In approaching the World Book day on the 23rd of April, I see more and more Book Arts related events popping up on my newsletters, calendars and marketing alike. It has been an honour to attend some of them both as a spectator and participant. Even more so, when I am witnessing the birth of what can potentially become a regularly intervaled dialogue: on the 25th of February, UCL's Slade School of Fine Art hosted the Small Press event, organized by Sarah Pickering, Liz Lawes and Lesley Sharpe; just over a week later, on the 5th of March, the Society of Bookbinders hosted Book Arts day, organized by Sonia Serrão. Two debuts worth praising for the sheer fact that they have achieved a variety of aims and reached out to audiences who appreciated their content, dynamics, organization and went away further educated on this broad and vast subject which is the Book and its adherent Art making.
At UCL, the organizers got together a variety of devices, such as a mini book fair, whose invited stalls featured 3 art colleges with some expertise in the field of Book Art (including our very own MA Book Arts) and a small selection of artists which included a workshop session, a sample of UCL's library's collection of books - as an exhibition - on the mezzanine space and talks by collectors, artists and publishers, culminating in an open panel discussion which then gave way to a more social interaction when visiting the exhibition delivered by the Slade students.
At SoB, the organizer also gathered a dynamic structure, in which the artists were the highlight, whether through performance time, demonstrations or by having their stall in the small book fair that was in place. Although not very big, there was a great variety of styles of work, and the dialogue with the artists was the prime focus. Instead of many speakers for a short amount of time, we had the lenghty pleasure to hear expert Sarah Bodman from the University of the West in Bristol talking us through not only (briefly) the history of Book Art, but also illustrating the most current practices of book artists all around the world. She organizes the Book Arts Yearbook, the Book Art Newsletter and the Blue Journal which feature, democratically, all artists that contact her or that she contacts, mapping consequently in great detail what is going on in the Book Arts world, up to the most updated instance. Another device implemented by the organizer was that various collections were made available. Whereas the audience was shy to initiate discussion with Sarah, she made herself available afterwards to talk over the books on an individual basis and it was pleasant to see how avid the audience was for this.
The nature and audiences of these events were distinct, however there was definitely a common aim: educate and promote. The styles were very different and that is the beauty of investigating different circles.
The Small Press Event was extremely enjoyable because of the level of expertize of the speakers' different backgrounds, all of which associated with the book. The content and style of these talks were assertively academic, ranging from the function and value of archiving, the life of a seminal concrete poet and its relevance, Bob Cobbing, and the experience of keeping his work alive, distribution channels and placement of the book in complex structures such as the city, technology and collaborative practice, the book as events, performance and the implications of publishing ephemeral works, the book in the public sphere and its political content, historical value in techniques used and what is historical value and the interference of technology with it. I particularly enjoyed the panel discussion part in which an animated conversation was generated around a question I posed, which intertwined the many layers discussed during the day. I asked the panel to comment, discuss on the fact that we had heard throughout the day various speakers mentioning the importance and value of correspondence between artists. I questioned the fact that if this is how we are currently writing our art history, what happens in 10 years time when we would like to look back onto correspondence between artists and we only have e-mails to refer to? Will the value of correspondence become obsolete? If not, are we going to start printing e-mails to be able to archive them? If so will the value change because of the medium's ubiquity?
From this event I took away many things. The most significant reflection, in the aftermath of a conversation with a stranger, was that in a historical and actual context, I do see the book as a performance. The making of the book IS THE performance and that is the relevant moment for the artist. This is the transformative moment for the artist, the way in which he/she manipulates materials and concepts anew to find that a certain ideal is portrayed through the 'book's' medium. I see it as a performance because this is a moment, the moment of transformation consequential to the making of it, and therefore is ephemeral. This makes it a time based form of art. The book itself, or the art work for that matter, is the documentation of this moment. I have concluded this by making sense of the fact that as soon as I finish - or rather consider finished - a piece of work, I no longer feel attached to it at a conceptual level. I see the value it has given me, but don't feel the thrill anymore. This is because when you cross over a border, you are effectively in another country.
The SoB day was an extremely tactile day. An array of books, both made available by the present artists and through the collections. The talk by Sarah was what we would call a (positively heavily) illustrated talk, with an avalanche of slides and books to go along. She focused on artists' practices and how those can somehow be grouped in thematics, given the subject matter of the practice in question. There was a great deal of focus on describing the practice, experiences and intention of the artists, revealing a deep and cared inside knowledge on the part of the speaker. I guess that the Society of Bookbinders focuses in the excellence of the craft of book binding, being often associated with the fine binding style promoted by Sheperds Faulkiners (they often organize events together). From short conversations with the audience I gathered that the subversion of the book is a topic that is possibly only now starting to be more familiar to the SoB. A topic which perhaps hadn't been taken seriously by more traditional makers and which relevance and association with a form of Art of its own is now becoming more apparent. I say this, because as a new comer to the Book Art world, there were plenty of artists' works in Sarah's talk which I know a fair amount about. This is not to say that either Sarah was not updated, or that I am on top of my game. It is too say that the talk was well tailored for the audience. Another well-worth mentioning highlight was the focus on collaborative work in current practices. To illustrate this there was a table/collection which displayed books curated by Beau Beausoleil. This is a social art project which originated because of the destruction of a street of book dealers in Baghdad in 2007 and has now spanned over 26 countries in collaboration with each other. An art action worth praising for its content, motivation, amplitude, scale, conscious involvement with the cause and perseverance of the organizers/curators. There was also an installation work by Sonia Serrão, which I thought of extreme interest in the context of opening up people's preconceptions of what a book can be. It was a shame it wasn't on the wall (I am not sure if it's meant to be on the wall at all, but personally, I felt that I would be able to enjoy it in its full beauty) but I guess the installation of delicate and many pieces of glass over a huge scroll would take days to install if it were to be efficiently made.
From this event I learnt about artists' practices and a technique I hadn't heard about yet, pulp printing. A very useful amount of name dropping as well. The dynamic and communicative way in which the event unfolded also embodied the collaborative aspect that was conveyed in the talk. I was also able to observe how appropriately tailored this event was to their audience: designed with caution but made interesting to the touch, captivating this way not only their targeted audience but also other curiouses alike. Another managerial aspect of interest is that in essence the organizer is reaching out for loose ends to be tied together, bridging knowledges from different spectrums of the making, creating a wider community,
I truly hope to see these events happening next year, as they are of relevance to their audiences by promoting such a complete art form, that of the book. If they do, I'll be delighted to oblige and be present again, a recommendation to all interested in the dialogue that books always equip our intellects with.