Vandstand (2019) Bodil Rosenberg Twelve sheets of newsprint overpainted on both sides multiple times with acrylic. Four-hole stab binding with waxed black cord. H200 x W425 mm. Acquired from the artist, 6 July 2019.
On several fronts, Vandstand contributes richly to this collection: its inspiration from climate change, its visual narrative, its technique leading to its unusual tactile quality and its binding and format.
Denmark claims the lowest point below sea level in the European Union: Lammefjord, which is nearly 7 meters below sea level. Not surprisingly, Rosenberg notes that the key words associated with her inspiration for Vandstand were “global warming”, “floods”, “harbour” as well as “Venice”, “Copenhagen” and “Bristol”, places she has visited and in which she has exhibited. So with those thoughts in mind, she applied layer after layer of acrylic paint to both sides of sheets of newsprint torn carefully into rectangles of 200 x 425 millimetres.
“What I wanted to accomplish I was not sure, but I knew I would recognize it when I achieved it, so I painted the sea darker, lighter, warmer or colder — I moved the horizon line a bit up or down until I was satisfied” (Correspondence with Books On Books, 5 December 2019).
The word “vandstand” means “water level”.
As the water level rises, falls, and rises, the turning pages are cold to the touch and rough at the edges and on their surfaces.
They flex like thick sheets of rubber, leather or whale skin. They drape over the hand turning them. If left open, the book’s pages take on the curved shape in which they rest, and when closed, they hold the shape, relaxing slowly back to flatness.
The effect is that of swells in a harbour.
At first glance, the book’s only text looks stencilled, but on closer inspection, it looks handwritten. It appears only on the two strips of painted binding board, which on front and back give the impression of barrier walls against the sea. Poring over Vandstand again and again, I’m reminded of a poem from another northern latitude:
“Neither Out Far Nor In Deep”
The people along the sand All turn and look one way. They turn their back on the land. They look at the sea all day.
As long as it takes to pass A ship keeps raising its hull; The wetter ground like glass Reflects a standing gull
The land may vary more; But wherever the truth may be, The water comes ashore, And the people look at the sea.
They cannot look out far. They cannot look in deep. Btu when was that ever a bar To any watch they keep?
A day’s visit with one hundred exhibitors hosted at the Arnolfini in Bristol leaves me reeling like a drunken sailor — drunk on colour, texture, light, line, shapes, words and artistry. Appropriate given the Arnolfini’s location on Narrow Quay in Bristol’s floating harbour.
Lucy May Schofield talked to me about her “search for the indigo that is infinity”. The Distance of Us is only one of several pieces demonstrating how close she is coming. The Longest Day on her site is one among many by which to enjoy her progress.
Mick Welbourn took time to explain how his search among inks, paper and geometric shapes kept leading him from a unique work (oil-based) to multiples and back to uniques. These colours reminded me of the work of Sonia Delaunay.
Bodil Rosenberg, a member of the Danish collective CNG (Anna Lindgren, Bertine Knudsen, Birgit Dalum, Pia Fonnesbech, Susanne Helweg), appeared delighted that I was surprised by the colour and texture of Vandstand (“water level”). Somehow after the saturation of the paper with layer upon layer of paint, each page has a supple leather- or cloth-like feel — a coolness to the touch. I think Ken Campbell would relish Vandstand.
Caroline Penn’s works comprised by Notes from Chesil Beach made me reach out to pick up one of the pebbles on the page. The trompe l’oeil effect of turnable pages in the photos is enhanced in one variation by inclusion of an actual small gathering of pages. The role of trompe l’oeil in book art is one worth investigating.
Eileen White’s Haptic Narratives and her lumen prints for Printed Matter made a nice segue from texture to ghostly light. Printed Matter also looks forward to the “artistry” section here as book’s images are un-fixed and eventually fade away. To use the book form — the traditional form of permanent record — to present a language and reminder of material ephemerality: that is artistry.
Helen Douglas (Weproductions), fresh from exhibitions at Printed Matter in New York and Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh, was displaying her 2017/2018 series Field Works as well as a new book Summer Alight. The photographic effects, the visual narrative and structure achieved in Douglas’s works define artistry.
Elena Zeppou’s Parallels first caught my eye because of its size, but closer inspection yielded appreciation of line — vertical as well as horizontal — and its union with text and form. Note how the lines of poetry read across the accordion.
Listening to Mandy Brannan talk about custom papers, French fold books and modified flag books is almost as good as handling them. The work30 St Marys Axe (inspired by the building fondly known as the “Gherkin”) was what first drew me to her table. It has two variations — Diagrid and Cladding — which reward repeated handling as well as regarding.
At the ArtistBooksOnline table, the shape-changer Inside/Outside by Susie Wilson kept me as busy as if it were a Rubik’s cube or paper puzzle with a medical mystery inside — or outside.
Puns, slippery words and slipperier concepts seemed to explode from Guy Bigland‘s table.
My inner metaphysician of Structuralism, Post-Structuralism, Deconstruction and Post-Deconstruction found its element(s) at the Atlas Press.
AM Bruno, run by Sophie Loss, and of which John McDowall is a founding member, is always a rich vein of artistry. The works from the 2018 theme-driven project, Cover, appear in the box below but warrant a closer inspection at the link behind the word. John McDowall had a new book on hand: Time-lapses. As I turned the brilliantly white pages, each segmented into squares like a comic-book page but only one square in each page holding an old black-and-white photo, the title began to sink home. And then came the idea that all the meaning that could possibly explain any one photo, its relation to the other squares or to other photos or to the author or to the reader/viewer — all of it — has to take place in the empty spaces between.
Janet Allsebrook displayed a Duchampian box with the Delaunay-esque title Nichoir. Although the drift of this work (“waste time making your own useless nest box”) is echoed in her other works, the echo reverberates with a deeper tone — often political or philosophical. The variety of book forms is impressive.
Next door was the artist of Zen book art — Julie Johnstone – Essence Press. In addition to extensions of her percentage tint series, she had on hand several explorations of breath, print and paper: each breath, a page; quietly breathing; five breaths; and ten breaths. Wherever they are, her books make a Zen garden.
Sarah Bodman and Arnolfini brought together a rich collection of talent and should be thanked for doing so and encouraged to repeat it in 2021. And to the artists mentioned — and those not — who took the time to share their thoughts on colour, texture, light, line, shapes, words and artistry: Encore!