The exhibition ‘Boundless Objects’, currently on at The Toffee Gallery, comprises artworks that are inspired by the book form, commonly referred to as ‘artists’ books’or ‘bookworks’. Stephen Bury defines the artist’s book as “a book or book-like object intended to be a work of art in itself, and over the appearance of which an artist has had a high degree of control.” He further notes that “artists, seeing this definition as yet another medium to explore, constantly challenge it, pushing the book format in unexpected directions.”
The participating artists explored the possibilities of the craft of bookmaking as an art medium. The basic techniques and materials of constructing a book are investigated, explored, questioned and replaced by alternatives. Making a book by hand typically includes folding paper, waxing thread, sewing, glueing, covering and the printing of images, text, and so forth. In this show these techniques are either explored or subverted to present some new possibilities of what the book form can become.
The book as object is a container of information, sharing stories, recording knowledge and preserving history. It is a container to externalise our inner thoughts or our day to day interactions, and in some cases a it is used to memorialise the visits of strangers or to document financial exchanges. As technology has progressed, many of these functions have been replaced by newer platforms such as the computer and smartphones. However, it is the tactile form, textures and even the smell of a book that creates a different experience when mediating the information contained therein. The experience of reading an old, well traveled book can not necessarily be recreated in the format of a digital pdf file or e-book.
This conception of the book can be explored even further as artists unpack the book structure and assess each aspect and its functions. For example, would a book still convey information if it did not have text printed on the pages? After all, it is said that an image is worth a thousand words, and it doesn’t require much imagination to see the book form itself as an image. We can then also wonder if the paper itself, rather than the printed content can communicate certain ideas or feelings.
Travelling down this conceptual avenue we can discover what would happen if we replace the paper with something else. Can the sewing pattern become more than just a hidden functional apparatus that keeps the pages together? What will happen if we remove the functionality of the book completely and reimagine its structure as whole? These are some of the questions that the works in this show pose to the viewer.
It is interesting to note that even though the point of departure was the book as material object, the outcomes vary tremendously in both form and medium. Some artists used the familiar book form but replaced it with alternative constituent materials such as perspex. Others in turn explored less familiar book formats, veering from the the book shape most popularly used that consists of pages sewn together through the central fold. Examples of this exploration of alternative formats are scrolls, concertina books and flag-books. Finally, some of the works on display are more reminiscent of typical wall-mounted artforms, such as painting and drawings, but employ materials typically used in book construction.
Being a technician, I attain tremendous enjoyment from being able to produce a book faithful to the age old traditions of bookbinding and to engineer a technically well functioning and recognisable book. Nevertheless, even though it is imperative to respect these traditions, we should never stagnate and should therefore allow ourselves to explore unique permutations – even if they fail in the technical sense. It is in these unpredictable experimental moments that we often find a sense of wonder to look at the world anew. It is this sense of curiosity that serves as the seed for this show.
Author: Heléne van Aswegen