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MONTAGE+THE ARTISTS’ BOOK: a paper by Victoria Cooper

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Victoria and the ARTISTS’ BOOK YEARBOOK 2018-9

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 I’ve recently had a major paper on my research into the montage and artists’ books published in the ARTISTS’ BOOK YEARBOOK 2017-8 edited by Sarah Bodman from the Centre for Fine Print Research (CFPR) at the University of the West of England. The paper covers ongoing research which was undertaken as part of my Siganto Foundation Research Fellowship at the State Library of Queensland.

 

 

Here are the first 2 paragraphs from the paper

 

LIMINAL MOMENTS AT THE EDGES: READING MONTAGE NARRATIVES IN ARTISTS BOOKS        

 

Each time I am drawn into the montage image as a reader, I experience a liminal moment – I am at a threshold where I will enter into an unknown space. Although I may recognise familiar characteristics in each fragment I am disorientated by their juxtaposition in these hybrid images. My focus for the Siganto Research Fellowship in the Australian Library of Art (ALA) collection, at the State Library of Queensland (SLQ) is to review and study this liminal reading of the montage through the edges and joins of the fragments. In this research I am guided by the writing of Pierre Bourdieu, Roland Barthes and Sergei Eisenstein to orient myself in the reading and articulate my findings from the perspective of the reader. Also underpinning this research is the extensive history of combining, gluing, montaging, and collaging of image work in many mediums including film, photography and book making.

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During my fellowship, I have reviewed over 100 artists’ books and many artists’ statements held in the ALA. The scope of this research was limited to particular works of Australian artists including Peter Lyssiotis, Gracia Haby and Louise Jennison. However selected works by British artist Helen Douglas and other international artists from the ALA collection were also considered in my research to include an international perspective. As I am a montage maker and thinker, I have decided to include some artists’ books that–although by the artist’s definition are collage– I ‘read’ as montage. My focus is on the visual ‘reading’ of the combined fragments through their edges and the spaces between. There are also considerations for the combination with mixed media including sound, photography and drawing.

This investigation does not set out to define a lexicon for montage or collage for the makeri and as such, in the writing, I will refer to the image works I am researching as montage/collage.

[i] See my blog post for the Australian Library of Art, State Library of Queensland, http://blogs.slq.qld.gov.au/ala/2016/05/27/reading-montages-perceptions-dilemmas-edges-and-resolution/

 

Key books that I discuss in the paper are from the following artists:

Peter Lyssiotis, Feather and Prey, (1997), Masterthief Enterprises, Melbourne

Peter Lyssiotis, Products of Wealth, (1997), Masterthief Enterprises, Melbourne

Lorelei Clark, Brisbane: River City, (2010), Lagoongrass Press, Brisbane

Jack Oudyn, The very first book of fish, (199?), Micro Press, Ormiston, Queensland

Gracia Haby and Louise Jennison, And we stood alone in the silent night, (2008), Melbourne

Gracia Haby and Louise Jennison, Salvaged Relatives, Melbourne

Lyn Ashby, 20 minutes, , (2011), ThisTooPress, Victoria

Helen Douglas & Zoe Irvine, Illiers Combray. (2004), Weproductions, Scotland

Dianne Fogwell, Gene Pool, (2000), Edition & Artist Book Studio, Canberra School of Art, Canberra

 

You can download a copy of my paper HERE

PLEASE NOTE: This download version contains colour photographs of the books discussed – the Yearbook is published in monochrome.

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Thank you to all the artists who gave permission for their works to be photographed and presented in the publication.

Enjoy — and I would appreciate any comments you may have about the paper…

 

You can buy your own hard copy of the Yearbook from UWE HERE

UWE Publications website

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GEORGE PATON GALLERY: Artist’s Books (reprised) Exhibition

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Selfie

Artists’ Book Selfie

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Digging in the archive: past and present

 

Artist’s Books (reprised) [artists’ books 1978-2014]: George Paton Gallery, University of Melbourne

Dates: 26 August to 5 September

 

A recent show entitled, George Paton Gallery, Artist’s Books (reprised), promoted that it would be showing “four decades of investigation into the possibilities and limitations of the artists’ book form.” Whilst the exhibition as presented had some gaps in the chronology, it did live up to its claim of presenting a significant collection of contemporary works alongside a carefully curated group of seminal artists’ book works from shows presented at the George Paton Gallery in the 1970s and 80s.

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George Paton Gallery Website notice

George Paton Gallery Website notice

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Visitors to the gallery encountered a space resembling a reading room with trestle tables and bookshelves presenting the contemporary books for viewing, handling and reading. Some books were marked as ‘white-gloved’ handling whilst the majority was available for direct tactile experience. Enclosed in vitrines were the historical books on loan from the University of Melbourne archives. Interestingly during the 1970s and 80s these books would have only cost a few dollars to buy but now they attract significant values. Included in this prized collection of books are: Ed Ruscha’s Small Flres and Milk; 1964; Marcel Broodthaers’ A Voyage on the North Sea; 1973; Sol LeWitt’s Grids – using all combinations of straight, not- straight and broken lines; 1975; Richard Long’s The North Woods, 1977 and Dieter Roth’s, Gesammelte Werke, Band 7, 1974. These books were sourced from past exhibitions held by the George Paton Galley: Artists’ Books/Bookworks from 1978 and Artist’s Books and Not (e) Book! from 1982, the latter curated by Canadian Tim Guest.

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George Paton Gallery

George Paton Gallery

 

In all just over 100 books were available for viewing essentially coming from a ‘call out’ for artists book makers to present work for the show. There were some interesting names; Peter Lyssiotis, Theo Strasser, Sandra Bridie, mail artist David Dellafiora, zinesters Gracia Haby and Louise Jennison, and photo-newspaper publisher Jacob Raupach. Anyone with a preconceived idea of what an artists’ book is, or should be, may have been challenged by some of the works in the show – but what an experience it was to be challenged in that way. It was a rare opportunity to view and compare such a diverse and historical collection of artists’ books.

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Exhibition installation

Exhibition installation

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Antoni Jach’s Faded World and books by other artists

Lyssiotis, Theo Strasser books

Books by Peter Lyssiotis, Theo Strasser and others

 

After spending a couple of hours in the exhibition space I searched for a way of describing the show. Then I found a text that offered a perceptive critical evaluation of the artists’ book genre. Some relevant passages from this text follow…

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Artists’ books can most simply be described as those books which have been conceived, designed and produced by visual artists. As distinguished from those books about artists, such as a monograph of catalogue raisonee, or about art, artists’ books are instead complete artworks in themselves: they are artworks that are presented in the form of books.

 Since about 1960 a distinct genre of artists’ books has appeared. These are by artists who are self-consciously exploring the possibilities of printed books: the social dynamics of a reproducible vs. a unique art object; the aesthetics of the mass print media vs. fine art prints or deluxe editions.

 The contemporary genre of artists’ books is now a widespread phenomenon. Practically every significant development in western art has been reflected in the ongoing publication of artists’ books. There are books coming out of the movements of pop art, minimalism, arte povera, performance art, fluxus, happenings, and new image painting. Conceptual artists of the 1960’s and 70’s in particular, utilized the book form as a method of realizing artworks. We can regard these books now as a vein which runs through many areas of contemporary art and includes diverse movements, interests and preoccupations.

Or have the interests been so diverse? Pop art, minimalism, performance art, arts provera, were all movements distinct from (even antagonistic to) one another, yet they all belonged to a general tendency towards “non-objective” art… Briefly, this tendency has been reflected in a desire on the part of artists to explore new media, in an attempt to abandon the traditional (modernist) disciplines of painting and sculpture. It was/is in favour of the widened scope of the flux and flow of a multi-disciplinary approach. For example, an artist may be involved in sculpture as easily as film, performance, video, photography and/or books. Perhaps most significantly there has been a conscious determination to undercut the reification of artworks – society’s valuation of art – by concentrating on the non-objective. This has meant, for instance, producing works from common industrial or throw away materials (art povera, fluxus), works constructed only in theory (conceptual art, language art), imagery stolen from the banal repertoire of mass media (pop art) ….. All this seems to have been more successful as an ideal than as an actual practice. Minimal sculpture in the late 60’s was quite successful in the art marketplace. Conceptual art has been immensely influential, popular, and saleable. As much as these artworks were determined in opposition to the bourgeoise reification of art they were inevitably complicit with it. That is because capitalism is a social system which seems to embrace new ideas but in fact appropriates and establishes a commercial value for then.

 

Bling book - title and maker to be added soon

A book by Dianne Dickson

 

Artists’ books typify this interest in non-objectivity and reflect the internal contradictions of such an ideal in a particular way. In contrast to the traditional “livre d’artistes” of deluxe editions, artists’ books are usually inexpensively produced and sold. They are affordable, accessible and as plebeian as an art object can be. In fact they are almost too exemplary of the non-objective ideal.

As books they are not commercially viable simply because they defy the expectations of a mass market by presenting avant-garde information. Yet they have few patrons in the art world because their affordability to the public represents a low profit for a dealer. Also, books can not [sic] be viewed in the same way as other art objects; they must be held in one’s own hands and read. It is remarkable then that despite the contradictions and foils of art’s survival, artists’ books have become such a highly evolved genre of contemporary art, as evidenced by the works in this exhibition.

 

Suzannah Griffith's While The City Sleeps

Suzannah Griffith’s While The City Sleeps

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To illustrate means to make something clear by example, or to adorn a book with pictures. Within a publication, an illustration can be a picture, a drawing, a photograph, a design, or an ornament. Illustration is, of course, a prominent element in all mass media publishing. To consider all illustrations as a single genre is, in a way, quite boggling. It means imagining all magazines in the world and all the printed pictures.

With this imagining I try to analyze these pictures but have only an individual response to guide me. In principle my inquiries and suggestions are all subjective, my curiosity is intuitive, my critical remarks are speculative. These habits of mind and predilections constitute the trail of my argument. Because illustration operates as such an enormous social phenomenon, it is difficult to grasp its total meaning as a genre. It is too huge a concept. Yet paradoxically, all is intimately familiar.

 

Sarah McConnell's 29 2011

Sarah McConnell’s 29 2011

 

Practically everyone looks through magazines, sees the pictures, knows what they mean. But try to separate yourself from a simple recognition of the picture and examine the picture as a conceptual model and you may understand how difficult it can be. An illustration is not simply a picture of an object or thing. In that object’s absence a picture is a way of visualizing it, recalling it or conjuring it. Then all together the medium of illustration is a way of visualizing the world. As illustration is a mass medium, it is certainly a very powerful and influential instrument of ideas. As a conceptual model, a picture is showing us how to think and what to think about.

Art characteristically departs from conventions. In leading the way from these conventions and artists can end up revealing and/or inventing upon a given culture, popular or otherwise. Furthermore, the artists’ books in this exhibition occupy a middle ground between the hermetic region of high art and the mass culture of popular illustration. They also embody a comparison between the two; they have been produced as a way of participating (in theory at least) in the mainstream of popular culture at the same time as they are an extension of art, extending beyond galleries and museums, and outside of the realm of the rarified art object.

 

Jon Hewitt's feel the confidence 2011

Jon Hewitt’s feel the confidence 2011

 

 

It may be noted that the photo works included in the exhibition are not photography books in the usual sense. For example in some books, the artist has exchanged the customary fine detail and high quality printing found in most art photography books for the flat, grainy, aesthetic of newswire or snapshot photographs, with all their vernacular associations. In other books the artist may manipulate the photographic frame by cropping it tightly to draw attention to narrative details or expanding it to the edge of the page for a window effect. Some books here constitute a repertoire of personalities through a wide array of photographic self-portraits. Others are collections of images specific thematic subject matter which suggests an interpretation of the complex meanings of culture and its institutions through the examination of its artifacts.

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Yasmin Heisler's formed in air 2014

Yasmin Heisler’s formed in air 2014

 

In opposition to the conventions of art photography, which dictate an aesthetic around the “integrity” of an individual print, these photo books, to some extent, are each engaged with the qualities inherent in reproduction by offset and other printing processes. The artists represented in this exhibition are utilizing photographs as something other than a clear, well-composed picture. In their books they manipulate the “natural reality” of photographs and so inform our recognition of photographic images with their mannered inventiveness.

There are also a few books included here which are constructed sculpturally to introduce a tactile sensation to the fingertips and so expand the act of reading illustrations into the field of sensory awareness.

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Bridget Hillebrand's Book of Chalk 2014 and Book of Stone 2014

Bridget Hillebrand’s Book of Chalk 2014 and Book of Stone 2014

 

Finally, just as the works in this exhibition are included towards an exploration of the social and aesthetic attributes of illustration, they also demonstrate a way of looking at and experiencing the world. Theses artist’s books reveal and embody a way of reading deeply into they dimensions of contemporary culture. As much as they foster an incipient consciousness they ask for sensitivity on the part of the reader.

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Tim Guest, the curator's essay for the 1982 George Paton Gallery Artist's Books and Not (e) Book!

Tim Guest, the catalogue for the 1982 George Paton Gallery Artist’s Books and Not (e) Book!

 

These words come from Tim Guest, the curator for the 1982 George Paton Gallery Artist’s Books and Not (e) Book! A copy of his catalogue for the show was made available at the exhibition. Guest’s commentary is as relevant today as it was in the early 1980s, and while we have moved on, and now view the artists’ book works of that time with a degree of comfort and acceptance, the new artists’ book works continue, as Guest points out to, ‘demonstrate a way of looking at and experiencing the world’. For me it emphatically confirms that artists’ book are still ‘edgy’ and still pushing limits.

 

Doug Spowart

September 5, 2014

 

DOWNLOAD the contemporary list of artists’ books gpg artists books list of works

 

DOWNLOAD the books on loan from the University of Melbourne ArtistsBooksloanselectionGPG2014 docx

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Part of the associated activity for the show – an artists’ book making event outside the gallery led by Michele and Laine. It was a a sunny and warm late winter’s day in Melbourne.

Michele Grimston and Laine Stewart and their Free Artist's Book activity

Michele Grimston and Laine Stewart and their Free Artist’s Book activity

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