Victoria Cooper+Doug Spowart Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Monica Oppen


with 2 comments

CODEX X Papers – Journal Cover+Text Page


Early in 2019 Vicky and I received an email from Monica Oppen and Caren Florance inviting our contribution to a report commenting on news and updates on book arts activity in the Antipodes that they were preparing for the Codex Foundation‘s new journal The Codex Papers. They mentioned that they were asking for those involved with projects, conferences, workshops, collections and awards to send through their comments and plans so the local scene could be collated into the report.

Monica and Caren added that, Your commitment to the photo books and also to documenting events for the past years (or is it decades now?!) has lead us to decide that we must ask you what you see as the trends and key events of the past couple of years. Any feedback (your personal view) on the state of the book arts in Australia at the moment would also be of interest.

We were particularly excited to have been invited to contribute and over the days following the request we collaborated on a document that outlined our view of the scene. Photo documents that we had made were reviewed and prepared and forwarded, along with our text to Monica and Caren. The task of collating and blending the individual responses into a single report was completed and forwarded to the Codex Foundation.

Early this year the report was published and we received a contributor’s copy. We were impressed with the journal and the many interesting commentaries on the book arts from around the world. It was interesting to see the complete report and to read the individual contributor’s comments.

Published below is our text and some of the photographs we contributed in response to Monica and Caren’s invitation.



Notes on the Antipodean book arts in the Antipodes for Caren + Monica


Noreen Grahame in the exhibition Lessons in History Vol. II – Democracy 2012


In the 1990’s and early 2000’s, the world of the artists’ book in Australia was an exciting place. In Brisbane Noreen Grahame, through her Grahame Gallery, Numero Uno Publications, Editions and the Centre of the Artists’ Book championed the Australian artists’ book discipline. Grahame efforts were directed towards artists’ book exhibitions which started in 1991, art book fairs the first of which was held in 1994 and special invitation themed artists’ book exhibitions featuring clique of prominent national book makers.

Artspace Mackay under the directorship of Robert Heather hosted the first of 5 Focus on Artists’ Book (FOAB) Conferences in 2004. Over the years FOAB brought to Australia some of the world’s noteworthy practitioners and commentators on the discipline including Marshall Weber, Keith A Smith and Scott McCarney and juxtaposed them with local key practitioners. For the next 6 years those interested in artists’ books gathered to participate in lectures, workshops, fairs and a solid community of practice developed. In 2006 Artspace Mackay added the Libris Awards: The Australian Artists’ Book Prize that, with a few breaks, continues to be the premier curated artists’ book exhibition and award in Australia.


Noosa 08 Artists’ Book exhibition – Noosa Regional Gallery

Queensland also had 10 years of artists’ book exhibitions and 5 years of conferences from 1999-2008 at Noosa Regional Art Gallery. In many ways Queensland was the place to be if you were into artists’ books.


Southern Cross Artists’ Book Award 2007

In this period a few other artists’ book awards took place including the Southern Cross University’s Acquisitive Artists’ Book Award from 2005-2011.


Throughout the 1990s and until fairly recent times State Libraries and the National Library of Australia actively collected and built significant artists’ book collections. These included many forms of the artists’ book including: private press publications, significant book works by recognised international and Australian practitioners, books as object/sculpture, zines and the emergent photobook.


Now around the country major libraries are feeling the push by managers to move access to the library’s resources online thus the importance of the physical object and the tactile connection with items such as artists’ books is now not considered part of the service that the institution needs to provide. For example, the State Library of Queensland’s Australian Library of Art, which houses one of the largest artists’ book collections in the country, is now without a dedicated librarian. Research fellowships and seminars that were once administered by the Library and supported the Siganto Foundation are no longer available. Information and advice about the collection and other exhibitions or group viewings of artists’ books from their extensive collection have been significantly affected.


In recent years two Artists Book Brisbane Events coordinated by Dr Tim Mosely at Griffith University has facilitated a significant connection between the American and European scenes with guest speakers like Brad Freeman (Columbia University – Journal of Artists Books), Sarah Bodman (Centre for Fine Print Research – The University of the West of England), Ulrike Stoltz and Uta Schneider (USUS). The conferences also have included a place for discussion and review of the discipline by academics and emergent artist practitioners from Masters and Doctoral programs. These two ABBE conferences have provided a platform for academic discourse.

The artists’ book medium has been principally the realm of the printmaker as their artform easily enabled the production of printed multiples. Digital technologies, new double-sided inkjet papers as well as print-on-demand technologies have enabled the emergence of a range of new self-publishers – particularly photographers.

In 2011 I completed my PhD the title of which was Self-publishing in the digital age: the hybrid photobook. From my experiences in the artists’ book field as a practitioner and commentator and my lifelong activities in photography I saw a future for the photobook which could be informed by the freedoms and the possibilities for the presentation of narratives. While some aspects of this prophecy have been the case with some photographers, particularly those involved in academic study, the main thrust for the contemporary photobook has been towards the collaboration with graphic designers. These books take on various design and structure enhancements including special bindings, foldouts, mixed papers, page sizes, inclusions and loose components that can, at times, dilute the potential power of the simple photographic narrative sequence. The contemporary photobook has developed into its own discipline and through the universal communication possibilities of social media, conferences and awards a new tribe has emerged quite separate from and unaffected by the artists’ book community.


NGV Melbourne Art Book Fair 2017

Over the last 5 years the National Gallery of Victoria has presented the Melbourne Art Book Fair. In keeping with the art book fair worldwide movement participants man tables selling their publications. These can range from Institutional/gallery catalogues, trade art publications and monographs, artists’ books, photobooks and zines. The umbrella-like term and the spectacle of the ‘Art Book Fair’ as an event to witness and participate in has captured the individual disciplines and united the various tribes into one, not so homogeneous – community.


A quick review of the 2019 Melbourne Art Book Fair’s 86 table-holders there were only a handful of artists’ book-makers, perhaps a similar number of photobook publishers and a large contingent of zinesters and self-published magazines. The bulk of the tables were held by book distributors, bookshops, arts organisations, educational institutions and art galleries. The discipline of artists’ books was not significantly represented in this space. Was that due to the National Gallery of Victoria’s selection of table-holders or was it to do with artists’ book practitioners not considering the event as a relevant opportunity to show and sell their works?


Ultimately the question is – what is the status of the artists’ book in Australia at this time? My impression is that one of artists’ books key strengths was its closeness to the printmaking discipline and the cohesive bond of makers, critics and commentators, educators, journals, collectors and patrons. As many of these are connected to the tertiary academic environment and collecting libraries, both of which are fighting for their relevance in a changing education and library world, could it be considered that this is a defining moment in the history and the future of the artists’ book in this country?


Doug Spowart co-written with Victoria Cooper





All photographs ©Doug Spowart




ABBE 2017 – The academic artists book conference

with 3 comments



The second Artist Book Brisbane Event (ABBE) promised an academic conference dealing with the artists book as a folded and risky space. The event consisted of three elements at the Queensland College of Art and a fourth satellite pop-up exhibition at the State Library of Queensland. Drawn to ABBE 2017 were artists bookmakers, thinkers, commentators, teachers, lecturers and tinkerers from across Australia. All came with a desire to contribute to, or participate in, perhaps this Australia’s penultimate artists book gathering.


Dr Tim Mosely ABBE coordinator and chair

The event was convened and chaired by QCA lecturer Tim Mosely and was launched by Griffith University’s Dean Academic, Arts, Education and Law Professor Ruth Bereson who spoke about the book as art and the need for that the discipline has for scholarly discourse. She commented that the Griffith Centre for Creative Arts Research ABBE program and its connection with Columbia University’s JAB (Journal of Artists Book) publication of selected papers would contribute to this discourse. Significant keynote speakers, Uta Schneider and Ulrike Stoltz from Germany and Clyde McGill from Western Australia headlined the event. Other program contributors came from practitioners, academic staff, students, and recent graduates from institutions in the USA, New Zealand and around Australia.


Ulrike Stoltz & Uta Schneider


The first keynotes were Uta Schneider and Ulrike Stoltz who presented a paper entitled betwixt & between. Presenting in tandem their voices were almost like a turning of the pages – recto and verso. They teased out and formed the conference theme of ‘folding’ into an ordered analysis of the physical and metaphorical ways that books fold. They connected the theme ‘folding’ with their own individual and collaborative works and the concepts, philosophies and discussions about artists books that informed them. Mythology, Martin Heidegger on contemprality and the ekstaticon, Carrion, Gillies Deleuze and ‘thinking means folding’ and Michel Serres and ‘the crumpled nature of time’.

The lecture then proceeded to a review of book forms with terms like:

  • Folded paper
  • Cross fold
  • Sharpness of the fold
  • Container folds
  • Staging folds
  • French fold
  • Inside folding outside
  • Concertina and multi-concertina folds
  • Wormholes and science fiction

The works they illustrated their paper with were refined and exquisitely designed. They featured wordplay and poetry, folded page spaces, transparency using ‘show-through’, typography and graphic design elements. As an introduction to the topic, the hour long presentation provided a solid and exciting insight into ways of considering the fold, its forms and the way it can connect with the reader, as receiver of the communiqué.


A K Milroy + Brad Freeman presenting

Other presentations on the program included:

  • Marian Macken Reading Volume: Between Folded Drawings and Collapsible Models
  • Caren Florance & Angela Gardner  Unfolding to refold: collaborative wordings
  • Paul Uhlmann Meditations on process: Three artists books, letters to the land, sea and sky
  • Caren Florance An Instrument of Collaboration: Unfolding the GIW Legacy
  • Monica Oppen Eclectic items: early books by Australian artists
  • Ana Paula Estrada “Memorandum”, from concept to publication
  • Wim de Vos Air, edge, surface image – concertina books
  • Nicola Hooper The Citronella Artists Book as an Augmented Narrative
  • Amy E. Thompson Folding and the potential of Artists’ Books
  • A K Milroy & Brad Freeman Folding and unfolding in JAB41: cultures, research, pages
  • Tess Mehonoshen DISINTEGRATE:  the destructive folding of materials
  • Marian Crawford A lively phantom: the rare and popular artists book
  • Carolyn Craig Unfolding(s)
  • Isaac Brown Relationship risk and ethics in photographic artist books
  • Monica Carroll & Adam Dickerson Unfolding the episteme of artists’ books
  • Bridget Hillebrand Handling folds: an intimate encounter
  • Julie Barratt & Virginia Barratt The exquisite fold, the immanent word
  • Maren Götzmann The Anarchist Notebooks


While most papers were read from the dais with carefully illustrated PowerPoint slides the second keynote speaker Clyde McGill emerged on the stage with a device that could be called a ‘bibliophone’. McGill had altered a range of book titles by folding back the pages and attaching a sound pick-up to the book cover and then connected the 7 books to an amplifier. Volunteers from the audience were given bonefolders as plectrums and, on McGill’s guidance were instructed to make the various movements of hands and object associated with hand-making a book. The haptic actions were converted to sound and the room filled with the noise of ‘making’ associated with a great deal of laughter.


Making book music with Clyde McGill


McGill continued his presentation with a detailed investigation of the idea of folding books. Where possible his own works were referenced. At other times he created new books by playful investigation… bending and folding light was a particularly humorous but gave those present an insight into how the artist’s off-tangential and obtuse thought processes process can lead to new conceptual and visual discoveries.


Julie and Virginia Barrett’s performance

Another departure from the read-the-paper format was a performance by Julie Barratt and her sister Virginia Barratt. Attendees, on returning to the lecture theatre after morning tea, found the space darkened except for two sharply defined spotlit circles. One pool of light was vacant, just the floor’s carpet – in the other artists’ book maker Julie Barratt was busy unfurling paper, measuring it and tearing of lengths and positioning them in a stack on the table before her. Also on the table were scissors a ball of thread and other bookmaker’s things. The unroll>measure>cut>position sequence was progressing methodically for some time making the sheets one might guess that would go to making a book. A soundtrack began with a female voice expressing thoughts ideas, word associations sometimes repeated – perhaps the thoughts of the bookmaker? There was a rustling sound – stage right. Gradually a large dome-like white shape appeared and moved towards the empty spotlight area. The shape was covered in what looked like pages – ominous maybe… the audio continued and Julie Barratt left her table and proceeded toward the shape and picked up a folded sheet and returned to the table – flattening out the sheet it was melded with other sheets. The performance continued. What was it about? What came to my mind was that the shape was like the book working with Julie so its story could be told as in Paul Carter’s ‘material thinking’. At the end of the performance it was revealed that Virginia Barratt, Julie’s sister, was the artists book ‘monster’.


Another aspect of the conference presentations were two papers by photographers Ana Paula Estrada and Isaac Brown both featuring bookwork’s that they had created. Estrada, as a State Library of Queensland Siganto Foundation Creative Fellow, discussed concepts of memory, photography and old age as the inspiration for her project. She detailed the process of design, making maquettes, refining and working with commercial printers and binders to complete the project. Brown spoke of the integration of his project and PhD study focussing on his relationship to his father, a Vietnam veteran. Aspects of text and dialogue were addressed as well as Brown’s own recent fatherhood. What was interesting was the informal narrative and connection with audience that both presenters had and the expanding space of the artists book being inhabited by photographers.


Wim de Vos presents his work

Wim de Vos made an animated presentation and several helpers as his concertina books by the metre unfolded across the width of the theatre and tunnel books expanded, evidence of the pre-eminence of his artists book practice in Queensland.


Midway through the academic papers a ‘plenary’ session consisting of a panel of artists’ book ‘movers and shakers’ discussed several issues relating to the discipline. The session quickly became absorbed with the perennial issues of nomenclature, the dearth of private and public purchasers of bookworks and the grooming of possible artists book collectors. The impact of the term ‘Art Book’ was mentioned and the way events associated with the term has grown in popularity worldwide and has come to encompass artists books, photobooks, zines, art books and institutional catalogues. Another topic mentioned was the importance of research and critical commentary on the discipline. A suggestion was made for the formation of a ‘double-blind peer review’ collective.


Noreen Grahame at the QCA Library and her ‘… & So’ artists book show

On the evening of the first day Robert Heather, Director, New England Regional Art Museum opened the exhibition “… & So” at QCA Library. The exhibition features a significant collection of seminal Australian and international artists books and multiples sourced predominately from Noreen Grahame’s Centre for the Artist Book collection and her numero uno publications alongside artists’ books from the Queensland College of Art.  A list of the selected works can be downloaded here. ALA Books for abbe 2017 … $ so Exhibition list


Mid afternoon on the second day the State Librarian and CEO from the State Librarian of Queensland Vicki McDonald opened the 6th artists’ books + multiples fair. Twelve tables presented a hand-to-eye experience of books by significant makers of contemporary artists’ books. These included:


A silhouette view of the Grahame Galleries tables

Stand 1 – grahame galleries + editions

Barbara Davidson

Stand 2 – Barbara A Davidson

Caren Florance

Stand 3 – Caren Florance – Ampersand Duck

Stand 4 – QCA

Photo from ABBE Artists Book Conference July 6-9 2017 at the Queensland College of Art

Stand 5 – 5 Press Books


Anne-Marie Hunter

Stand 7 – Psyclonic Studios – Anne-Maree Hunter

Sue Poggioli

Stand 8 – Sue Poggioli

Adele Outteridge & Wim de Vos

Stand 9 – Studio West End

Ulrike Stoltz & Uta Schneider

Stand 10 – Usus – Germany

Brad Freeman

Anita Milroy

Lyn Ashby

Stand 11 – Milroy-Australia / Freeman-USA / Ashby-Australia

Sue Anderson

Stand 12 – Impediment Press

SLQ Australian Library of Art artists book exhibition

To complement the theme of the ABBE conference a special collection of concertina and folded books was curated by Christene Drewe of the Australian Library of Art at the State Library of Queensland. Open only for 2 hours on the Saturday morning of the conference this satellite event was well patronised. The Australian Library of Art is recognised as Australia’s premier public collection of artists books and the range of works presented was a testimony to the variety and depth of the collection. A list of the books displayed can be downloaded here. ALA Books for abbe 2017

In keeping with the conference theme the community of practice for artists books in this country is supported by the ‘folding’ and ‘unfolding’ of ideas, theories, concepts, access to exemplar book samples and the social connection that ABBE provides. While selected ABBE 2017 papers will be published in JAB, beyond that, the influence and impact of this gathering highlights the need for ABBE to provide this ongoing forum in Australia.


Dr Doug Spowart


All photographs and text ©2017 Doug Spowart




leave a comment »


The wide view


The trouble with artists’ books  

State Library of Queensland – May 4, 2013


The quote “artists’ books … as popular as tatoos” was an opening remark by gallerist Noreen Grahame


All great seminars, forums, conferences and meetings stir discussion and commentary; The trouble with artists’ books seminar was no exception. We approached a number of artists book people to contribute to this blog post responding to the stimulus created by the event – I have included their responses after my introductory comments.


In Volume 7 of the Bonefolder e-journal  I reported on the dual artists book events of the 2010 Artspace Mackay Focus on Artists Book V, event and the 3rd Libris Awards. In this report I commented on the speaker’s presentations and reviewed the artists book award. I then concluded that these events were integral to the development and maintenance of a community of practice for those who make artists books in this country.  Three years on the energy and enthusiasm for artists’ books remains however the Mackay Focus event has been abandoned and some awards events have slipped from their usual place in the yearly/bi-yearly calendar.

We are indeed indebted to the Siganto Foundation and the SLQ who in 2012 made possible the Keith Smith and Scott McCarney workshop and seminar, and this year the The trouble with artists’ books seminar. It seems to me that artists book community in this country has a great appetite for information, connecting with the heroes and heroines of the discipline, learning about methods and techniques as well as participating in camaraderie with their peers.  My concluding words in the Bonefolder report recognised the importance of events such as Artspace’s Focus on Artists Books and the Libris Awards as they invigorate the discipline and the art of artists books … The significant response to this seminar indicates that the pace and frequency of artists book events should not slacken – we want more!

The Bonefolder report concluding comments were:

Awareness of the origins of the discipline of artists’ books and the Australian context as well as issues of contemporary and emergent practice is a unique outcome for FOAB. Where else in Australia this year would one be able to experience, or participate in a program where issues as diverse as Avatars making books in their second life, the death of the book/author, wild books and zoo viewing of books, propositions for new perceptive literature, mail art and the products of psychometry being resolved as artists’ books? Perhaps attendees should be warned of the ride that they would encounter.

Central to need for the FOAB, as an event, is its ability to pull together artists’ book interested people and provide a forum for them to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Artists’ bookmakers are individual artists, sometimes collaborators, librarians, academics, gallerists and collectors are isolated as islands of interest in their usual place of activity. But at FOAB they meet, greet, mingle, chat, discuss, argue and get down to the flensing-out of ideas, polemics and concerns about practice and the book as a work of art. This blend of interested parties forms the nucleus, the hub, of the discipline within this country – without it, there would only be individual soliloquies in the wilderness



Julie Barratt

Julie Barratt   –  Artist

I guess really briefly what I got from ‘the trouble with artist book ‘ talk if I was going to quote is ” it seems the trouble with artist books is that there are too many to love!!!” On a more serious note I guess for me it always comes down to how we talk about/define an artist book, as an ongoing discussion.

Almost on a daily basis when I had the gallery (I always had at lead a few artist books on display) people would ask what these books are! How to define them without quoting Johanna Drucker?  Should there be categories i.e. Sculptural, digital etc etc. How do we expect the audience to understand them if we as practitioners have difficulty talking about them? But how do we agree on a definition?

That’s what I imagined the forum to be about because ‘isn’t that the trouble with artist books’? Having said that I thoroughly enjoyed the forum and think there need to be many many more of them when in fact there seem to be less (Mackay forum? ) so that the discussion can continue….

Its always a pleasure to catch up with the artist book community, feels like a reunion every time!



Maureen Trainor portrait

Maureen Trainor

Maureen Trainor  –  Photographer and QCA Masters student

I found these presentations to be very informative and inspiring.

The content and sequence of the presentations were dynamic.

By breaking down the delivery into the three different viewpoints the three Keynote speakers were engaging and thought provoking.

Starting with Helen Cole presenting ‘the Librarian’s view’, Noreen Grahame presenting ‘the Gallerist’s view’, Jan Davis presenting ‘the Artist’s view’ and ending with an interactive audience time for ‘questions and answers’ was right on target with information.

The Hearsay team discussing their project was fantastic. Combined with humour and wit they certainly kept the attention of a diverse audience.

I truly enjoyed the afternoon and felt I could of stayed into the night with more speakers and presentations.




Monica Oppen

Monica Oppen  –  Artist and collector

The Trouble with Artists’ Books (and the Libris Awards)

Coming away from the SLQ seminar where the attendance was so strong and having attended the opening and announcement of the Libris Award at Artspace Mackay the conviction that has risen strongly in my mind is that there is a real need for events such as the SLQ Siganto Seminar. The strong attendance not only indicates a real interest in the topic but a desire of artists to reconnect with others working in the field. As Helen writes in her post about the Libris Awards, and I can vouch for it, there were very, very few artists there but also no other significant persons from the institutions who have an ongoing interest and involvement in artists’ books were there. The tyranny of distance and the associated costs of travel and accommodation will only be overcome by creating an event that is worth travelling for.

The topic The Trouble with Artists Books is pertinent and complex and was way too big to handle in one afternoon; a multi-day conference could have been structure around this topic. Time restrictions meant that Jan Davis and Noreen Grahame could only touch on, hint at and introduce the work/books from which a broader discussion could have expanded. The sense that there is a need for these seminars (judging from the attendance numbers) also hopefully indicates a need for more rigorous, mature critical discourse around the genre, a breadth of conversation and argument. Does the constant discussion of definition and the non-committal responses from ‘those who should know’ arise from this lack of discourse? I don’t consider the definition ‘if the artist calls it a book, it is a book’ to be an adequate, exciting nor empowering definition unless some force is allowed to work in opposition to it, that demands a justification, demands some critical analysis. The lines will always be blurry but this could be an energizing force and contribute a dynamism to the genre. By not taking a stand are we in fact leaving definitions to the gallery? Surely the gallery as a medium is the antithesis of the (artists’) book. The gallery is exposed and extraverted; the book is enclosed and introverted. Always it comes up, the problem with exhibiting artists books— this is because books are not meant to be exhibited, they are meant to be read. What are the implications for the genre if books are only viewed in the gallery, and more seriously if the gallery maintains a ‘no touch’ policy? Ironically, making a (artist’s) book was originally about abandoning the gallery; about the subversion of the commercialism of the art object. The book was meant to be a free-floating object in wider society. Where is that rebel spirit?

A hundred more questions could be asked. I hope the SLQ seminar is not a one-off but gives an impetus to more symposiums throughout the country.

Monica Oppen 14/5/13


Judy Barrass

Judy Barrass

Judy Barrass  –  Artist

THIS COMMENTARY COMES FROM JUDY’s BLOG – ‘Critical Mass’ http://www.criticalmassblog.net/2012/?p=2568

No one can agree on what they are, or even where the apostrophe should be placed, but a seminar on artists’ books at the State Library on Saturday drew a crowd.

It was a  rare get-together of artist book makers and officianados, with attendees travelling from other states and regional Queensland just to attend the two-and-a-half-hour seminar and catch up with old friends.

According to the speakers, librarian Helen Cole, gallerist Noreen Grahame, and artist book maker and academic Jan Davis, artist books are problematic. That’s not just because no one seems to be able to agree on a definition, but also because they are hard to store, hard to display, and are not usually included in mainstream collections or exhibitions. They attract mostly a smallish group of makers and collectors and don’t sell in large numbers. Despite this, artists’ books draw a passionate audience of makers and supporters whenever they are on show (or whenever there’s a seminar).

Queensland has been a leader in the artist book phenomenon. The Queensland State Library is a significant collector, and Grahame Galleries took an early leading role. Artspace Mackay and Noosa Regional Gallery added public gallery support to exhibitions and collecting.

Someone suggested that it’s an inbred audience made up almost entirely of artist book makers, but a show of hands in the crowd on Saturday debunked this myth since at least half the attendees were not makers. Still, as Noreen Grahame remarked, artist books are a sort of ‘underground’ movement outside the mainstream.

I can’t help wondering if this is merely a question of naming. By calling these artworks ‘books’ they are relegated to the collections of libraries rather than art galleries, or they exist in a no man’s land between library and gallery. Nonetheless I have seen many works in public art gallery collections that could (or perhaps should) be called artist books. The boundaries are thin and flexible, and this was evident at the seminar. The mantra seems to be that if the artist calls it a book then it is a book.

One of the more interesting questions on the day was about the growing number of artist books that exist only in digital format. Helen Cole said the library was considering how these books might be collected and preserved, but indicated it was extremely difficult, particularly as technology changes so rapidly and formats and software become obsolete. Noreen Grahame solved the problem by referring to digital books as ‘ephemera’, and Jan Davis thought the number of artists working in the digital realm was small.

Following the discussion, a very chatty audience enjoyed a scrumptious afternoon tea and the  launch of Hearsay, a large format collaborative artists’ book by artist Euan Macleod, printmaker Ron McBurnie, and writer Lloyd Jones. They apparently didn’t worry too much whether or not their work was or was not an artist book, but have sensibly hedged their bets by also producing the pages as a portfolio of unbound prints (in case anyone thought it wasn’t art, or more probably because the portfolio might be more saleable than an artist book ).

The seminar ‘The Trouble with Artist Books’ was sponsored by the Siganto Foundation through the Queensland Library Foundation.

The State Library artist book collection is part of the Australian Library of Art.

(Thank you Judy for allowing this re-posting in this blog)




Wim de Vos

Wim de Vos  –  Artist

‘The Trouble with Artists Books’

The lecture sponsored by the Siganto Foundation was very well attended by a large audience of art practitioners, administrators, and lovers of Artists Books, and was introduced by the new head of the State Library, Janette Wright. The speakers were Helen Cole, Senior Librarian of Special Collections at the Library; Noreen Grahame, Gallerist and long time respected promoter of the Artist Books within Australia and Internationally; and Jan Davis, Academic, and practitioner of Artists Books at Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW.

Technically the lecture was informative, ran smoothly and was very well presented.

It was great to see so many practitioners (well over half the audience) and the general public, as this event facilitated a forum – to share, and some time to catch up with friends and colleagues. This has over the last few years become non-existent with the loss of the Art Space Mackay Artist Book Forum. Also the Noosa Regional Gallery’s ‘demise’ of the Artists Book annual exhibition was a sad occurrence. In addition, both venues offered successful workshops with renowned National and International Practitioners in the Visual Arts to nurture the visual arts and the book.

Many aspects of the development of Artists Books were addressed. Helen Cole addressed the ‘Trouble with Artists Books’ from a Librarian’s point of view, in that, because they were ‘Artists Books’ and diverse in so many ways, the logistics of preservation, cataloguing and storage were ‘Troublesome’. Furthermore, it was stated that the ‘Galleries’ had passed the Artists Books onto Libraries to display and make use of them, and by making Libraries the custodians of the ever-growing phenomenon of the Artists Book.

The concept of Artists Books is generally not an easy topic to present. It is in fact generally not understood at all. A friend recently pointed out, ‘I didn’t even know that an artist book existed, but as I have learnt through the language of art over time, I can say, I view this process as Book Works by Artists.’ A major exhibition of books of this nature: DAS BUCH was presented at the Queensland Art Gallery in association with the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney and the Goethe Institut in Germany during 1992. This was, I’m sure, a huge influence on art practitioners and the public. At the time, it placed an emphasis on the ‘Book as Object’ in a context never before experienced in the Antipodes. There has been no major exhibition of this type in a public gallery in this State, since.

As I am a practising artist and maker of prints, paintings, and sculpture, and work with a wide variety of materials, the book as object comes naturally as a medium to extend my practice. It has in fact tied together all my processes of making art, including text, giving me the freedom of story telling on many levels.

I observed, as the afternoon progressed, that in the presentation not all aspects of Artists Books practice was being fully covered and explored by the presenters. This became, indeed, troublesome. There is actually content within books, books with text, images and text, objects and materials, and so on. There was very little mentioned on the subject of the Sculptural Book or the Photo Book. A visual list WAS presented with images of the types of books that were in the collection of the Library. But no further elaboration was offered to those in the audience that were not already ‘in the know’. The State Library of Queensland has one of the largest collections of Creative & Historical books in the southern hemisphere.

Let it be said that we can be proud of a comprehensive, diverse, eclectic and public collection of books – particularly in the collection of Contemporary Art practice in Queensland and beyond. It is promoted that it ‘may be visited at any time, by appointment’.

I recognise that there is not time to cover everything fully. This made duplication and repetition even more irritating. Time may have been used more productively.

The lecture continued with the history of the Artists Book and it’s growth within Australia over the last 30 odd years. This painted an impressive picture of collections and practise over that time. Artists were mentioned who were instrumental in its development, but presenters did not go far enough on this issue, and failed to mention key motivators: artists both local and international. There was a ‘flow of words’ promoting a few artists over and over again. When the presentation of ‘Favourite Artists Books’ was introduced the theme of the lecture was totally abandoned. We were presented with a self-indulgent diversion as to what the book may mean only to the ‘literate Artists Book fans’ present.

It would have been more useful to give the audience an indication of how they may wish to learn more about Artist Books through the public and private system. There was enough talent and experience behind the microphone to impart this information. It seemed much of this lecture was preaching to the converted.

Afternoon tea on the terrace was followed by the launch of a collaboration of an Artist Book created by two well-known visual artists:  Ewan McCloud and Ron McBurnie, and the writer Lloyd Jones. This was a very good presentation chaired by Suzi Muddiman: Director of the Murwillumbah Regional Art Gallery in NSW. This gave the opportunity for the layperson to experience the processes of collaboration in art making.

As there are no indications of any follow-up lecture or activities relating to Artist Books, it would be worthwhile to plan something on the promotion and educational aspects of Artists Books. I am sure it would be a great success.

A ‘large bouquet’ to Helen Cole in particular, and the State Library, for organising this generally informative and pleasant afternoon. We look forward to a more expansive event in the future.

Wim de Vos




Peter Lyssiotis

Peter Lyssiotis  –  Artists book-maker and photomonteur


Peter’s letter


A vodcast for the event is available at  http://www.slq.qld.gov.au/audio-video/webcasts/recent-webcasts/siganto-seminar


Cheers  Doug+Victoria



© Of all texts resides with the authors

Photograph of the SLQ Theatre, Julie Barratt, Monica Oppen, Wim de Vos  © Doug Spowart 2013. Self-portrait of Maureen Trainor ©2013. Judy Barrass portrait supplied by Judy.

Creative Commons-by-nc-nd.eu

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.




GRAHAME GALLERIES: Lessons in History Vol. II – Democracy

leave a comment »

In an otherwise drought of artists’ book activity in Brisbane the opening of the much awaited exhibition at grahame galleries Lessons in History Vol. II – Democracy provided a welcome spike in calendar. In one brief afternoon there was the opportunity to be swept up in a deluge of books and book people. This is a the democratic camera view of the event …

A catalogue is available for viewing at the gallery’s website HERE. A print catalogue featuring each book is available from the gallery as well.

grahame galleries panorama


Noreen Grahame and the catalogue


Jan Davis and her book Democracy Counts


Monica Oppen and her book Dare to VOTE!


Anne Kirker and Ron McBurnie discussing books


Stephen Spurrier and his book Canaries for Democracy


Looking @ Glen Skien’s Atlas 1


Heather Matthew and her book Occupy



Discussing Democracy books


%d bloggers like this: