Wednesday, 25 May 2016

→ some books I wanted to buy: Anouk Kruithof, Elisabeth Tonnard, Horses Think Press

This was a busy arty weekend in London -  Art16, Photo London and Offprint happening all at once! As a restult, George and myself went on a stroll around town, which included visits to Oliver Wood Rare Books (beautiful books by Daisuke Yokota), Parafin Gallery (got a copy of Michelle Stuart's catalogue), Peter Harrington on Dover Street (a fascinating exhibition of travel and exploration books), Photographers' Gallery (got a copy of Erik Kessel's "Brussels Beauties") and - Offprint, where I found those three books, which I wanted to buy very much (but I did not). 


Becoming Blue
Anouk Kruithof 
20,5 X 27,5 cm, paperback, 102 pages
ISBN 978-3-86895-024-3

Blue has many connotations: it is the colour of Virgin Mary, conservatives and melancholy. Photographer Anouk Kruithof exploits the latter one in her book of portraits, as she plays with the tension of the disrupted calm and stillness. Kruithof catches her subjects unawares to project an image of surprise. Dressed in blue and posed against a plain blue background, the subjects are caught by the camera at a moment when they least expect it. The books is effectively pasted with blank spreads of light blue slowing down the rhythm into a meditative flow - a very cinematic experience.


The Lovers
Elisabeth Tonnard
Edition of 100. Digital print, 24 pages.

What this book does well, is reconsidering the value and the meaning of decontextualised object, though interpretative possibilities of the photographs isolated in (and from) space and time. This book is based around screenshots made while watching ‘Discarded: Joachim Schmid and the Anti-Museum,’ a video about Joachim Schmid’s work, realized by the Hillman Photography Initiative at the Carnegie Museum of Art in 2014. At one point in this documentary Schmid is at a flea market in Berlin, looking through a pile of junked photographs. For a brief moment his perusal and the movements of his hands caused the stack to tell the story captured in the book. It's minimalist look and spacious layout place images into a void, open for new stories and relationships.


Ofer Wolberger
7.8 x 11.5 inches (198 x 292 mm), unbound, soft cover
Printed in black and red ink, risograph
56 pages, edition of 200

all Visitor images are from Shane Lavalette

Another recontextualised portrait comes from an ongoing project Visitor, which uses images made in the lobby of one building in midtown Manhattan. The project takes as it’s ‘found’ material the crudely made and heavily pixelated visitor badges that are made when an outsider intends to visit a company or person within an office building. All the Visitor portraits depict the same unidentified woman in an array of poses and with a wide variety of facial expressions. The images appear voyeuristic and strangely intimate while referencing the look of video surveillance footage.


Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Making Books as a Ritual

I was recently reminded of Donald Parsnips Daily Journal: a publication made and distributed daily by the artist Adam Dant in the Spitalfields over a five year period. The artist printed 100 copies each day and handed them out on his way to work.

Donald Parsnips Daily Journal - 8th July 1998. Image Source: Artnet.

When I first came across the artwork, during my BA in Fine Art I was inspired by it (and by a similar, and more intimate artwork by a friend Rose Clout), particularly for the artist's focus and persistence; the fact that day in and day out they kept creating. Collectively the body of resulting work had impact, in much the same way as a retrospective of On Karawa's date paintings might have; the artworks are tangible results of a quest for perfection. Some of the glow from these works may come from the realisation that the artist has sacrificed some part of their life to this cause. To a young artist as I was, there was something heroic in this and perhaps romantic; the struggling artist personified.

On Kawara's Today series. Image Source: Art Bouillon.

Ten years later when I embarked on my MA in Book Arts, I dabbled in this ritualistic process myself over the course of the works:

Your Day is My Day was a publication I created daily, produced and printed on the same day and left in a location related to the content. The intention was that someone would find the 'book' and realise it relates to the place they were standing and perhaps make them conscious of where they were at that moment and what they were doing; a prompt for self-reflection.

This idea morphed into another work of art a year later. For a group show called Overdue I placed a book wrapped in paper in a vitrine in Camberwell College's library. The book contained a QR code on the front, which linked to an ebook created by me that could be downloaded each day. The book changed each day, implying the fluidity of books within the digital realm.

Wrapped book in vitrine
Detail of artwork in one of the ebooks.

The next time I worked in a similar way was for an exhibition at bookartbookshop as part of Collective Investigations. I created four stacks of book pages, each with a brief story on each (relating to the place in the shop where they were left) and embedded with a QR code. When scanned the the viewer would be taken to a page online, where the text would be redrafted day by day until it became unrecognisable.

One of the stacks of paper in situ.
None of these projects were carried out on the scale of Adam Dant's or On Kawara's, but each was difficult and rewarding in their own way. On the positive side the projects pushed me to work to a deadline each day and the time constraints meant I couldn't be too precious about the end result. The time-pressure and the ongoing nature of the works pushed me to be inventive and think of something new each day and these ideas, although not groundbreaking themselves, did germinate other ideas for later artworks. The only real negative of this way of working was that the rushed nature of some of the works meant that individual details were not completed with the standard of quality I would usually work to.


Wednesday, 11 May 2016

GUEST POST: Becoming The Book (Chloe Spicer/ObjectBook)

Becoming The Book

My work, as a bookish artist and time spent working/lurking in libraries can be summed up with this primary objective: I want to become a book. 

Still from 002 is The Book (installation), 2015
I’m not exactly sure what that means yet. I think people imagine that I’m envisaging wrapping myself in a large fold of red leather, and will spend a few years lying on a shelf somewhere quietly cultivating a dusty aroma. Sure, actually that sounds like great fun, but I think of being or ‘becoming book’ as a sort of spiritual practice or human evolutionary plan which is beyond, but intrinsically linked to, the codex. I want to be a book, but I want you all to be books too.  

Books for the Body I, 2015 (Digital Print)

A universal accessibility for The Book

Although sounding slightly dystopian, my latter aim is not entirely selfish. Books have huge accessibility problems: I love books, but they hurt me. They play hard to get. I can forgive the paper cuts, but it seems particularly cruel as a bibliophile that I experience painful visual disturbances when reading - text literally dances on the page.

This is an interesting symptom of my neurodiversity, but there are countless other differences in eye sight or physical ability and neurological diversity that can make reading a book bloody hard, before we even consider the need for education and access to books themselves. It seems quite remarkable that any of us can nestle into that cosy armchair with the fireplace, slippers, cup of cocoa/glass of whisky and a good read. There must be a better way. What can the book of the future do to address these issues? Can there be a universal accessibility for the book?

Raver at The Library Rave, 2015

Books as multisensory experience

Books have special sensory power. In order to read a book, and to decide that it is worth the effort, I really need positive tactile feedback.  They need to be against my skin, in fact even that seems like a cop out – I need books under my skin, to absorb the content and bookish ‘essence’; e-book screens are entirely unfit for purpose.

I’ve learned that despite my love for diversity, I am not an inclusive book lover. There are many books that just aren’t book enough for me: e-books, textbooks & magazines – anything that doesn’t feel good hasn’t got a chance. Books need to offer a sensory experience.

The Library Rave, 2015
Seeking a universal and multisensory accessibility whilst holding onto the tactile nature of books is the keystone of my practice. This is a lifelong research project, which I develop through participatory events, workshops and installations to explore human experiences and requirements of books, and to pilot my methods of becoming book. I live for the stories that appear out of these interventions. I’ve met people who confess to having compulsively nibbled the corners of pages as a child or who fell in love at a library self-service machine, this all seems desperately important somehow.


So what would this bookish future look like? 

How will we become books? Crude methods like immersing in shredded Book Baths (2010) or wearing Book Art Hats (2014), which toyed with absorption through bodily contact (if we place books on our heads, will some of the knowledge fall out?), have evolved into practical bio-tech solutions like DNA as Data Storage (2015) where I considered rewriting the body’s junk DNA with books. What would it mean to use our bodies as data storage devices? Could the volumes we embody subconsciously provide wisdom or alter our characters? Families could choose to take responsibility for the storage of particular genres of books. On having children, these libraries would merge, and grow with each generation, eventually becoming a global genetic library.

The DNA method is universal, but a tad disconcerting which leads us to a more palatable solution: Edible Books (2015) - rice paper books printed with edible ink/pens and bound with strawberry laces, or as in Books for the Body (2015) miniature leather bound books. Digesting information is a popular and accessible way of becoming a book (if you eat seeds a tree will grow inside you…), although its unclear how the digestive system would allow for retention of information.

BYOBBBBBQ (Bring your own book book burning BBQ) (2015) is a ritualistic ceremony for books which have come to the end of their lives. I believe that when you place a book in the fire, the text rises in the smoke, which participants then inhale (or consume by cooking over the ashes) enabling the books to live on within them. This follows the eastern worlds insight into text burning as a spiritual act, rather than one of censorship.

The Library Rave (Image credit Mindy Lee)


But in looking for a multisensory accessibility The Library Rave (2015) offers the cumulative method: an audio book silent disco, offering a bookish experience for all the senses (Join the rave at the BALTIC Book Market June 18-19).

Dance round the library to the bookish anthems of Fahrenheit 451 and The Library of Babel over music, as you rave with books and handheld disco light. Wear your entry wristband, drop an e (book), and maybe just maybe we’ll all become books by way of sensory overload.

Image credit: UAL

You are invited to join Object Book 26th May for a tempestuous evening of cocktails, cinema and books:

Book Flick Nights: I’ll Drown my Book.
Celebrate Shakespeare400 with book art workshops, literary refreshments and a bookish screening of an art-house take on The Tempest.
The Colour House Theatre, London SW19 6.45pm £12/£10 []

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Publication as Artwork

On Monday I went to see the recently opened ‘Conceptual Art in Britain 1964-1979’ at the Tate Britain and it was nice to see the exhibition of books and the interesting challenges that that faces. 

‘The book is a medium that requires no visual display other that to be read, an the active mental participation of the reader. The book imposes no information system but the printed image and word; it is a complete entity in which both public and private documents are reproduced. The book is a collection of photographs, writings and ideas - it is a product of thought and of imagination. It is a result of concrete activities, and serves to document, and to offer information as the means and material of art’ 1.

book as artwork 1960 - 1972 - German Celant A.

Germano Celant's ‘Book as Artwork 1960-1972’ 1972 was produced to accompany an exhibition at Nigel Greenwood Gallery in London and was the first critical consideration of the artist's book.

In the introduction he describes the point at which book arts evolved:
‘At that time, there was a move away from an informal art, which was visual and in which the information was emotionally charged… This art had been made up of traditional artisan techniques of communications (like colour, collage, dripping and action painting) leaving little scope for public participation. The move was towards an informale freddo, involving the spectator. The visual and physical data of this technique was achieved through technological and biological media, possessing a small visual content, but demanding a high degree of participation and contemplation from the spectator.’ 1.

book as artwork 1960 - 1972 - Exhibition Nigel Greenwood Gallery B.

The Book as Artwork exhibition showed books in in clear perspex vitrines along the outside of the wall. These were only partially closed so that rarer books at the back could be displayed and those that could be handled placed nearer the front. 

Front Cover of Art - Language, Volume 1 Number 1, 1969 B.

The evolution of the book form in art can be linked to an adoption by artists as a way of dissememinating their work. Such as the artists group Art & Language. In the exhibition at the Tate the original publications were kept in vitrines with facsimiles of the pages pasted on the wall. Allowing the gallery visitor the chance to read the work. The only failing of this system was time, but it gave a nice contrast to the idea of art object and art communication. Preserving the original intent of the object in communicating and sharing information. The work (the book) is a container for the ideas and is a vehicle for them. The design choice of the book, had to be matter of fact and functional, in order to work as read information. Though the book is still a vital component and is much a part of the ideas contained within. 

‘A little about the form of the ideas. There have been, and still are, artists “who write” as a supplement to their object work. The artists who founded Precinct Publications have increasingly, over the past two years, been placed in a position such that they  “only write”, and as such many people, it can be assumed, would not allow them qualification “artist”. It matters not. The crucial question is not, whether or not they are artists, but whether or not their remarks, assertions, etc. hold out as relevant to certain problematic aspects of art today. The artists think, rightly or wrongly, that these aspects sufficiently warrant their attention for them to form Precinct Publications as vehicle through which their ideas can be made public.’ 2.

If you have a chance I urge you to see the show. It brings together a lot of examples of reading and language, through books, within a gallery space. 


1. CELANT, G. book as artwork 1960 - 1972. 1972
2. An Introduction to Precinct Publications, Coventry, 1968


A. CELANT, G. book as artwork 1960 - 1972. 1972
B. Conceptual Art in Britain 1964 - 1979. Tate, London. 2016