Books On Books Collection – Caroline Penn

Standen (2014)

Standen (2014)
Caroline Penn
Altered book, overprinted digitally, cut with a scalpel and rebound with thread. H210 x W140. Acquired from the artist, 9 June 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

The William Morris wallpapers in Standen House, an Arts & Crafts home in Sussex, and the memory of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s story “The Yellow Wallpaper” inspired the creation of this altered book. The work altered is a 1979 National Trust publication on Standen House. In Gilman’s story, the main character, who has a mental breakdown from being forced into domestic seclusion, gradually claws away the yellow wallpaper in the room where she is locked away. In correspondence, Penn writes that she unbound the original booklet, ran the pages through a digital printer, performed the cutting and then rebound it. In a clever reversal, by the end, the wallpaper print and its excision have taken over the walls of the book of Standen House.

Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

By coincidence, American book artist Harriet Bart co-curated an intriguing exhibition called “Wallpaper“. Bart’s entry, too, was inspired by the Gilman story.

fieldwork (2017)

fieldwork (2017)
Caroline Penn
Digitally printed concertina.
Cover: H126 x W90 mm; pages, H125 x W88 mm.
Edition of 20, of which this is #8.
Acquired from the artist, 6 February 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

A book within a book, fieldwork offers an entrancing visual narrative. A small white book unfolds from nothing to small pebbles, larger pebbles, more pebbles to fewer, and finally to one pebble in the center. Is it the reverse of the process of erosion? Is it categorization by the human eye and hand striving with nature’s agglomeration?

The artist has embedded the visual narrative here in an innovation on the framing device to be found in Helen Douglas’s Wild Wood and A Venetian Brocade. As with the latter works, fieldwork encourages us to touch with our eyes. It is a stunning piece of trompe l’oeil. On glimpsing any double-page spread, the reader/viewer is tempted to pick up one of the pebbles apparently resting on that white piece of paper open on a photo of a shingle beach. Visitors to Kettle’s Yard will recognise the temptation.

Project C: Destination Unknown (2020)

Organised by Pauline Lamont-Fisher, Project C is the result of a collaborative effort among 14 artists:

This project is about intersemiotic translation between images to words and from words to images and the paths that form between them. Roman Jakobson in Linguistic Aspects of Translation suggests the idea of intersemiotic translation as the translation from one sign system to another: i.e. interpretation of verbal signs by means of signs of non-verbal sign systems. So every novel adaptation into film, constitutes a translation. The illustrations in a book act as translations of text into images. Every time you watch Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, you watch an intersemiotic translation from narrated story into ballet.

The artists were given a set of anonymised covers of Italy Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler and asked to choose one and, keeping in mind Jakobson’s notions of intersemiotic translation, produce a folio or pamphlet in response. Caroline Penn’s contribution uses text, typography, structure, choice of paper, density of ink and a pattern of hole punches to translate or evoke not only the image below but the substance of Calvino’s novella — or at least a key element of the substance susceptible to translation to an artist’s book of translucent Bible paper and pergamenata.

Project C: Destination Unknown (2019)
Caroline Penn
Digitally printed on Offenbach bible paper stitched to pergamenata. Concertina, H186 x W130 mm. Edition of 30. Acquired from whnicPRESS, 7 March 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

The contrasting whites of the Bible paper and the translucent paper that comes uncannily close to animal parchment mirror the different colors of snow in the cover.

The dispersed positioning of the letters of the word “vapour” mimic the falling snow. The series of darker inked phrases set below, separated from each other by hyphens and staggered downwards across the panels echoes the rail track and cars in the cover.

The body of light gray likewise sloping down from left to right recalls the declining mountain gap crossed by those train tracks.

Across the foot of the page, the holes punched in a lowercase letter “o” and separated by two unpunched uppercase “O’s” also evoke the rail tracks and cars. In a nod to the Oulipo pattern-driven nature of Calvino’s work, the noughts of the “O’s” are answered in the crosses of the “X’s” supporting the text that crawls across the panels, finally turns the corner of the last panel and fades into the gray word “invisibility” on the reverse of the last panel.

A tour de force of book art — making text, image, ink, papers, layout, structure and impression work, mean and become a thing independent of the inspiring constraint.

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?

Bookmarking Book Art – Bristol Artist’s Book Event, 2019

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.

Colour

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.

The Distance of Us
Lucy May Schofield
Photo: Books On Books

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.

Mick Welbourn
Photo: Books On Books

Texture

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.

Vandstand
Bodil Rosenberg
Photo: Books On Books
Vandstand
Bodil Rosenberg
Photo: Books On Books

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.

Notes from Chesil Beach
Caroline Penn
Photo: Books On Books

Light

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.

Eileen White
Photo: Books On Books

Haptic Narratives
Eileen White
Photo: Eileen White
Printed Matter
Eileen White
Photo: Eileen White

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.

Meadow
Helen Douglas
Photo: Weproductions

Line

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.

Parallels
Elena Zeppou
Photo: Books On Books
Parallels
Elena Zeppou
Photo: Zitrone Printmaking
Parallels
Elena Zeppou
Photo: Zitrone Printmaking

Shapes

Listening to Mandy Brannan talk about custom papers, French fold books and modified flag books is almost as good as handling them. The work 30 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.

Silk tie fibre pulp
Photo: Mandy Brannan
30 St Marys Axe: Diagrid
Mandy Brannan
Photo: Books On Books

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.

Inside/Outside
Susie Wilson
Photo: Books On Books
Inside/Outside
Susie Wilson
Photo: Books On Books

Words

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.

Uniformbooks offered a new selection of essays by Colin Sackett, who cheerfully discussed with me Michael Hampton’s eclectic and insightful abecedarian Unshelfmarked: Reconceiving the artists’ book.

Artistry

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.

Nichoir
Janet Allsebrook
Photo: Books On Books

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!