UWE Symposium On Artists’ Books


On Friday 26th October UWE hosted a free, one-day public symposium on artists’ books in Bristol funded by a UWE Bristol Research Collaboration Fund, award for ‘Artists’ Books in Australia, Brazil and the UK – looking to the past to read into the future’.

This is part of a project investigating the historical development of the artist’s book in South America and Australia, as discrete and important parts of the international status of the contemporary artist’s book. It will investigate these histories of practice alongside interviewing contemporary practitioners in the field about their enduring influence.

The team of researchers are meeting in Bristol in October and as part of our research we invite attendees to a free, one-day symposium where we will be discussing artists’ books practice. We will present in pairs or groups as informal conversations looking at the areas of practice we will be investigating.


Dr Paulo Silveira, Professor for Art History, Instituto de Artes, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre, Brazil

Dr Amir Brito Cadôr, Escola de Belas Artes, Federal University of Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte, Brazil

Dr Tim Mosely, Lecturer, Fine Art, Queensland College of Art, Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia

Marian Crawford, Senior Lecturer, Fine Art, Monash University, Australia

Dr Rhiannon Daniels, University of Bristol, Centre for Material Texts, UK

Dr Jennifer Batt, University of Bristol, Centre for Material Texts, UK

Angie Butler, letterpress and book artist, PhD researcher, UWE Bristol.

Sarah Bodman, Senior Research Fellow artists’ books, CFPR, UWE Bristol, UK

Tom Sowden – Head of School Design, & co-director of the Centre for the Book, Bath Spa University, UK.


London Centre For Book Arts

A spontaneous creative collaboration with the LCFBA to create visual poetry / book arts around the poem entitled: Heart-Supported Mind which I wrote as a synthesis of my research for my research paper. This piece was about the processes of making – grateful thanks to Esther, Sam and Rafael, limited edition of three. To READ the ‘Heart Supported Mind’ poem on ‘iPoem’s Blog’ please CLICK HERE

Ab-normal Exhibition – Chelsea College of Arts


Ab-normal Exhibition 

Exhibiting Artists :: Cat Miller, Helen Ji Hyoung Gong, Lawrence Blackman, Marton Nemes

Curators: Ileana Tu, Jie Qiu

Opening Times: 23th-24th May, 2018  10am- 8:30pm

Private Vew: Wednesday, 23th May  6pm- 9pm

Place: Chelsea College of Art  SW1P 4JU

“I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas, I am frightened of the old ones.” ——John Cage

Exhibition PV Photos:

Online exhibition: http://abnormal-exhibition.com/

Artists Books Now @ The British Library

The British Library :: Artists’ Books Now :: Vol 1 :: Here and Now. Review by Cat Miller.


“The object of reading is a punctiform and pulviscular material.” – Italo Calvino


April 2018 saw the first in a series of talks at the British Library entitled: ‘ARTISTS’ BOOKS NOW. Volume 1: Here and Now’; which took place at the Library’s Knowledge Centre in Euston Road curated by Egidija Čiricaitė, Sophie Loss, Jeremy Jenkins and Richard Price. The British library houses many different types of collections in all kinds of formats including sound recordings, printed independent works, manuscripts, archived websites, news and artists books.

Dr Richard Price, head of Contemporary British collections at the British Library introduces the event as: “bringing together artists, books and readers to think aloud in the presence of the books themselves.”

The evening’s host is ‘Eleanor Vonne Brown’, founder of the bookstore: ‘X marks the Bökship’ who also produces books, independent publications, publishing projects, art events, the running of publishing spaces, lectures at London College of Communication and is artist in residence at Croydon Arts Store. Vonne Brown explains that ‘Artists who make books’ have a close personal relationship with books and love them. They also have jobs that feed into their love of books, whether that is as a librarian, curator, bookseller, teacher or print technician and is self-evident in their work. On this occasion, the handling of books on display is permitted and the audience is encouraged to ask questions and talk to the artists during the break.

The first book artist of the evening to present is ‘Danny Aldred’ who trained as a graphic artist, teaches graphic design at the Winchester School of Art and is also currently undertaking a practice based PhD with ‘bookRoom’ at UCA Farnham. Aldred’s creative practice is publishing, with a focus on the artists’ book.


His most recent artist book projects are: ‘Wood for the Trees’ published via Entbergen Press and ‘Glitch Series’ using a Jacquard loom. Aldred is a fan of utilising both new and old forms of technology such as the Xerox machine and the Fax machine alongside newer digital technologies. Aldred says he utilises technology as a ‘blank sketchbook’ where he creates a linear way of working with layers, combining other techniques such as lithography printing, screen printing, photocopying and digital printing on different kinds of paper, often layering from his own sketchbook to create experimental publishing in small print runs.

‘The Road Less Travelled’ was a previous exhibition in which Aldredcollaborated with technology, utilising a fax machine with plentiful scrolls of thermal imaging fax paper, to print visual surveillance photographs from Google street view in the UK, of ‘Highway 41’ in the USA. The whole exhibition was about following ‘Highway 41’ and sending these images back to the gallery space in the UK. Aldred purposely used thermal active paper whereby the images completely disappeared after a few months and this too was part of the piece.

Aldred begins his presentation with a brief history of ‘Book Production Tools and Technology’ spanning the last 500 years, starting in 1454 with Gutenberg’s movable print, jumping to 1873 with offset printing, then to 1991 with Desk Top Publishing (DTP) and digital print, through 1998 with Amazon’s massive warehouses and 1999 which sees new formats such as e-books and e- pubs, rounding off in 2010 with the ‘Digital Turn’ whereupon more material is available in digital formats, than is available as a printed page.

Aldred says the Xerox machine, aside from giving birth to the original ‘Selfie’, served as the ‘Trojan Horse’ for the graphic artist, often transforming the spaces around us with the work that was produced upon it. For example: Manhattan in the 1980’s was peppered with posters, fliers and leaflets that could be quickly and cheaply produced on the Xerox machine, which artfully transformed the look and feel of the town.

The art of the times was seen through the lens of the technology that was available and to a large extent dictated by it, which is evidenced in the works produced by Sonia Sheridan Fonds. Similarly the Risograph machine is identifiable through the soya based coloured inks it uses, including fluorescent inks, allowing the published work to form an identity that was unique to the machine it was produced upon.

Print On Demand Technology (POD) however, completely reversed the rule of supply and demand, enabling art works to be sold prior to being produced, radically altering the way in which work is published and distributed. Different forms and formats become interlaced together leading to a kind of ‘mutable hybridization’, which Aldred says became the ‘essence’ of publishing, whereas ‘Post Digital Publishing’ is basically the recognition of the digital print system as standard, alongside other pre-existing formats.

Aldred references Jacques Derrida’s book; ‘Paper Machine’ which explores the notion of information changing from one form to another, becoming all the more dynamic as a result, with content sliding across different platforms and mutating as a way of ‘layering down’, utilising publishing as ‘a loose framework’ with experimental appeal.

Aldred also references Michael Bhaskar’s; ‘The Content Machine: Towards a Theory of Publishing from the Printing Press to the Digital Network’, (2014), which talks about publishing through ‘frames’ as ‘systems of delivery’ through the political, aesthetic and religious models, including the aspect of ‘profit’.

Bhaskar distils the ‘Network of Publishing’ into two categories. The first is: ‘filtering’, which is the ‘editing’ process and the second is: ‘amplification’ of the work, as the act of making it public in some shape or form. Aldred concludes that what we are seeing now; is the publisher as the amplifier of messages, rather than the maker of books, and quotes two interesting quotes by Umberto Eco and Paul Soulellis to close his presentation:

“The book is like the spoon, scissors, the hammer, the wheel; once invented it cannot be improved” – Umberto Eco.

“Posting is usually ‘making public’, but publishing is making ‘a public’ by creating a space for the circulation of discourse.” – Paul Soulellis (2016)


Holly Casio

The second book artist of the evening to present is ‘Holly Casio’, who works as a zine maker, writer and librarian. She uses collage, text and illustration to create zines celebrating fat bodies, queer identities and pop culture. Her DIY style documents the UK punk and queer communities, adventures with OCD and her friendships. She uses cut and paste, and DIY methods to demystify the self- publishing process to make zines affordable, relevant and accessible to all. Holly Casio also co-founded the UK and Ireland Zine Librarians Network, having co- founded zine collections at Iniva’s Stuart Hall library and the Tate Library.

Casio holds up the very first issue of the ‘Me and Bruce’ zine series, which she started making about eight years ago and although she only made ten copies to begin with, this is the zine for which Casio is most well known.

Casio says that in the beginning this zine was never intended to be seen by ‘anyone who wasn’t her friend’, as it was a very personal journey about her own queer experience of growing up in small town and not knowing who else was queer.

Casio explains; ‘It’s a very self-deprecating zine with crude illustrations’which she wrote ‘overnight during a bout of insomnia’. ‘Bruce and Me’ is basically a love letter to Bruce Springsteen while simultaneously taking ‘the piss’ out of herself for ‘obsessively loving someone and placing them upon a pedestal’.

Although none of Casio’s friends liked Bruce Springsteen at the time, they did however absolutely love the zine.

Casio later took her zine to the first-ever queer zine fair held in London in 2011 where it sold out within hour. It connected with others who were also motivated by their obsessions to ‘make things’ and who had similar passions with pop-culture icons.

What is interesting is that even though there is no actual connection at all to a white heterosexual, millionaire rock-star, ‘Bruce Springsteen’ somehow nevertheless became a ‘Queer Icon’ through Casio’s zine series. ‘It is rumoured’; Casio says, ‘that Springsteen actually has a copy of this zine’, (although she doesn’t know if that’s true).

Holly Casio has been making zines for twenty years, since she was fifteen years old and says the reason why she began making them in the first place was because she was ‘looking for her community’, while growing up in ‘a very small town’ without friends, and not knowing who else was queer. Twenty years onCasio says she is still looking for her community and this is exactly the same reason now as when she was fifteen for why she makes zines.Casio likes making ‘One offs’ and zines that only take a day (or a night) to make. Casio also likes taking images out of context and making them to mean whatever she wants them to mean.

2013 saw Issue 2: entitled; ‘Me, Bruce And My Dad: Why a northern queer working-class feminist fell in love with Bruce Springsteen’. Casio says this time it looks more like a fanzine, with a ‘collagey’ feel in black and white and full of non- copyright images, which Casio says is ‘one of the really great things about making fanzines’, as between Monday to Friday Casio is normally a Librarian who cares very deeply about issues of copyright and so it is a wonderful freedom to have no responsibilities towards adhering to it.

Casio stipulates that Issue 2 is not really about Bruce Springsteen at all, it’s about her dad. She takes lyrics from Bruce Springsteen’s songs which are clearly about cars, women, New Jersey and ‘the all-American-man’, and works them into being all about a working-class dad from a small town in West Yorkshire, working night shifts in a factory.

Essentially it is a very raw and personal diary that’s been photocopied, however, Casio says that it was much easier to write about her feelings through‘the lens of Bruce Springsteen’ than without it. It’s the only copy her dad has read and made him cry.

Shortly after Issue 2, ‘Routledge’ publishers contacted Casio about the possibility of her contributing a chapter to a book they were putting together on all things Bruce Springsteen, and were particularly interested in Casio’s DIY, photocopy, punk-zine style of working. The only problem was that Casio could only use copyrighted images and everything had to be spell checked (which she never does), so instead of the chapter for Routledge only taking a few days to make, in keeping with Casio’s norm of making things over night or in just a few hours, the chapter for the book took two years to complete, by which time Casio‘hated’ it.

When the book was eventually finished Routledge priced the book at £100- per copy making it inaccessible to most people and so Casio took the text she wrote for Routledge and put it into a zine that can be bought for a mere £1- instead. Casio says that ‘Issue 4’ is basically continuing on her very personal journey, all about ‘Queer and Bruce Springsteen’, describing Springsteen as the ‘Butch lesbian of her dreams’ and turning him into a ‘queer icon’ by taking his lyrics and ‘making them queer’. Again, the zine is really about Holly Casio growing up in a small town, looking for her community (and not finding it), not knowing who else was queer and is nothing to do with Springsteen at all, except for his lyrics, which Casio says were easy to re-appropriate, as ‘there is nobody who writes about finding love in a small town as well as Bruce Springsteen does’, and so she was very quickly able to adapt Springsteen’s lyrics to be about her own queer experience, accompanied by a saucy collaged image of Springsteen, (previously turned down by Routledge), neither of which belonged to Casio.

Aside from the ‘Bruce and Me’ Series, Casio is also author of a Zine entitled: ‘Taking Up Space’, which was part of a 24 hour zine challenge that Casiomade in a few hours, about what is it’s like to take up different kinds of spaces.

For example: taking up space as someone with a fat body, taking up gendered space, which may be off limits, or where Casio doesn’t feel like she belongs, as well as taking up space with her conversations and her ideas, or taking up space in relationships, and issues surrounding queer visibility. As a result Casio purposely used very bright and visible paper so that the zine would take up and own it’s space on the table.

The last book-artist of the first half is ‘Lydia Julien’ who is a librarian, visual artist and durational performance artist based in London, often working with sequences. Julien uses durational performance to build a narrative based loosely upon personal or appropriated experience using the self as the subject. Her practice is Artist Books, performance, and analogue photography, where the camera is the tool for negotiating ‘society and its spaces’.

Lydia Julien

The last book-artist of the first half is ‘Lydia Julien’ who is a librarian, visual artist and durational performance artist based in London, often working with sequences. Julien uses durational performance to build a narrative based loosely upon personal or appropriated experience using the self as the subject. Her practice is Artist Books, performance, and analogue photography, where the camera is the tool for negotiating ‘society and its spaces’.

The first artists’ book Julien introduces is entitled ‘The London Glaze’,made over a 24 hour period involving a sequence of analogue photos overlooking London, all of which were taken from the same vantage point approximately one hour apart, from a set up in Julien’s kitchen.

Julien’s aim was to document both the changes that occur in her local area between the hours of 1 and 2 am, and also her relationship with where she lives.

Julien’s second Book is entitled ‘Lines’ (2012), which was part of an annual themed call out to artists by the artist’s collective known as: ‘AM Bruno’, who invite artists to openly interpret a set theme in the form of an Artist’s Book.

Julien chose a photographic project showing the remnants of a performance that had already happened in the form of portraiture, but without a character. Like Casio, Julien explores an obsession, which is in this case is an obsession with superheroes. The work features temporarily discarded ‘super- suits’ that have been draped over a washing line and what these photographs document is the end point of a performance where Julien has already tried on all the suits like a method actor, attempting to connect with the superhero’s character, their unique set of powers, and even perhaps what the superhero may have been feeling after a hard day’s hero-work. The collection of discarded superhero costumes were arranged one at a time and shot in Julien’s mother’s garden using a traditional end-to-end washing line.

‘Be Quiet’ (2016), was in response to another AM Bruno themed call out entitled: ‘S.I.C.’ (‘Said In Conversation’), exploring certain slippages in languagewhere words share the same spellings, or sounds and yet have completely different meanings, some of which were lifted from actual conversations Julienhad had with children and language students at the public library where she works, mostly about saying one thing but meaning another. In this work Julienuses a mixture of collage, photography, drawing and photocopies of her own work.

During the interval the audience is actively encouraged to talk to the artists and to have look at the books and zines on display. To begin the second half, Vonne Brown reads out a wonderfully articulated quote written by Book Artist Amanda couch on the art of engagement with the book:

“The medieval reader’s relationship with the book, I see as analogous with the ways in which we engage with artists’ books today. Art historian of the middle- ages; ‘Michael Camille’ wrote that for the medieval reader, ‘every turn of the page [was] an act of intense interpenetration, one resonate with sensations, from the feel of the flesh and hair-side of the parchment on ones fingertips, to the lubricious labial mouthing of the words with one’s throat and tongue’…

…With our contemporary increasing reliance on and obsession with the screen, there is still something so boldly present about reading, touching, holding, and engaging with a physical book, caressing its leaves while cradling its spine. And artists’ books are one of the few art objects which most audiences are able to become intimate with, to hold and to bring close, into the realm of their own bodies, to touch, feel, breathe on, or into them…

…Corporal language is embedded in the description of books, its anatomy, and its materiality. Terms such as spine, footnotes, headers, appendix, and in the case of manuscripts, – the hand (Latin = manu) written into its name, as well as the vellum or parchment pages and leather covers, of actual skin.”

The Amanda Couch quote leads nicely into a discussion on what it means to have artworks in the form of books in the library as opposed to in the museum, with the first guest of the second half: ‘Gustavo Grandal Montero’,who is a librarian and Special Collections Curator onsite at Chelsea College of Arts and Camberwell College of Arts. Montero trained as an art historian, lecturing and presenting regularly on topics including artist books, publishing, Concrete Poetry, art ephemera and archives. Montero is also currently a PhD candidate at St Martins researching the relationship between Concrete Poetry and conceptual art, and the ‘turn to language’ in contemporary art during the 1960s.

Gustavo Grandal Montero

Vonne Brown poses the question to Montero: ‘You have a collection of many types of publications in the library at Chelsea College of Arts consisting of a large proportion of art works of which you are also custodian. What does it mean to be custodian of these art works?’

Montero acknowledges a ‘good and complex question’ replying that on the one hand Artists’ Books are objects that one is supposed to interact with as anartwork, but clearly they are mass produced, or produced as art editions and so are therefore more accessible, so in theory one does not need to go to a special place to see it. Historically we know that one of the reasons why Artists engaged with Artists’ Books in the 60s was to produce bold graphic articles, or artworks, that were accessible outside of the traditional gallery space, many of which were probably rejected by the ideology of the art market of the times, but later on as a result of the capitalist society we live in, the same market claimed back those books and now it is the capitalist institutions who have the market share of historical artist publications and so as a curator one finds oneself in the position of trying to make these publications as accessible as possible, while at the same time being aware that they are also historical items that are not perishable throw-away consumer items, as perhaps the artist originally intended them to be, and are now considered important milestones in the development of artist’s books and art culture.

This viewer condition is very interesting and also the book is not just an object, it’s a cultural artefact, its part of our culture. For example we all know what a dictionary is; ‘the book’ plays a number of roles in society and in our lives and we interact with books in very different ways.

One of the great things about Artists’ Books says Montero is that one can have the same direct approach that one has with a normal book, that normally one doesn’t have with an artwork, and typically how the experience one has with an artwork in a museum is very different from the experience one has with a book in the library.

Montero finds it interesting particularly when institutions try to ‘play with this’, for instance when visiting the National Gallery of Wales, one can request to see paintings in a ‘reading room’ in the same way that one can request a book, because they are collected not as artworks but as documents, of the Welsh landscape for instance, or poetries of welsh people, so one is looking at them as ‘documents’, in the same way as one would do in a library, not as unique artworks, which is a completely different type of interaction to when one sees something on a wall and is generally not allowed to touch or engage with the work.

Montero has brought with him an example of a proto-conceptual artists book by Daneil Spoerri, (a Swiss artist and writer born in Romania), that is particularly important and special to him. The book is entitled: ‘An Anecdoted Topography of Chance’.

Montero explains that it is the latest up to date edition, published just last year in 2017 and is available for £18.99 from any decent bookshop. Montero says the reason why he likes it so much is specifically because it looks ‘so boring, normal and un-special’.

For those who are unfamiliar with this book on the inside cover is a map of the artist’s desk and each item on the desk has been drawn from an overhead view as an outline. It is essentially a catalogue with numbered descriptions of each of the objects that were on Spoerri’s desk in his apartment on a particular day; the 17th October in 1961, which Spoerri describes entirely.


Spoerri originally made the first book ‘Topographie Anecdotée du Hussard’very rapidly in only a couple of evenings on the desk in his hotel room, on the lead up to an exhibition, which then became a starting point for using his immediate surroundings as a way to instigate a body of work. It was later expanded by Spoerri, translated into English and re-anedcoted by Emmett Williams as ‘An Anecdoted Topography of Chance’ (published by Something Else Press, New York 1966), which was later translated into German by Diter Rot but without the additional drawings (because he didn’t like them). Spoerri further collaborated with Robert Filliou and it was later translated back into English from Japanese with additional comments where it became a dialogue between languages, and then a dialogue between language and drawings as well under different authorships and different editions of the book, further republished in the 70s and the 80’s with a facsimile edition from around ten years ago.

One of Vonne Brown’s favourite artists’ books she says is; ‘Laptop’ bySara Mackillop, which utilises the central fold of the book spine to simulate where the laptop opens and closes. Vonne Brown says she often uses Mackillop’s‘Laptop’ book as a teaching aid to encourage her students to use their desk tops as a starting point to stimulate their imaginations, to generate writing and text, and to think about the items they have on their digital desktop.

Amanda Couch

The creative use of the fold seamlessly transitions into the next featured book artist of the evening; ‘Amanda Couch’, whose fond use of the concertina fold features prominently in the piece Couch has brought with her this evening.

Couch is an artist who cuts across media; her art practice researches and reimagines histories of the body particularly the digestive system, skin, hair ancient artefacts and rituals through the domains of performance, sculpture, photography and writing which is often triggered by the processes and lived- experiences of her body and are employed as material as well as metaphor to explore embodied ways of knowing and becoming, through narrative and the visceral.

Couch is standing alongside her epic publication: ‘Reflection Upon Digestion’ (2012) which spans almost the entire length of the table upon which it is displayed and is the result of 37 hours of scribing as a performance, of a body of writings collated during a PG Cert teaching certificate, in which Couch is thinking about and reflecting upon her own digestive issues and concerns, such as holding in farts during one to one tuition sessions, exploring the notion of closing oneself up and not being open.

The 37 hours of reflections resulted in a text of ‘embodied knowledge’ scribed as a ‘folder of evidence’, which was later presented as a conference and also as symposiums held in various libraries. This same body of work was later transformed into a relief printed text featuring skin as a container, unravelling nine meters of content in concertina format, which Couch says served as a metaphor for connecting up her reflections upon her own practice of ‘digesting knowledge’, mirroring the twists and turns of the digestive tract and the idea of bending and turning back to reflect. During this process the text became quite important as when looking down from above the text resembled the tubes of the digestive system. Couch has also produced a miniature pocket sized edition of ‘Reflection Upon Digestion’ that comes with its own magnifying glass.

Among some of Couch’s other ‘Adventures in Guts’ is a sculpture entitled: ‘Entrails Troyen’, made for the collaborative ‘On Innards’ project, featuring a long knitted tube to the length of 1.5 meters (5ft), ‘the same as her own height’; saysCouch, which is the same length as ones large intestines, made entirely from ‘salami skins’, collected from a variety of sources including asking people to send discarded salami skins from their picnics to her through the mail.

The materiality of the sculpture was medically scanned for a book of the piece fittingly sealed at the bottom with an imprint of her anus. Couch made a stamp for the seal using the same technique that the artist Wim Delvoye uses for his series of ‘Anus Kisses’ on hotel stationary.

Couch is also in the process of teaching herself the ancient art of Mesopotamian liver reading from a Babylonian model, which she performs to an audience using prints of the livers she has been looking at, as a form of pre- science divination using entrails. Each print is actually a tablet printed with ink and blood from which she is then able to perform a reading.

The last book artist of the evening’s event to present is John McDowall, an artist based in both London and Bradford. McDowell’s books are held in the libraries and special collections of institutions including the Kunstbibliothek; Berlin, The Tate, The Museum of Modern Art; New York, the Musée National d’Art Modern; Centre Pompidou and is also joint coordinator with Chris Taylor of PAGES, an on-going programme of initiatives for the development and awareness of the book as a medium in artistic practice.

McDowall begins by professing his love of books as his preferred medium of expression. He has been making books for many years and for McDowall the handling of the work is actively interactive and important enough to him to become the subject of his book works, not so much the materiality he says, which is the effect of the medium, but a very intangible moment in time, the space of time between thought and hand where one negotiates the content, the visuals, the language of the book, its structure and its materiality. What McDowall most likes and over the years has become his primary concern is; ‘the moment of receptivity from book to thought to reading and back to book again’.

McDowall holds up ‘Story of the time’ (2001), which is a book he made for an event at ‘The Centre for Artist’s Books’ in France, using letter press with images taken from films of people holding books in their hands, demonstrating an aspect of intimacy in books. McDowall uses surface prints on textured Japanese paper which are smooth on one side, textured on the other and show- through pages so that one can see the back of the image through the page. Here the visual representation is doubled in materiality embodying the action one sees in the image.


McDowall’s second book; ‘Atramentum’ (2012) was made for an AM Bruno project, in response to a theme of ‘Black Circle’. McDowall references the work ofRobert Burton, a scholar and a librarian from Christchurch, Oxford, who wrote a large book entitled ‘The Anatomy of Melancholy’ (1621), consisting of a collection of inspiring ideas, his own and from varied sources. McDowall considered that if all the ink of the written text from 1500 pages was pooled into one area, how big would that mass of ink be? With the assistance of a few graphic designers,McDowall was able to calculate that the amount of ink-content contained in Burton’s book would be the equivalent to a six foot diameter circle, (or 180 cm’s) and so therefore McDowall’s response to the AM Bruno call out was to use the circumference of the solid black disc of collated text-ink and return it into book form. McDowall says that most of the pages are completely black but as you go through the book some of the pages feature an arc shape from the edge of the circle, plus the materiality of the ink is very evident, as although he uses a digital print the ink is derived using a waxed based process.

John McDowall

The last book that McDowall shares with us is simply entitled ‘Cover’(2012), which is a stab bound book at three points that appears to be missing its cover starting and ending with pages made from the same paper as the rest of the book. The written text runs over the pages as a single horizontal line and along the outer edges leaving some pages blank, and recounts the hiding and safe keeping of the philosopher: Walter Benjamin’s notes when he fled Paris on the eve of the German occupation in 1940 during WW2, fearing that he would be extradited to the Gestapo, having already fled Germany seven years earlier when Hitler rose to power in 1933.

Benjamin entrusts the safe keeping of his notes to his good friend,Georges Bataille who happened to work as a librarian at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris at the time. Bataille cleverly concealed Benjamin’scollection of notes upon the shelves in a closed archive where they remained safe until the end of the war and later were published as ‘Passagenwerk’, also known as the ‘Arcades Project’, which documented the construction of ‘passages couverts de Paris’, which were early nineteenth century iron and glass covered arcades, the nature of which Benjamin felt greatly contributed to the unique flavour and style of Parisian street life.

The lack of a cover for McDowall’s ‘Cover’ perhaps appropriately echoesBenjamin’s dislike of having to leave his beloved books and notes behind saying he felt ‘naked’ without them. Benjamin’s notes were folded and so each page of ‘Cover’ is also folded, opening out to reveal a previously hidden photographic image containing a still from Alain Resnais’s, 1956 film essay on theBibliothèque Nationale de France, entitled: ‘Toute la Memoir du Monde’

The second half of ‘Cover’ references a special reserve within theBibliothèque Nationale de France known as ‘L’Enfer’ which means ‘hell’, and is a section where they put books containing erotic content, deemed obscene or sexually dubious and were locked in, including works by Bataille.

Probably what is most intriguing about McDowall’s ‘Cover’ is that although it is essentially about books being hidden within a library, McDowall successfully manages to hide a library inside a book.

McDowall is the last guest of the evening to present and Vonne Brownconcludes the event by presenting the audience with a question: ‘Are artist books important now?’

There is a slight pause and Richard Price volunteers an answer by saying he thinks that Artists’ Books have ‘potential’, receiving a good-humoured laugh from the audience. Price references the Lindisfarne Gospels as ‘going back a long way and yet the activation and reactivation of the aesthetics and the politics of that object are still with us, it is also a religious object as well as a political object which we are careful of and want to explore with various audiences.’

…Price goes on to say; ‘One of the incredible things we’ve seen tonight is the way that reading an artists’ book keeps on crisscrossing with other readings of the artist’s book and the book its self is not layered but the people coming to an artists’ book, if that energy can be activated is layered, and its layered across time, its layered across any cross section of the population.

…I think its absolutely right that artists books should be kept in art collections but I think it would be a tragedy if that was the end of artists books. I am very keen as a manager of curators here to make sure that they are represented along side all kinds of other manifestations of books, within the idea of publishing and sharing with the public, and one of the things that ‘Artist Books Now’ is trying to do to is keep on convening that conversation.

…I see the artist book as almost as a kind of a – you know with shell fish we collect the shells and an artists book is the shell but I’m kind of interested in the fish and in the communication of the makers of that thing, yes a shell is a beautiful ornamental object but sometimes as Lydia was saying its also about putting on the superman costume and I want to know about that, I want to talk about that, and I think we need artists books to start those conversations and you can only do that by finding different audiences again and again.’

Vonne brown agrees; ‘I really enjoyed this evening because of that reason, it is about opening up and actually hearing the thought processes behind the artists’ books as opposed to the many events that I go to where there is so much emphasis on publishing as a ‘tool’, or a ‘toolbox’, or as a ‘framework’, and its just fascinating to dive deep and see the reason behind why people are compiling stuff together. That was one of the fascinating things I found through working at a book shop; I would get artists walking through the door and tell first hand what they were making their books about, and really for me that is all part of the experience of Artists’ Books.

…It seems like there’s an enjoyment in the artists’ book being made to be found by a complete stranger, or hidden in the shelves, or encountered, but I also feel that many of the artists are making books to connect with their existing communities as well, that’s why we are doing events like these too, because there is a community, of artists, book makers, book lovers, collectors, curators, fans… this type of production brings those people together, and I think that conversation of making the book is with that community.

And so ‘Artist’s Books Now: Volume 1’, which was absolutely fascinating on so many levels, comes to an end. The good news is that there is an; ‘Artist’s Books Now: Volume 2’ planned for November 2018, so do keep checking the British Library website for updates.