First of all the materiality of books feels substantial and we felt that it would give weight to these stories which are sometimes treated as insubstantial by making them exist as “proper books”. The materiality of a book is a powerful thing to work with and can be further nuanced by using inks scissors collage, et cetera. Secondly we feel that the marks people make are powerful emblems of their existence. Third, working on paper people can have a chance to be their own editors, which is empowering. Fourth, many people are nervous of being recorded using a machine but happy to talk to someone using a piece of paper and a biro. It’s less threatening.
One of the case studies for my thesis is The Homeless Library (2014 – 2016) run by arts organization Arthur & Martha (artists Philip Davenport and Lois Blackburn). It involves the collaborative production of book art with homeless participants across different centres within Manchester. The aim of the project is to create a first-person history of the homeless, to challenge the stigmatized term ‘homeless’ and provide one of the first material histories of individuals diverse and engaging stories. The project culminated in 50 books now touring in a mobile library, launched at the Houses of Parliament in July this year and recently shown at the SouthBank Centre.
As part of my research, Philip and Lois allowed me to attend one of the workshops at the Booth Centre in Manchester. This form of research is different to methodologies I am employing for my other case studies, which often utilize email correspondence, secondary documentation and engagement with the books created. This was a first-hand opportunity to see the collaborative production of books in action, and demanded a negotiation and understanding of my position as observer, participant and assistant within this project.
Out of the session I wrote a report of my experience, of which sections were published in the ebook to the Homeless Library along with email correspondence with the organisers. The ebook can be downloaded for free (click here) and contains many of the participants experiences of homelessness, which for too long have been left unrecorded.