist do I want to impose a route though my books. In some I guess I use text to draw you though but it is up to the reader what page they open up on. More recently I have been creating books based on journeys (see below) so It is interesting for me to see a book with a definite beginning and end. This is the route you take and you read the text in this order. Nothing gets mixed up and the author has more control over the interpretation of the piece. 

A History of the Book in 100 Books, Roderick Cave and Sara Ayad - 2014