Books On Books Collection – Chris Ruston

Holuhraun (2015)

Holuhraun (2015)
Chris Ruston
Box: Exterior – Greyboard covered with Nepalese Lokta paper painted with Indian ink; Interior –  Greyboard covered with Washi paper with fibre inclusions and painted with Indian ink.
Closed: H215 x WW224 x 78 mm. Open: H110-210 x W484 x D625.
Acquired from the artist, 9 March 2017.
Photo: Books On Books

On 31 August 2014, the active Bárðarbunga volcano in Holuhraun, Iceland erupted. On 27 February 2015 — 181 days later — it ceased.

Chris Ruston’s artwork inspired by this event sits monolithically when closed, a flicker of orange-red barely visible through the jagged crack across its top. When the top and bottom of the box are removed, the color wells up more clearly through four sides of the upright fissure.

Free of its enclosures, Holuhraun “erupts”, the four flaps of black “basalt” falling away and displaying the full burst of “lava”. The flames come alive with any change of light or viewpoint.

The shallow tray of Lokta-covered greyboard contains 181 individual ”pages” documenting each day of the eruption. Each page consists of two torn pieces of Canson Black glued together and tipped with a “flame” of Japanese Ogura Lace paper made from Manila Hemp fibres and torn into various shapes. The Canson Black and Ogura Lace have been painted with Rohrer & Klingner Traditional Drawing Indian Inks. Here are the first and last days’ pages, followed by the work’s colophon.

The destructive and regenerative nature of geological phenomena is but one of several muses driving Ruston’s imagination as is evident from these other works in the collection.

The Great Gathering
Seven Books, Seven Moments in Time (2015)

The seven volumes of The Great Gathering (or “the ammonite books”) first appeared as an installation at the Natural History Museum in Colchester from March through May 2016. They then moved to “Turn the Page“ in Norwich, where attendees and visitors awarded the work First Prize in the show.

The Great Gathering, Seven Books, Seven Moments in Time (2015)
Chris Ruston
Detail of the display at the Natural History Museum, Colchester, Essex. A nicely ironic touch for this seven-fold artwork, the museum is housed in a de-consecrated church.
Photo credit: Chris Ruston
Acquired from the artist, 27 June 2016.

The Great Gathering, Seven Books, Seven Moments in Time (2015)
Chris Ruston
Awarded First Prize, on display at “Turn the Page”, Norwich, England, May 2016
Photo credit: Chris Ruston

The Great Gathering reaches beyond the event of one volcanic eruption and introduces human knowing of such events and the associated shadowiness of beginnings and change. Combining traditional techniques of the book arts, painting and sculpture with the biblioclastic techniques of book art, the artist charts our perceptions of the mysteries of cosmic origin (Volumes I and II), the sedimentary earth and the ocean (Volumes III and IV), natural history and human geography (Volumes V and VI) and our creative future (Volume VII).

In using the form of the ammonite fossil as a unifying thread, Ruston reflects the influence of her recurring visits to natural history museums, in particular the Natural History Museum in Colchester and the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences in Cambridge. The use of the ammonite form for the pre-fossil periods of Vol. I Dark Beginnings and Volume II The Age of Light & Shadow might seem odd, but it symbolically underscores the anthropocentric lens through which we naturally explore the origins of the universe and this world in it.

Vol. I Dark Beginnings
Box: Greyboard glued in several layers and covered in Buckram Bookbinding cloth.
W210 x L210 x D60 mm
Lining: Shoji Gami Kozo paper soaked in Sennelier Indian Ink.
Pages: Shoji Gami Kozo paper, soaked in Sennelier Indian Ink and then cut to size.
Binding: Black Gutterman Thread sewn over tapes.

Fittingly, the first and smallest box contains the only untorn set of pages. All black, the first volume stands against the last volume’s all-white blank pages.

Vol. II The Age of Light & Shadow
Box: Box: Greyboard glued in several layers and covered in Buckram Bookbinding cloth.
W420 x L410 x D95 mm
Lining: Unryu laid over Shoji Gami Kozo paper, painted with various Rohrers Inks.
Pages: Torn book pages.
Binding: Red Gutterman Thread pamphlet-sewn and sewn over a single tape.

The book from which Volume II’s pages are made is Hubble: Window on the Universe by Giles Sparrow (Quercus Publishing, 2010). The painstaking effort with which the pages have been shaped across the length of the volume and then sewn together leaps out from the finished work and the following work-in-progress photo.

Work in progress: Vol. II The Age of Light and Shadow
Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

Vol. III The Age of Ocean
Box: Greyboard glued in several layers and covered in Buckram Bookbinding cloth.
W350 x L360 x H90 mm
Lining: Shoji Gami Kozo paper painted with Rohrers Inks.
Pages: Fabriano Artistico Watercolour Paper painted with Rohrers Inks.
Binding: White Gutterman thread pamphlet-sewn and sewn over two white tapes.

The colours and patterns of all the lining papers and of the pages in Volumes III and IV are so remarkable they are best explained by the artist: “The marks are created by laying the paper on a plastic sheet over a variety of other textured papers. A wash of water is applied carefully with a large soft brush followed by a wash of various Rohrers inks. Once the paper has throughly dried the pages are ‘peeled off’ the plastic. It is similar to a monoprint technique but using watercolour process rather than traditional printing inks.”

Vol. IV The Age of Innocence
Box: Greyboard glued in several layers and covered in Buckram Bookbinding cloth.
W370 x L480 x D105 mm
Lining: Shoji Gami Kozo paper painted with Rohrers Inks.
Pages: Fine Rice paper painted with Rohrers inks.
Binding: Yellow Gutterman thread pamphlet-stitch and sewn over two brown tapes.

Although the painting technique applied to Volumes III and IV is the same, the visual and tactile effects are as different as sheets of ice on the one hand and sheets of sediment and mineral on the other.

Vol. V The Age of Transition
Box: Greyboard glued in several layers and covered in Buckram Bookbinding cloth.
W380 x L360 cm x D85 mm
Lining: Unryu paper laid over Shoji Gami Kozo paper with Rohrers Ink
Pages: Windsor and Newton Smooth Cartridge Paper 220 gsm and torn book pages.
Binding: White Gutterman Thread pamphlet-stitch and sewn over a single beige tape.

Volume V blends pieces of blank white paper with shaped pages torn from a copy of On the Origin of Species.Volume VI draws on pages from National Geographic magazines. While the titles and “contents” of the two volumes suggest a forward, evolutionary movement in human knowledge, the juxtaposition of the sewn binding, carefully torn pages and 30,000-year-old red ochre hand prints and stencils from the Chauvet caves in France evokes a different view of human creativity across time. It is a variant of the suite‘s “ammonite” paradox of the entanglement of constancy and change.

Vol. VI The Age of Knowledge
Box: Greyboard glued in several layers and covered in Buckram Bookbinding cloth.
W280 x L290 x 100 mm
Lining: Shoji Gami Kozo paper painted with Rohrers Inks.
Pages: Torn magazine pages.
Binding: Yellow Gutterman thread pamphlet-stitch sewn over a single brown tape.

Photos: Books On Books and Courtesy of artist, respectively

Vol. VII The Time is Now
Box: Greyboard glued in several layers and covered in Buckram Bookbinding cloth.
W330 x 330 x D75 mm
Lining: Nepalese Decorative paper made with Lokta fibres – Little Dot – Pale Grey.
Assemblage of pages of Blank Windsor and Newton Smooth Cartridge Paper 220 gsm pamphlet-stitch sewn with white Gutterman Thread over a single grey tape, among cut photos of objects and Contents page from Planet earth – the future: what the experts say by Fergus Beeley, Mary Colwell and Joanne Stevens (BBC Books, 2006) pasted to a mirror.

The seventh and concluding volume offers a sort of boxed performative installation platformed on a mirror that implicates any viewer who leans over to take a closer look. A reminder that, whether from a scientific perspective or that of modern aesthetic theory, observation affects and effects results. And a closer look at the table of contents pasted to the mirror offers another reminder: that all of us in the present anthropocene era are implicated in the planet’s future.

In progress
Photo: Courtesy of the artist

Lost Voices Artist Books
The Captain’s “Ditty Box” (2017)

The Great Gathering has an optimistic innocence to it. It moves from The Age of Transition to The Age of Knowledge. By openly alluding to the diligence in the series‘ creation, Volume VII suggests an art- and science-based path to the future. Even the last chapter of the pasted-down Contents page is “Optimism and Hope”. But Ruston’s more recent works leaven that with a lament for what has been and is still being lost.

Lost Voices Artist Books
The Captain’s “Ditty Box” (2017)
Chris Ruston
Repurposed wooden box: H150 x W325 x D40 mm, containing two unique palimpsest journals and various objects. The text in both journals — The Captain’s Log Book and his Wife’s Journal — is hand printed with rubber stamps or hand written. The images are drawn, hand printed with rubber stamps or painted. The papers consist of Gampi, Kozo, Fabriano and Resurgence Magazine pages; the latter are coated in gesso to submerge the text. The fold-out page in the Wife’s Journal is a photo of whale’s baleen (taken in the Natural History Museum, London) backed with a darker inked sheet. The bindings for the log book and journal are limp leather. Sources of text: Moby-Dick, or The Whale by Herman Melville (Harper and Bros, 1851); One Whaling Family by Harold Williams, ed. (Houghton Mifflin Co, 1964); Whale Nation by Heathcote Williams (Jonathan Cape, 1988); The Hull Whaling Trade: An Arctic Enterprise by Arthur G. Credland (The Hutton Press Ltd, 1995); Heroines and Harlots, Women at Sea in the Age of Sail by David Cordingly (Random House, 2001); and
Resurgence Magazine. Acquired from the artist, 1 December 2019.

Here is a work of art that invites the very acts required by a keepsake box: unpacking, manipulation, rearrangement, regarding and repacking. Only by responding to the invitation do discoveries within discoveries come. On one level is the discovery (or recovery) of the lost voices of a whaling captain, his wife and child, his crew and the creatures they hunt. On another level are voices from other times that underlay and overlay the mid-nineteenth century voices in a time-twisting palimpsest that leaves the reader/viewer in a limbo of pasts, presents and futures. On yet another level are the found objects (pens, a clay pipe) from the past that rest alongside objects clearly made by the artist in the present (the sperm whale cutout and coloured lining papers).

The white cutout of a sperm whale and the inscription from Moby-Dick on its reverse reflects one of several inspirations for this assemblage. Others came from the artist’s wide reading (noted in the opening caption above), trips to Hull and visits to museums as with The Great Gathering, but perhaps most important is the one that came from the creative process:

I love the process of building a history onto the page – things can be ‘hidden’ leaving just a trace, or revealed in part fragments. During this period of whaling it wasn’t unusual that journals and ledgers were reused due to the cost of paper. This was the inspiration and starting point in making these journals. Correspondence with Books On Books,

The Captain’s Log Book

In every respect except the captain’s and his wife’s own words, the log and journal are artifice. Not even all the words belong to them. By letting the words from elsewhere and other times bleed through or overlay their words, by painting and ink stamping over the words, Ruston is stealing the phenomenon of palimpsest from the realm of artefact for that of artistic technique.

Pages overdrawn or ink-stamped, watercolor printing, use of mixed papers, manipulation of spread layouts and fold outs, hand stitching — so many of the techniques of book art and the book arts are brought to bear in the log and journal that they echo the assemblage that The Captain’s Ditty Box is.

The Wife’s  Journal

The inclusion of The Wife’s Journal underlines the artist’s embrace of the surprising fact that women and their children did ship on the whalers. Physically, the Journal is as “muscular” as the Log. The use of gesso to ‘knock back’ the text on the printed sheets changes their texture and makes them feel stiffer and heavier. Turning the stiffened pages and the pages made of translucent Gampi and Kozo gives a tactile imitation of the visual palimpsest.

With its reference to the baby, the Journal has its tendernesses. But even with these and her moment of fastidiousness about entering the mouth of a beached whale, the captain’s wife has the air of a natural historian and seafaring field biologist.

Through its keepsake-box metaphor, The Captain’s Ditty Box is an immersion in time. Through the artist’s choice of assemblage and palimpsest as technique, it is an immersion in natural and human consequences.

Lost Voices Artist Books
Just One Bone… (2017)


Lost Voices Artist Books
Just One Bone… (2017)
Chris Ruston
Fabriano Artistico Watercolour Paper.
Double gate fold, with a fold out central page. Sewn together with pamphlet stitch. Board cover consisting of collaged vintage sea chart, and hand painted paper. Painted paper envelope wraps around the book.
Text: Moby -Dick ,’The Whale’ by Herman Melville (Harper and Brothers, 1851) and The PowerBook by Jeanette Winterson (Jonathan Cape, 2000).
H340 x W215 x D150 mm. Acquired from the artist, 1 December 2019.

Just One Bone is a different kind of assemblage, yet with similarities and ultimately the same aim. The multiple folders or enclosures reprise those of the “ditty box”, and as with the log book’s and journal’s palimpsest pages, there are layers on layers here.

The double gate-fold silhouette of a whale’s vertebrae below echoes the multi-page white outline in The Captain’s Log above.

Just One Bone may begin with the same handwritten quotation from Melville that appears on the cutout in The Captain’s “Ditty Box”, but it concludes with lines from Jeannette Winterson clearly articulating the aim underlying both works.

Whaling Logbook (2017)

Whaling Logbook (2017)
Chris Ruston
Soft cover, Pamphlet Stitched pages
Various papers including Ingres paper and Translucent paper. Hand carved stamps and text printed using rubber stamps. Inks.
H190 x W110 mm. Acquired from the artist, 1 December 2019.

Compared to Lost Voices, The Whaling Log Book and Moby Dick (below) are small. They may be works preparatory to, or left over from, The Captain’s Ditty Box and Just One Bone. Although less wide-ranging, they each deliver.

The Whaling Log Book celebrates those handstamps used on whaling ships to document sightings and, at the same time, strikes dual notes of lament and loneliness.

Moby Dick (2017)

Moby Dick (2017)
Chris Ruston
Soft cover, concertina fold sea chart on Fabriano Artistic Watercolour paper. Inks.
Images from hand carved whale stamps, Text from rubber stamps.
Quotation from Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (Harper and Brothers, 1851).
H185 x W235 mm. Acquired from the artist, 1 December 2019.

Although the handstamps make an appearance in Moby Dick, the main celebration here is how the printing gives the viewer’s eye and imagination freedom to fare and find as they will. In the upper left, a whale’s eye seems to emerge from the pattern. In the upper center, a diving right whale. In the upper right, ocean depths in the underlying chart. Across the lower row’s fold outs, ice floes break up on the sea’s surface.

Further Reading

Chris Ruston”, Books On Books, 10 June 2017.

On the Origin of Species”, Books on Books, 12 February 2017.

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