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Victoria Cooper+Doug Spowart Blog

KEITH SMITH + SCOTT McCARNEY @ SLQ

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Please note: This post is derived from personal notes made at the event – They may contain some inconsistencies that are a result of my interpretation.

AUDIO NOW AVAILABLE @ http://enc.slq.qld.gov.au/audio/slq/pp/mp3/artdesign/Artistsbooks.mp3

In what looks like the one highlight in the Queensland artists’ book calendar for 2012 Keith Smith and Scott McCarney are visiting the State Library of Queensland to present a lecture about their work and to conduct a five-day workshop. Unable to attend the workshop due to teaching commitments I attended the talk at the SLQ today. I was not alone and the smaller SLQ auditorium was full of interested attendees — including some notables like Sarah Bowen, Adele Outteridge, Madonna Staunton, Wim deVos, Anne Marie Hunter and Lorelei Clark. The visit to SLQ by Scott and Keith is supported by the Siganto Foundation and members of the family were in attendance at the lecture.

‘HELLO’ Scott!

After and introduction by SLQ Artists’ Bookie Helen Cole, Scott began his presentation by talking about the nature of the book in the digital age. He seemed to lament that libraries were beginning to change into Wi-Fi coffee houses — that’s not a problem for him as he believes the book, as a physical thing, will go beyond the electronic age.

He sees a real discussion about the future of the book is all about ‘display’. This remains a contentious issue for the artists’ book as they are difficult to handle and read as in exhibitions they are usually displayed frozen and ‘under glass’. Some of Scott’s work has been about presenting books as sculptural forms (Hanging Index) so the viewer does not really need to turn the pages to engage with the work.

Scott spoke in detail about his Autobiography series. He described how he couldn’t throw anything away and that he makes collections from things like name badges, rejection letters from galleries and grant applications, to-do lists and mud maps. This body of work provides an insight into the trivia and ephemera of life that escapes disposal through its transformation into his art. Connecting with the Internet world Scott’s Google Vanitas begun on Christmas Day last year represents the search results for his own name.

Scott showed many examples of works with where he cut through various pages within books to subvert the content of the book.

In a homage to Ed Ruscha Scott has taken Ruscha’s 1964 book Various small fires and milk and made his own take on the subject  — Scott’s fires are those of riots and the curious inclusion of a glass of milk in Ruscha’s book is shortened to MLK, standing for Martin Luther King whose portrait appears in the book. l

A recent project by Scott was to participate in the al-Mutanabbi Street Coalition’s response to the car bombing of this street in Bagdad which was home to many of the city’s booksellers. Scott’s work Material Meditation on Mending Al Mutanabbi Street comprises fifteen two-sided loose-leaf prints made from collages made from remnants of found books, rubbings from bookbindings and photographs.

Keith Smith speaks

Scott then handed over to Keith who comments that he is now up into the 280s on his ever increasing list of books. He spoke of a number of book projects dealing with subjects like re-contextualisation of paintings of Saint Sebastian into Smith’s own painted backgrounds. Many variations on this theme have been created from an amassed collection of source paintings — he intimated that he was even working on a book as he was preparing to travel to Australia.

He spoke of his connection with the computer and digital book Bobby made as early as 1984 with an early Macintosh computer using MacPaint and MacWrite. In his latest work he has re-formatted the book and re-jigged the content. The new Bobby has been supersized to one of Smith’s biggest ever books.

One of Keith’s trademarks is the digitally created multi-layered photomontage and his rainbow borders and edges. He states that when using Photoshop he may be working with between 12 and 24 layers of colour. Pages for the book Seminal were shown as examples.

Book number 283 is Struggling to see deals with Smith’s continuing fascination with text and image. The book is dedicated to Nathan Lyons whose own books and image sequencing presents Smith with a constant source of challenge. Smith acknowledged Lyon’s mastery of organising images in a book in a way where the message of the book is spoken ‘between the pages’.

Question time yielded perennial questions to do with inkjet printers, papers, the ‘archivalness’ of the technology and editioning.

One questioner spoke of how books can be made by anyone via print on demand technologies …

Another question dealt with the montage …

Keith commented that the book tells him where to go …

A comment made by one participant was that they were coming to understand that with all the standardization of the book through language and form and that that is where the psychology of the artists’ book really kicks-in to say something else that we were not ready for…

A question about the eBook and where it fits in contemporary practice. Scott answered that with eBooks one must learn the tools and understand that they are about text in a multi-media platform and that translating work into digital form you need to recognise that it is married to the content.

Keith’s response was that was something for the younger generation, ‘I’m too old ….’ Perhaps it is, for him, that the eBook is not a tactile medium that you cut, fold, touch and be touched by — although it may be something else?

Doug Spowart  May 28, 2012

NOTE: The SLQ will be posting this lecture online in the near future

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