Exhibition and Symposium at the Baillieu Library
23 May-26 July 2006
The creative genre we refer to as the contemporary artists’ book is, by its very nature, difficult to clearly define. A history of unorthodoxy and a tendency towards anti establishment values, coupled with media drawing from a full gamut of humanity’s and nature’s materials, suggests this hybrid art form is a gentle chimera of constant changing shape. Dr Peter Hill, Senior Lecturer at the University of Melbourne’s School of Creative Arts, speaks of artists’ books demonstrating a lack of rules. “Nothing is standardised. Everything is possible,” he states.
Some [artists’ books] unfold in more complicated ways than an origami bird; others are as starkly minimalist like a tower block against a grey sky. Others confound our notion of what a book might be by using shells, leaves, and found objects, pressed like wild flowers between their pages. 1
It is possible, however, to identify characteristics common to most artists’ book making. Fundamental to the medium is the integration of text and image to create multi-dimensional narratives. The text, the typography and the image making or mark making become a total aesthetic entity on the page. In addition, the package - the binding - is often designed and fabricated to parallel, or to be integrated with, the visual and textual content.
Artists’ book makers presuppose a certain intimacy with the viewer, not common to many other artforms. The object must sit in the viewer’s hand while pages are turned and viewpoints and viewing distances changed at whim. This is no polite observation of framed art work on the gallery wall, hands clasped respectfully - acceptable distance observed. To further quote Hill:
Donning the white gloves to examine these works becomes like a fetishistic ritual as if an extended part of the actual making process.
Hill also emphasises the value of being able to handle the handmade in this age of escalating virtual and digitally mediated experience. Artists’ book making is essentially a democratic art form with artists exacting control over production values, the scope of experimentation and oftentimes the process of publication (at very least working outside the realm of commercial publishers).
The obvious forerunner to the modern artists’ book was the poet, printmaker and mystic William Blake, who sought to distance himself from the mainstream publishing world and have total creative control of his output. He also desired to integrate his image making with his poetry on the same printing plates, adding colour by hand not unlike the medieval illuminator. And it is to the illuminated page where this genre must trace its origins.
The scriptoria of medieval Christendom produced illuminated gospels and books of hours where tiny gem-like images and intricate tracery augmented the sense of the ethereal as sacred texts were contemplated. These works were often produced by more than one artist or artisan. Collaboration between artists’ book makers is also a common characteristic within the contemporary genre, evidenced in this exhibition by the Wallace-Crabbe – Letti, Lyssiotis - Cavaleri and Lyssiotis - Matoulas joint projects. Emeritus Professor Chris Wallace- Crabbe states in this catalogue “a collaboration is the heart of creativity”. Art Bound: A Selection of Artists’ Books charts a rich crosssection of contemporary Australian artists’ book makers from the more conventional and highly finished realm of the artists’ press book, to boundary-crunching sculptural pieces that almost appear to extinguish the very concept of the book itself.
The core of the exhibition is drawn from the strongly developing collection of artist’ books in Special Collections at the Baillieu Library. Additional works have been sourced from the very active Art in the Library Program which includes works from the University’s School of Creative Arts.