Monday, 3 November 2014

inside - outside .... a case for the book

A really apt, and rather clever, name for this ABC Conference which Fiona and I attended in Auckland.  The six days since we arrived home seem more like weeks which is a strange thing as I have been feeling of late, that time is vanishing way too quickly.  Already November is here .... where has the year gone.

One of the reasons I think this brief amount of time since our return from the conference seems much longer, is that my head has been churning over all that I learnt, saw, admired, coveted, struggled with, was uplifted by, was challenged by and so on.  I am not sure that I gave the conference programme all that much thought before flying over with Fiona who was presenting on our collaborative work (with me gladly clinging to her shirttails) and as such was not aware of all that was going on at this conference and what a great amount of talent, and scope of talent, goes into the making of 'an artist's book'.  Being an artist who uses the concept of the book as a vehicle for her art and telling intimate stories, I had not pondered over the crafts and arts which come together, often collaboratively, to create books which are works of art, not mass produced.

I had very little comprehension of what letterpress was and its impact in this field, nor about the complexities of the traditional bookbinder and the absolutely gorgeous work that is possible in this arena. And yes, I knew of conservation and the preservation of books but had not met individuals who worked this way. So, yes, I headed off to New Zealand and the Book conference having done little to no research and what a feast was in store.

Fiona in her posting on Wednesday gave good coverage of some of the keynote speakers and other talented men and women who spoke so I am not going to repeat all she has written so eloquently already.  Suffice to say we had very much the same reaction to the work of both Julie Chen and Dominic Riley, the talk on 'textual activities in the artist's book' by Caren Florance which left us in awe of her talent and her energy, Monica Oppen who had us engaged with some of the books in her collection, Michael Burke speaking to us on the binding of the Nag Hammadi Codex and delighting us with the colourful story of its discovery and its close shave with burning after surviving for so long hidden away. So many more wonderful lectures. One of my favourites would have had to be Fiona Dempster and her very fine presentation on Exploring Collaboration.  I can't imagine why!

I am going to just share a few of the notes I made, and there were many, which upon reflection really stood out for me.  Then a short wander through some of the photographs I took during the conference.

Domonic referenced 'The Finkler Question' which I have not yet read, and said "if you want to learn a craft, to into the studio of a man who makes his living by it".

"When technology becomes obsolete for industry, it becomes available for art." This was said in reference to the letterpress but I think can be applied more broadly.

Julie Chen really had my imagination reeling when she said (and I am not sure if she was quoting or being original) "a book can contain things that no longer exist or never existed" and went on to say that 'a book is something which starts as an idea and end with a reader'.  I must keep this more firmly in my mind as I make.  Something else Julie said was that a book was first and foremost an object.  I will need to give that some more thought too.

Not sure where it came in to a lecture or discussion though I think it was Monica Oppen who raised the question whether when text disappears so does the book.  There was a resounding NO to that. And as an artist who rarely uses text, certainly not in a decipherable manner, I was glad to realise that it does not require text to make a book.  Personally though, I do like the artwork to still tell a story .... though a series of gorgeous photographs, unrelated, also bind together to form a beautiful book. 

Erika Mordek informed us that libraries are full of book that never get to the binder.  I had never given that any thought at all, and when I have seen row upon row of white, or greying, paper/vellum bound books in old libraries, I just presumed that was their binding!  Nope.  Just protection until, if ever, they are bound.  So many things I had just never thought about, all of which intrigued and fascinated me.

Towards the end, and I think probably in the discussion of the future of the book, Julie spoke about the increase in those using letterpress and said something along the lines of 'we may not be profitable, but we are valuable' and went on to say to all of us there, that we need to gardians of this format - the printed book.

And there was so much more ......... enough now though.

This alphabet delighted me

And this binding enthralled me.

This technique reminded me .....

And this collection of the samples of binding called Gioia were designed by Elizabeth  Steiner whose studio we visited the day after the conference.  I now own a set just like this which I purchased from Elizabeth and as soon as time allows, will try to unravel the techniques and see how I may use it in my own work.

lovely wrought iron.

Fiona, waiting to start her Presentation.  How proud was I!

My camera fought against the darkness and the bright screen.  I did not want to use flash.

A few images of the Nag Hamadi Codex binding and after this I decided to not take any more photographs in the lecture theatre.  Besides which, I was too engrossed.

At MOTAT where we went to visit a press and a bindery, I was delighted to see a North Bondi tram.
Seemed such an odd thing to see in Auckland.

Interesting books bindings.
Wish I had a collection of these at home.

This is a digital reconstruction of the binding of the most expensive book ever produced which went down with the Titanic.  The imagery was based on black and white photographs and descriptions which survived the book.
It would be well worth while googling this and reading about the story of this book.

Old hat to many of you, but I was smitten with the look of letterpress type.

And then at spiral bath book studio (think I love the name in particular because it uses all lower case!)
I saw books that were able to 'fixed'

and hand written document which could be preserved and then rebound

and saw a huge guillotine and loved this small detail
and realised that there were people with such talent in binding and decorating.
What an art.
Then in Elizabeth Steiner's studio a lovely familiarity of things seen in many artists' bookmaking studios.

And then books which were unique to the artist.  I like these two in particular.
Some of the pages in photos below.

On the shelves, numbers of familiar books and then this, which I had not seen.

And then waking on Wednesday morning back at home to all this smoke from fires burning nearby ....

Crows have built a nest right at the top of a Hoop Pine.
Barely seen here because of the smoke.
More clearly here with less smoke.

The tree in the centre, right in the top fork of the tree, is where they have built their nest.  high up for them, but from our home, we look straight across at it.  Am looking forward to the babies arriving.


  1. Thanks so much for sharing all the wonderful words and imagery from the NZ conference, Susan. Very satisfying to live vicariously through your experiences. It all sounds absolutely fascinating! As for your crows, keep an eye out - you never know - you may just find them raising a cuckoo baby instead of a crow baby :) We have a pair of crows who have raised a cuckoo baby for the last three years - poor things. Feel so sorry for them when the real parents fly back over and take the baby with them - I imagine they must inwardly heave a sigh of relief though as the cuckoos are much bigger than they are and extremely demanding.

    1. thanks Robyn. I will definitely watch out for a cuckoo ..... I know that the other crows in the pos have been vigilant about chasing other birds away and keeping their territory safe. Who knows though. I am very excited about the babies coming along .... hope they hatch in the next week as I am then away for two, back for two days and then gone another two and a half weeks. I imagine though that they will still be in the nest when I am back from the UK mid December.

  2. Loved reading about the conference. So many things to think about.

    1. Thank you for visiting my blog. Yes, a conference leaves one with so many things to think about and work out just where in the scheme of things, you fit in. Weighty stuff!

  3. thank you for sharing the wonderment of the conference & the crows nesting in your garden, look forward to photos of the babies !

    1. Thanks Mo. Funnily, I often think of you when I am watching the crows .... I have so enjoyed your illustrations of them. Can't wait for the babies either! Fiona mentioned that you had made a Nag Hammadi style book with Michael??? or am I dreaming that. Lucky lady. I now have the diagram of the book structure so will no doubt have a god myself at some stage too. Good fun. x

  4. Hi SB - I know from Fiona's debrief the NZ trip was great for the collaboration and networking. Love the crows - what a privilege to see this in action. Go well. B


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