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.


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