October – November
Hot Bed Press
In late October I returned to Hot Bed Press to undertake an introductory hardback book making weekend course, led by artist Sylvia Waltering, who works with photography, text, installation and artists’ book.
Over the course of two days, we made two different types of hardback books. This included sewing and taping pages to form a visible spine, bookended by hard front and back covers adorned with lush cloth bound endpapers. More time consuming and technically challenging than the first, I found the workshop hugely enjoyable; there is something therapeutic about switching off and sewing, similar to the manual joy of sanding wood.
Of course, ending up with two physical hardback books was a joy in itself: oh, how the physicality of books is a wonderful thing. Both workshops have addressed my technical knowledge in producing publications. For anyone interested in book-binding I’d recommend investing in: Making Books: a guide to creating hand-crafted books by the London Centre for Book Arts. A superb guide.
(Left: my books being made. Right: Sylvia leading a demonstration during the weekend)
I brought my bursary activities to a close with two research visits to London and Bristol throughout October.
In London I visited several exhibitions, collections and artist studios. The highlight was a visit to Book Works to meet Editor Gavin Wade. Book Works is a leading contemporary arts organisation with a unique role as makers and publishers of books. It consists of a publishing and commissioning department; and a studio specialising in binding, box-making and multiples.
I’ve been a huge admirer of its work since thumbing through Katrina Palmer’s The Dark Object several years ago. The creativity and quality of their publications seems to suggest an open-ended approach to how they work with artists and what an artists’ book can actually be.
(Book Works meeting room – with a satisfying spread of publications!)
For nearly two hours, Gavin and I discussed Book Works’ commissioning and editorial processes, print runs, funding and activities outside of publishing (including lectures, seminars, exhibitions…) It was a pleasure to meet Gavin. His answers were generous and honest, providing a hugely valuable insight into publishing process.
On the way out Gavin kindly gave me a copy of recent publication Twenty-Nine Thousand Nights, A Communist Life by Nan Berger. Reading it on the late train back to Liverpool, I saw it was another example of why I rate Book Works so highly. Artist Ruth Ewan had stumbled over Berger’s unpublished autobiography during archival research. The text is woven with archival material, images and actual declassified government tracking reports on Berger. It is a rich social and historical account of one woman’s life; one that places trademark emphasis on the book as an artistic work through its physicality.
A few weeks later I travelled down to Bristol to visit Sarah Bodman at the Centre for Fine Print Research (CFPR) at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol). Situated in Bower Ashton Studios on the outskirts of Bristol, CFPR has developed a reputation for its specialism in artists’ books. Sarah Bodman has played a big part of this.
Alongside being a prolific artist and researcher, Sarah is Senior Research Fellow for Artists’ Books and Programme Leader MA Multidisciplinary Printmaking at UWE. She also regularly contributes to a-n News.
Despite having a heavy cold, Sarah met me at her office at UWE; unsurprisingly a shrine for printed matter and overflowing with artist books. We chatted about artists’ books, making and production processes, with Sarah’s passion and encyclopaedic knowledge of works shining through; our discussions were illuminated by a countless new references or examples of work.
Afterwards I spent time researching through UWE artists’ books archives and Sarah’s office collection (below). We continued to discuss works, with a focus on each work and the practice of that particular artist. I ended up walking back into Bristol enriched with a bulging notepad of new leads and valuable notes.
Two exceptional research visits to close my bursary and inspire the next period.
(One of the many shelves in Sarah’s office at UWE)
After a few weeks of reflection amongst other activities, I’m now going to take a stab at summing everything up.
The bursary has – crucially – offered me the time and space to think, research and experiment. It has been a surprisingly long-time since I’ve had such an opportunity, and in many ways, it’s been vital.
I’ve literally handled hundreds of artists books – from riso printed 70gsm zines to beautiful hardbacks – over the last few months. This has significantly widened my own reference points and understanding of technical processes; I still swoon over Dieter Roth’s collection at MMU.
My technical blindspot in basic production techniques has also been addressed and helped me not to overthink ideas and processes – something I can be guilty of.
The visits and countless conversations I’ve had has been invaluable and the generosity greatly appreciated. As someone who doesn’t fit into one cleanly defined category – and who isn’t interested in doing so – these conversations have, purposely, addressed different models of self-publishing, including: artist as self-publisher, organisation as publisher, and academic frameworks. The aim of this bursary was to support me in exploring the connections between my writing, research and artwork, and this has already opened things up.
I’m going to close this blog with a timely thought from artist, curator and Eastside Projects Director Gavin Wade, who came to give a talk for us (Mark Devereux Projects and artist Nicola Ellis) at Manchester Art Gallery in October. Holding aloft his recent Book Works publication Upcycle This Book, Wade propositioned, ‘Is a book a public art work? Yes, it’s the same thing.’ If I had to summarise my thoughts, to extract one burning impression, this would be it: that an artists’ book can be anything.
And that’s an exciting proposition.
This is the first of three posts summarising the last stages of my bursary activities over the last few months. It’s been hugely rewarding period, but one I’ve decided to reflect on retrospectively rather than immediately.
August – September
I spent several days over the summer in the air-conditioned stores of MMU Special Collections, located on the third floor of the main university library. It has a collection of artists’ books, with a focus from the late 1960s to the present day with a strong emphasis towards British artists.
Unlike the formality of the Tate archives, MMU has a refreshing approach to archive access; you are encouraged, after donning the usual white archival gloves, to freely roam the shelves. This encourages chance encounters and new discoveries:
I was drawn to material from Information as material (iam), established by the English artist Simon Morris in 2002 but with roots in his self-published books of the late 1990s. Based in the North of England, iam operates as a collective of writer-editors and as an independent imprint that publishes work by artists who use extant material — selecting it and reframing it to generate new meanings — and who, in doing so, disrupt the existing order of things. This emphasis on working with found materials is something I’m greatly attracted to.
The absolute highlight of these visits was my first formal encounter with the book works of Dieter Roth. As a devotee of Martin Kippenberger and his anarchic style, the obsessive and complete freedom of Roth’s artist books struck a deep chord with me. MMU has a copy of his Collected Works and I’d recommend anyone spend an hour or two with these chunky volumes (which occupy nearly a full library shelf).
Dieter Roth. Collected Works, Volumes 1–20 (Gesammelte Werke, Bande 1 20). 1969–79.
Roth’s self-published Collected Works began in 1969 with a planned catalogue raisonné that would unite his work so far. Collected Works was both chaotic and organised; the books were not sequential, nor chronological, but captured Roth’s energy and draftsmanship in a formal and structured form. The same trim size for each publication allowed Roth to review, amend and reuse material; encouraging repetition and edits that generated new meanings. The final volumes are utterly incredible. Chunky hardback books which, despite being over forty years old, possess wild energy and complete artistic freedom.
A trip to the Venice Bienniale (although not directly part of my bursary activities) is probably worth mentioning due to the Pavilion of Artists and Books:
The Pavilion of Artists and Books: The material and spiritual worlds of artists, in particular through their relationship with books, texts and knowledge in its broadest sense, which is a recurrent theme in several artists’ works. – Christine Macel
The Pavilion of Artists and Books should have been a useful research visit but in the weakest iteration of the Biennale I’ve directly encountered, the chapters were unconvincing. The concept of Otium, inactivity and mind-wandering in the process of artistic creation, was most evident in the studio set-up of Dawn Kasper, The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars, (2017). My publishing itch is scratched through thumbing through glossy books in the book shop.
Arriving back from Venice, I arranged to meet Hannah Fray. Hannah is an artist and Print Studio Manager at Liverpool John Moores University. I’ve known Hannah for a long time having graduated with her 10 years ago. An outstanding draftswomen, Hannah regularly produces artist books that combine her intricate skills with printmaking acumen.
Hannah Fray, Moth Book, (2015)
Over the course of nearly two hours Hannah braved my line of questioning and rudimentary knowledge of processes of self-publishing. We covered much ground, including technical aspects of production and printing; the gauge on my printing knowledge dashboard is steadily rising from red with every such meeting.
Afterwards, Hannah put me in touch with her sister Lorna Fray, a highly experienced freelance editor. Over email we discussed editorial processes in relation to publishing, an unexpected outcome but something I was hugely grateful for as written content is as pivotal as the visual.
Over the past few months I’ve been experimenting with producing zines, wrestling with InDesign technical aspects of production, page numbering, layout and sowing and stitching.
The work draws on my ongoing interest in the banal and anesthetised faux-utopian visual and written language used by property developers to sell urban developments. It splices photographs and breaks up low grade jpegs, which mirror the design process on these large hoardings.
The book toolkit from Ratchfords has come in handy for this. I’ve fucked up many copies due to erroneous page layouts, misprints and other hilariously silly reasons. Despite being super frustrating, it’s been a really valuable experience.
Here are double-page images from Awaken (2017):
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 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.
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 Book. The 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.
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.
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.
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.”