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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)

Research visits

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 BergerReading 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.