Have you ever come across something retrospectively and immediately regretted missing out? This happened to me last year I was introduced to independent art publishing fair Offprint.

Offprint was exactly what I’ve been looking out for: an international publishing fair bringing together a range of conceptual and experimental publishing practices.

While the 2017 Offprint London date has been on my iCal for over a year, I decided to maximise my visit down south by joining it with a research visit to Tate Library’s artists’ book collection.

Tate Library

Tate Library holds around 5,500 artists’ books from 1960s to modern day. While international in scope, the collection focuses on British artists and editions.

Fighting through the throng of visitors queuing to visit the Hockney show, I checked into Tate’s reading rooms. Highly procedural, as you’d expect from an internationally significant archive, I picked up my pre-reserved books – one at a time – and white gloves. When pre-selecting books from an intranet database your selections align strongly with your existing knowledge and the short descriptive text provided. You obviously loose any real chance/material encounters that arise from rummaging through shelves, however idyllic this archival notion is.

I spent a good hour with Katrina Palmer’s book The Dark Object. A set of inter-related but self-contained short stories within The School of Sculpture Without Objects, the publication demonstrated Palmer’s razor sharp and sculptural handling of language. I’m a massive fan of Palmer; I still think of The Necropolitan Line at Henry Moore Institute.

Laure Provost’s anarchic publication The Artist Book is loud, voracious and slippy. Content overlaps, meaning fractures and contributors’ voices merge together in a colourful visual cacophony of rules and forms. It’s a mischievous bottle rocket that demonstrates Book Works class as a publisher (Book Works published The Dark Object, too).

Over the next several hours, I handle a range of books, pamphlets and editions making notes on material, binding, edition information and ISBN. It all helps and fuels my research away from the archives.

 

David Batchelor’s The October Colouring Book was a revelation. An ongoing series I keep returning to involves me amending and retracting information from magazine pages in art publications such as Frieze and Art Review to create abstract works. Seeing Batchelor recontextulaise the canonical October publication, only ever printed in black and white, in his trademark colour bursts made me appreciate his intervention and the framework he set himself. It also made me consider different possibilities of presentation for my own work.

Offprint

I spent the majority of the next day at Tate Modern for Offprint. The fair featured over 130 independent and self-publisher stalls with enough books on display to reach the Turbine Hall roof. The fair also featured workshops and talks throughout the three days.

My objective was to spend a few hours meeting publishers, asking plenty of questions and filling a bag of research/reading material. Oh, and actually buying some research material.

The full list of participants can be be found on the Offprint website. A few highlights below:

ABC Artists’ Books Cooperative is an international network created by and for artists who make print-on-demand books. Responsive to new contexts, the cooperative shares knowledge and works together online and at book fairs and exhibitions. It is an interesting model for sharing knowledge and practice.

Sternberg Press produces beautiful books that reinforces the artistic autonomy and criticality of each publication.

London Centre for Book Arts is doing some excellent work and going from strength to strength. A new book from Simon Goode and Ira Yonemura has just been published.

As someone who struggles with buying too many books, I rationed myself to picking up free research material and a reasonable personal budget. You could literally have spunked your entire budget by the third table; self-restraint is a necessity.

Book Works, as previously mentioned, tested my buying resolve. I picked up Gavin Wade’s recent crowdfunded publication Upcycle This BookThe book collects for the first time twenty years of writings by Gavin Wade and explores a practice that he refers to as ‘upcycling’, a process of stealing, copying, recycling, using other texts and artworks, and responding to existing conditions. This process, with strong connotations of appropriation, greatly interests me.

The book which has left the greatest impression is Publishing as Artistic Practice Annette Gilbert (Ed). An anthology of what it means to publish today, it contains essays addressing different aspect of a shifting landscape. It’s a beautiful object in itself (the design is an inherent part of the book) but also a great reference point. I’ve already read it twice over and will keep returning. K.Anranik Cassem, Matt Longabucco and Rachel Valinsky’s joint contribution, ‘Bad Workers: Notes on Socius and the Book’, draws on their own experiences of founding Brooklyn library and reading room Wendy’s Subway. Their parallel contributions consider the sociality of publishing in an inventive and engaging manner.

My research visit was just before I delivered a festival, which preoccupied me between April-June, so it took a few weeks to digest and return to my jam-packed tote bag. This material continues be extremely useful 3 months later.

 


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Hello and welcome to my (much delayed) third blog post.

As I’ve previously mentioned, one of the core motivations for applying for a professional development bursary was improving my limited technical skills in bookmaking.

Despite my worryingly intense appreciation for the physicality of printed material – from paper pamphlets to thick hardback tomes – I’ve never ‘properly’ made a book form; and until recently, I’ve always been more of a ‘brutal sculptural form’ kinda guy.

This shift in my artistic thinking has seen me become more interested in the entire processes of production; I’ve definitely given myself a headache mulling how I can get from InDesign to an edition of 25 self-printed books in the last few months.

So, my plan to move up the gears consisted of two initial steps.

I bought a Bookbinders Starter Pack from renowned bookbinding supplier Ratchford’s. When the gigantic parcel arrived, I opened the box to be greeted by an arsenal of tools. Admittedly, there was more than one tool I didn’t know how to use…

In order to find out my ‘Bookbinders Bodkin’ from my greyboard, my second step was to sign up to Hot Bed Press ‘Book Building’ workshop.

Hot Bed is the largest open access print workshop in the North West and is located a stones throw from my former stomping ground Islington Mill. While I’ve only visited Hot Bed for open studios or to visit friends I’ve always been impressed by its community and facilities.

The weekend course was led by artist Elizabeth Willow. Willow is inspired by found objects, brief glimpses and overlooked details. I’ve come across Willow’s artist books many times over the years and knew we were in safe hands.

I met my other 11 course mates over a brew and biscuits in the Hot Bed kitchen space. They ranged from artists wanting to pursue new lines enquiry in their work to photographers aiming to self-distribute their work.

It was a pleasant surprise to be greeted at the workbench by the same bookbinding kit I’d ordered from Ratchford’s.

The workshop started with a welcome discussion of what an artist book actually constituted. Willow then introduced us to bookbinding basics including paper grain, workable forms, different examples of using paper to create works and the uttermost importance of maintaining a clear workspace – keep that bloody glue clear!

Over the weekend we made several different forms in paper books; simple stitch to Turkish Map folds which often challenged my natural aversion to needlework. Before you accuse me of holding a dated association between femininity and needlecraft, it’s because I shattered my left thumb a decade ago and struggle for dexterity with intricate tasks (e.g. needlework). I wasn’t as bad as I initially feared; moving out of your comfort zone is always rewarding.

On reflection, the course was the practical entry point I had been lacking. While I’m still finding my way in the technical side, I do hold a crystal clear vision of I want from self publishing; I have little time for making decorative or sculptural book forms – it’s the conceptual rationale that motivates me. If the form of the book reinforces this, then great. Ideas first.

I’m looking forward to heading back to Hot Bed later in the year for a course on making hardback books. Until then, I have my bookbinding kit to play around with.


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First on my research agenda was a trip over the Pennines to Leeds at the beginning of March.

The Tetley hosted the 20th anniversary of the longest running artists’ book fair outside of London. Co-curated with PAGES, the fair coincided with exhibition These books were alive; they spoke to me! an exhibition of printed matter and performance works by Barcelona based artist Dora García. This dual programming was excellent timing, enabling me to see both a traditional fair and a more conceptual approach to artist books.

The fair was busy with a diverse mix in both quality and purpose. The exhibitor list included:

Joan Ainley & MR SMITH / Janet Allsebrook / AMBruno / Art and Design, University of Leeds / ArtStream / As Yet Untitled / Stella Baraklianou / David Barton / Batley School Of Art > Fine Art For Design / BA Visual Communication, Beds College of Art / Best Books by Bernard Anwyl: Contemporary artists / Book Works / Bound Unbound / Mandy Brannan / Café Royal Books / Camberwell College of Arts, MA Book Arts / Corridor 8 / Cracked Eggs / Jane Cradock-Watson / Ensixteen Editions / Essence Press / Fine Art UCLan / Good Press / Gordian Projects / Matthew Kay / Hi Vis Press / Jane Kennelly / Kiss and Tell Press / Ladette Space / Lame / Leeds Fine Art / Less Than Five Hundred Press / Lion and Lamb Press – UCA Illustration / Longbarrow Press / Sophie Loss / MA BIBLIOTH_QUE / John McDowall / New Arcadian Press / Old Bear Press / PagePaperStitch / paperscissorsbook / Raquel Amat Parra / David Penny / The Retro Bar at the End of the Universe / Rock – Tree – Landscape / Anne Rook / Rudywilf / SALT+SHAW / Seeing Poetry / The Serving Library / Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun / Shoddy: a disability art project / Tim Shore / Chloe Spicer with Object Book / Surface Pattern LCAD / Thomas Tomasska / University of Derby / whnicPRESS / Wild Pansy Press / Joanna Wilkinson / Lydia Wysocki.

From solo artists to studio groups to institutions, the fair resulted in some interesting conversations with stall holders. I absorbed an awful lot from my – often banal – questions about editions, printing, collaborations and artistic goals.

On my way out, Leeds stalwarts Set The Controls… pointed me in the direction of Leeds indie bookshop Village; a great new discovery.

Dora García’s exhibition was a cerebral but intoxicating meditation on the act of reading and its different forms. As a retrospective, the show brought together books, book sculptures, printed matter and performance focusing on the connection between literature, theatre and film.

As my first formal introduction to García the visit was a valuable exercise. I found that her work Steal This Book, according to a gallery sign, had already been stolen that day. A fresh book would be supplied tomorrow.

While books were obviously a key theme in the exhibition,  emphasis on the social and performative ac involved in reading stood out. The range of ephemera felt like tools that enabled García to interrogate wider relationships.

García’s artistic ‘bite’ left a lasting impression on the way home.

Reflecting back as I write this in June, I’d say the trip was an ideal starting point for my research. The relationship between an artist and book, and what form this can take, was at the heart. As García says, “It’s not that I write books, I make books.”


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Welcome to Off the Shelf, a blog charting the activities I’m undertaking during the period of my a-n Professional Development Bursary.

Before I set the context, firstly; an apology.

While I have only just set up this blog, I have been undertaking my proposed activities for the past few months now. I know, I know. I place the blame squarely at the feet of an intensive freelance workload, which has included the end of the academic year, planning a professional development programme and delivering a festival. Now I image

Without the capacity to coherently articulate my research, I studiously took notes, snapped pictures on my iPhone and filled a drawer with research and creative material ahead of this day.

I applied for an Professional Development Bursary to undertake research into self-publishing and artist books. Over the past few years, my creative practice has evolved from making sculptural works to a more research/writing led approach. Alongside this I have been producing digital drawings and designing publications, alongside working with images/material in new ways.

A collaboration with artist/writer Grace Harrison was a refreshing experience that challenged my admittedly introspective working practice. After seeing Grace’s work in self-publishing, and researching the area myself in-line with our discussions, I had a moment of realisation that this has been calling me for years: my obsession with books, my desire to combine writing with imagery to create new contexts, and an increasing disinterest in articulating my work within an exhibition format.

My only problem was that, on reflection, I realised that self-publishing/artist books are a relative blind-spot on my artistic radar.

So, I proposed a programme of professional development activities that will, hopefully, act as a major catalyst for a considered move into this field. Thankfully I was given the go ahead.

Off the Shelf will act as a vehicle for my ramblings and discoveries during this period.

Over the next few weeks I will be catching up with myself, bringing the blog up to speed with what I’ve been up to over the last few months.

Until then.


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