Victoria Cooper+Doug Spowart Blog

‘BOOKPLATES UNBOUND’: The Cooper+Spowart contribution

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Here are our contributions to the Bookplates Unbound project – SEE previous post for details


VICTORIA COOPER: ex libris, dedicated to Dr Dorothy Shaw

Victoria Cooper's Bookplate

Victoria Cooper’s Bookplate


A statement about this work…

Dorothy Shaw devoted her life to mycological research. When I met her she was ‘retired’, which for her meant time to work exclusively on her personal research projects at the Queensland Department of Primary Industries. Dorothy was held with high regard in both the Australian Plant Pathology and wider international networks for her specific areas of mycological research.

To many of her colleagues Dorothy was enigmatic and modest about her personal and past life. Under the surface of this quiet and reserved nature, she had an inquiring, creative mind.  I always found her willing to venture into the unchartered territory of the imagination, while still grounded in the everyday physical world.

Dorothy also had distinct methods of working: I could always count on her typewritten notes clearly outlining for me the information on her specimens intended for deposit into the Plant Pathology Herbarium. These typed notes may seem a standard communication—but Dorothy used a typewriter, similar to the old black 1940s Imperial machine. It seemed that this was an idiosyncratic protest against the unwanted aspects of the digital paradigm invading her world. It must be noted that although Dorothy did not utilise aspects of digital communication, she was readily accepting of the digital world. Dorothy not only embraced fully the digital art I was creating but she also recognised the important role of digital technology and work practices necessary in contemporary scientific research.

In the visual work for my PhD—involving fresh water aquatic fungi—I consulted Dorothy’s considerable knowledge on these organisms. Our exchanges were creative and fertile, inter-relating knowledge and concepts from both science and visual art. The designs and patterns in this bookplate were selected from a collection of microscopic photomicrographs of aquatic fungi I created for the visual component of my PhD. I also chose the typeface Courier, for the bookplate to reflect the typewritten notations that were emblematic of Dorothy’s recordings.

Dorithy is passed away now and although I did not get to see her library, I am sure it was diverse, interesting and informative. I am equally confident that she would have a manually typed (non-digital) catalogue and reference list for each book. From these connections and perceptions of this creative, dedicated scientist, I created this bookplate—I have made it to evoke the life of Dorothy Shaw as a Library: one full of mystery, knowledge, life’s challenges and experiences.

Victoria Cooper


DOUG SPOWART: A homage to a Walter Benjamin comment about book collecting

Doug's Bookplate

Doug’s Bookplate


A statement about this work…

In Walter Benjamin’s 1931 essay, Unpacking My Library: A Talk About Book Collecting, I found a discussion that echoed my desire for accumulating books and their assembly into a personal library. In the text Benjamin shares his love of the process of: finding, acquiring books, building a library, and what it means to possess books—many of them.

In this bookplate I make reference to Benjamin’s comment that a collection may include books from other libraries that were loaned and never returned. This covert act has historically been something I’d encountered from others who did not return books. After a time, if I approached the borrower seeking the book, their usual response was the denial of ever borrowing the volume – or – that it had already been returned.

I cannot deny that I too have lusted after books seen in private libraries, books in bookshops and catalogues that I could never afford, or books held in institutional repositories. I have thought, like Benjamin, of borrowing and then never giving them back.

However this bookplate* is pure fantasy and not an admission of guilt. It is my commentary on Benjamin’s proposition in the form of a modified bookplate to indicate the changed ownership, dubious provenance as well as a signifier of obsessive possession.

Doug Spowart

* I must acknowledge that I do have a book in my library that is stamped ‘The Kodak Technical Library’ over which is confidently signed ‘Julian Smith’. And there are annotations and marginalia in the same pencil that are indicators of Smith’s provenance. I bought the book from a respectable Melbourne bookseller in 2002.

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