Holden Gallery

I found the section on altered books in the recent exhibition, ‘Bibliomania', an absolute delight, a feeling which seemed to be shared by many other visitors.

I thought that the decision by the organisers to ask that the cover remain unaltered was a good one, as the contrast between the normal cover and the altered content became an important part of the experience. The organisers suggest that the alterations were made as acts of homage, revenge, extension and interpretation. I particularly appreciated the artwork, when I could understand the reasons for the alterations, though there were many which impressed me with their skill.

I was struck by several references to the history of Nazi Germany, perhaps due to connections being made between book-burning, and destruction of the author's message by other means. One example was ‘Mein Kampf', by Adolf Hitler, altered by Katrina Vivian. The simplicity of the alteration; the printing of numerals on the pages, until by the end of the book the numbers engulf the text, not only referenced the numbers tattooed on the people taken to the camps, but also conveyed visually how Hitler is remembered. Similarly ‘The Rainbow Trail', by Grey, was altered by Neil Grant with the burning of cattle brands from the American West into the pages, to remind us how the territory of America was claimed by the settlers, and to undercut the romance of the original story.

The question of identity, especially of those groups ignored and obliterated, concerned several artists, so that ‘Primary English', altered by Linda Thomas, became an evocation of childhood visits to Welsh grandparents, with English words replaced by Welsh.

But the entries were not all in a serious vein; some made me laugh, such as ‘The Theory of Motivation', altered by Zimmy Iredale with its movement-activated, spoken message, ‘Put the book down and f… get on with it'.

Even those which seemed to me to have been altered because of disagreement with the book's genre, could entirely change the message by distraction, rather than confrontation e.g. ‘Perfume', by Suskind, altered by Peggy Leung, with the addition of perfume labels and impregnated with scent, or ‘Lace', by Conran, altered by Tom Sowden, with an impressively-intricate lace pattern cut through the pages.

Far fewer were altered in homage. Of these, the ones which impressed me the most were the detective novels altered by Yan Laundy. These chunky, sculptural works – the cut pages stapled together in layers and one book containing a stone intrusion – were very evocative and respectful acts of book-murder.

‘The Scarlet Letter', by Hawthorne, altered by Niki Hearns, was the only book I found which had been altered primarily in a literary fashion, with the insertion of a story about Hester and her illegitimate daughter.

This exhibition showed that the genre of altered books has moved on from its scrap-booking origins and can be utilised by artists to produce high-quality works of art.

book artist