Bookmarking Book Art – The British Library’s “Artists’ Books Now” series

Recent exhibition of art from Oliver Jeffers’ and Sam Winston’s A Child of Books. The British Library.

Richard Price and his team at The British Library just concluded their fifth event in this series of “show and tell” talks by book artists. Most of the events have staked a claim to some relationship with a British Library event or exhibition current at the time — World Book Night, Writing: Making your Mark, and Buddhism — but the title of this fifth event punningly encapsulates the real point of the entire series: “Contemplating: Artist’s Books Now”.

When picturing an artist’s book what do you imagine?  Intricate design, ornate bindings, blank space, fold outs and pop-up rinsed through with vibrancy of text and colour. Is it something more unearthly and harder to describe? An air of peace in the topsy-turvy hullabaloo of our modern world.  A pause of contemplation as a work speaks to you? Or, on the contrary, is it a space of immense energy, of ‘thought-provocation’, where contemplation is something you feel compelled to do to make sense of the sensations and ideas the book stimulates? Contemplating: Artists’ Books Now

Whether the organizing theme has been “here and now” “place”, “Latin America“, “writing” or “contemplation”, the evening inevitably turns to reflecting on the nature of book art, bookworks, the artist’s book, the book arts, bookness and even art itself. Even with 50-60 in the audience and four to six presentations, Price and team have arranged the agenda to allow for hands-on “viewing” of the works, conversations with the artists and question time that evolves into a room-wide conversation, not just Q&A.

So far, the team — consisting of book artists and researchers Egidija Čiricaitė and Sophie Loss and the librarians Jeremy Jenkins and Richard Price — has attracted a consistently eclectic, talented and insightful set of artists, collectors, curators, librarians, academics and moderators for each event. To name but a few: Danny Aldred, Lucy Bell, Tracey Bush, Nancy Campbell, Maria Fusco, John McDowall, Gill Partington, Caroline Penn, Clive Phillpot, Francisca Prieto, Chris Taylor, Michael Wellen, Maria White and Sam Winston.

One wishes for Artists’ Books Now once a month! Not to detract from the efforts and energy of the team, but how hard and wonderful would it be to coordinate a future series of Artists’ Books Now to coincide the weeks before or after Bristol’s Book Artists Event, Edinburgh’s Artists’ BookMarket, Liverpool’s Artists’ Book Fair, Leeds‘ International Contemporary Artists’ Book Fair, Norwich’s Turn the Page and Sheffield’s revived Artists’ Book Fair?

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