Bookmarking Book Art – Helen Douglas

Helen Douglas, In Mexico: in the garden of Edward James, 2014 (reviewed in Der Tagesspeigel)

Helen Douglas has been kind enough to forward the notice above of her most recent work – In Mexico: in the garden of Edward James Based on her invited residency in Mexico City, this concertina book takes the viewer through Edward James’ jungle garden Las Pozas, its buildings and staircases, James’s surreal imagination and, best of all, Douglas’s own imaginative experience of them. See the interview at BookArtBookBlog that preceded the work’s unveiling at the London Art Book Fair at the Whitechapel Gallery and Berlin Art Book Fair.

When I go to Weproductions, the website of founding partners, Telfer Stokes and Helen Douglas, it is like taking a walk in Yarrow, Scotland, or taking the measure of paper samples between forefinger and thumb, or browsing in a bookstore, or lingering in an art gallery. Two of Helen Douglas’s works in particular elicit this: The Pond at Deuchar (2013) and A Venetian Brocade (2010) .

Helen Douglas, The Pond at Deuchar, 2013 © Helen Douglas. Artist’s acknowledgment to Armadillo Systems (www.armadillosystems.com)

Was it London Book Fair where I first saw this bookwork, appwork, scrollwork … this work of art?  What you see above leads you to the app. Clive Philpott’s postscript to this work, featured on Weproductions and published by the Tate, offers all the background and appreciation of the work you need to read. Read it, then go to The Pond at Deuchar*, lean forward and trail your fingers through its waters.

A Venetian Brocade equally makes the act of looking tactile and the act of touching insightful. The work reminds me of this passage from Joseph Brodsky’s Watermark (New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1992):

… bipeds go ape about shopping and dressing-up in Venice for reasons not exactly practical; they do so because the city, as it were, challenges them. We all harbor all sorts of misgivings about the flaws in our appearance, anatomy, about the imperfection of our very features. What one sees in this city at every steep, turn, perspective, and dead end worsens one’s complexes and insecurities. That’s why one—a woman especially, but a man also—hits the stores as soon as one arrives here, and with a vengeance. The surrounding beauty is such that one instantly conceives of an incoherent animal desire to match it, to be on par. This has nothing to do with vanity or with the natural surplus of mirrors here, the main one being the very water. It is simply that the city offers bipeds a notion of visual superiority absent in their natural lairs, in their habitual surroundings. That’s why furs fly here, as do suede, silk, linen, wool, and every other kind of fabric.

Helen Douglas and Marina Warner, A Venetian Brocade, Weproductions, 2010
Helen Douglas and Marina Warner, A Venetian Brocade, Weproductions, 2010

If you are lucky enough to buy one of the few remaining copies of A Venetian Brocade, you will see and feel how it leads to In Mexico: in the garden of Edward James. Appreciation of that double-sided leporello work’s extension of the Douglas’s concept of Visual Narrative and its kinship with James’s surrealism can only be enhanced by viewing The Secret Life of Edward JamesGeorge Melly’s documentary film from 1975.

But having indulged the surreal elements, think back to the pond at Deuchar, think back to the Tate’s association with Douglas’s work, then consider this work also held at the Tate:

Joseph Mallard William Turner, “Deuchar Old Bridge, near Yarrow, Selkirkshire”, 1834, in The Edinburgh Sketchbook 1831-34, graphite on paper, 111×181 mm. Reference: D26161
Turner Bequest CCLXVIII 34 a

Here is a narrative of art across time and place to touch by looking and, by looking, to be touched by.

An update (30 April 2017) covering Douglas’s Winter: Celestial Mountain (2015) can be found here.

*Deuchar is pronounced “dew-ker”, the “k” as in “loch”.

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