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.



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