Turn the Page Symposium

Next week I get to take a trip to Norwich, to attend the first ever Turn the Page Artists’ Book Symposium. It will also be the first time I have shared my case study research outside of institutional walls.  The opportunity comes during my third year, with the ‘big write up’ biting at my heels.

My talk will be part of the following panel:

11.20am-1pm – Panel One Collaborative Spaces

Siobhan Britton – The Artist/Librarian and Artists’ Books

Angie Butler – Book Arts Party: collaboration in book arts practice

Noriko Suzuki-Bosco – The Library of Re-Claimed Books

Gemma Meek – Socially Engaged Book Art: Collaborative Production in the Workshop

​This promises to be an exciting venture, and I am keen to hear the various perspectives on collaborative processes. I have also just started a placement at the British Library around their poetry pamphlet collection, with both Britton’s and Suzuki-Bosco’s work presenting some interesting comments on the contemporary situation of library collections. The fair is also host to some wonderful stalls, and I hope to catch Test Centre to hear about their latest poetry publications!

Its set to be an exciting couple of days, and I believe there are still tickets available…




Some Thoughts on Bookmarks 2017, Edinburgh

Bookmarks is fairly new to the book art scene. Running for its third year in 2017, it is a showcase not only of artist books and zines made across Scotland, but focuses on how artists books are ‘used, promoted and created in educational settings’. So it particularly peaked my interest!

Many of my thesis case studies involve the sharing of bookmaking skills, with artists normally running workshop style sessions to teach participants how to create different book forms. The ‘use’ of the book form, or its content, is often dependent on the project’s exploration. For example, in The Homeless Libraryartists Philip Davenport and Lois Blackburn ran sessions with homeless participants at various Manchester based centres around a set theme. When I observed one of their workshops, the theme involved group discussions on ‘bravery’, and books were made using text selection techniques and collages of old 1970s comics. In Feminist Feltartists Miriam Schaer and Melissa Potter taught women’s groups how to make book art in exchange for traditional Georgian felting techniques. Participants decided that the felt book art pieces would be sold to raise money for their local communities. These different projects highlight that although the skill of bookmaking may involve set techniques, the book form can be adapted to fulfill different criteria – from encouraging self-expression to the book as a commodity. I was therefore interested in ways that bookmaking as an artistic practice, and skill to be shared, might be discussed in the Bookmarks symposium.

Generally, the talks at Bookmarks revolved around what might be viewed as traditional forms of education in higher institutions – such as archive research, technician assistance, collaboration and commissions. These were all interesting, and brought some visual gems to the table – from Edwin Pickstone’s explorations of discarded letterpress to John Brown’s discussions of vintage, illustrated children’s books. However, there was one lecture that really stood out for me, and that was by Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) teaching fellow Astrid Jaekel. As an art practitioner, Jaekel encourages students to utilise the book form as a conduit for engaging with place. Groups of illustration students from ECA would be invited to spend time in Oban, Scotland, to sketch, record, narrate and experience ‘place’, which are then brought together in the book form. The outcome is a series of Risograph ‘beak books’, which reveal a tension in the students expectations of Oban (their ideals), in comparison to what they experienced when they arrived. The books, therefore, cover a multitude of themes – some explore a romanticised view of the landscape, for others it is a focus on the fish and chip shop, or conversations with a local resident. The book seemed to be an ideal form in which to ‘gather’ together the experiences of the trip, its physical ‘togetherness’ allowing a sifting through and sorting out of potential findings, into a type of narrative.

This project could also be seen to fit into a history of book art and education. I recently did some research on Chicago based organisation ‘Artists Book Works’ (1983-1993), established by Barbara Lazarus Metz and Robert Sennhauser. As advertised in the journal Umbrella (1983), from the outset, one of the main aims of the organisation was to form a community of ‘book-makers, critics, collectors, binders and printers’. The centre held regular classes, lectures and exhibitions, including Winter in Chicago a long running mail art exhibition, with many of the works held in the Newberry Library collection. The organisation also held workshops on a variety of different technical skills including, box making, bookmaking, calligraphy, rubberstamping, paper decorating and book repair. It was the first centre of its kind in Chicago and arose at a time when printing and artist books were beginning to emerge as popular practices. As well as a series of classes and exhibitions, Artists Book Works also had a strong focus on school education, which differed somewhat from other US book art institutions of the time. Although distribution and production became the main concerns of New York centres such as Printed Matter (established 1976) and Visual Studies Workshop (founded 1969), fuelled in part by Lucy Lippard’s (1993) ideals of the democratic multiple, there was also an increased desire for institutions to take on a more educational or community based role. Pyramid Atlanta, Washington (established 1981) and Artists Book Works, Chicago (established 1983), began offering regular community bookmaking workshops and develop increasing partnerships and programmes for schools. Their school programs were particularly concerned with encouraging bookmaking skills in the curriculum (through all levels of education), collaborative production and exhibition opportunities for students. This resulted in some fascinating projects, such as that reviewed in The Chicago Reader (1987). The article mentions a project run by artist Myra Herr’s with Lincoln Park’s Hawthorne School, in which students made autobiographical books with stories, visuals and poems in stitched codices. Artists Book Works also had an open call advertised in Umbrella (1985 & 1991) for book artists to send images of their works to form a slide registry for the use of curators, collectors, educators and museums.

This research into the use of book art within education is still in its infancy, and one I will no doubt be continuously pursuing! What my experience of Bookmarks has highlighted, is that there is clearly a continual use of book art as a form of educational and artistic practice. Although Bookmarks seemed focused primarily on the university setting as a site of learning and engagement with the book form, there are plenty of practices which are situated outside of traditional institutions. And where the practices differ, or relate, is always of interest!




That is a Lot of Paper: Reflections on Research Matter(s)

As Jo and I set up our workshop ‘Unfolding the Archive’ at Research Matter(s) conference, Birmingham City University, a realization dawns on us both: There is so much paper. There is paper to make the ‘beak books’, paper in the concertina fold book art, consent forms and information sheets, paper for collage and paper for writing down thoughts. It is the dream of a green world turned nightmare. So how do we claim importance for this amassing of paper? If the conference questions why ‘matter’ produced through research is often deemed peripheral, how can we bring this physical, material, paper presence to the forefront of our research?

I suppose I could start with the idea that engaging participants with a physical material is a well deserved escape from the digital screen. This is something so argued in the book art world, the concept of haptic handling reconnecting us to material properties; the movement of pages, the smell of antique texts, the sound of the book spine cracking. Don’t get me wrong, I happen to love the falling apart, yellow tinted pages of the old Penguin books. However, there is material, bodily engagement in a digital world. As Engin Isin and Evelyn Ruppert clarify, cyberspace is a space of relations between and among bodies acting through the internet, not a disengaged, separate world. Why is the iPad screen a rectangular shape? Like the page of a book, or a sheet of paper? It requires an awareness of our bodies, as our finger moves or rotates images, taps and swipes. I hold the iPad above my head as I read, laying on my bed. Or rest it on my lap as I snuggle in an armchair. My phone is also held in a certain way, I carry it in my pocket, it is a bodily attachment. I use it within a geographical location, a context and a time. Perhaps it not entirely the materiality of paper that is important.

It could be the physical act of making through material engagement. Andrew Eason has argued, many artists make books primarily for the anticipation of a reader, what he terms ‘making-reading’. This approach suggests that artists make books in desire for contact with their readers, tying together the creative process felt by artists with the experience that readers have.

I make a book. I make it for you, my imagined reader. I make it for you to open, for you  to touch, for you to read and to see that I am here. If I can let you know what I think, we can meet there, in that place where the idea is, and we can share a discussion later, based on what we both see there. I don’t know what you’ll do with this. Will you see what I think you will? Will you invent something I didn’t foresee? All to the good.

This act of discussion, the deviation or elaboration of meaning from the act of creation to the reading process, becomes apparent in our workshops. As participants make a collage page in response to the 1919 magazine Woman’s Outlook, new meanings are exposed. The contextual and cultural relations in sync with the individual’s interpretation draw new meanings from this archive material. The book art calls for more readers, begging to be opened, to stretch out it’s concertina pages. We encouraged this further at Birmingham City University, calling on participants to read the book art made in response to Woman’s Outlook and form new inventions in the form of ‘beak books’. The small, portability of the beak books invite a form of ‘passing on’, as we keep a copy and the participants get to take a book home. Eason states that book art could be viewed in the context of a ‘gift’, as the process of creation indicates a desire for ‘exchange’ with the reader in the making of meaning. This is furthered by the contexts of production and distribution existing around book art. Artists often desire face to face contact with their buyers at artist book fairs and with library collectors, and time spent on these exchanges often doesn’t equate to profit. It also relates to a notion of ‘skill sharing’ that these workshops enter. With free conferences such as Research Matter(s), the passing on of how to make a book becomes symbolic of a gift. Here the material amassing is secondary, the process of making (whether that is learning to make a beak book or a concertina fold) becomes the site of knowledge sharing. My own knowledge of making books particularly lies in this exchange, as I learnt the art of flower fold pages from the Old Bear Press and stitch binding from artist Sheelagh Frew Crane. Yet, we know from historical writings of Marcel Mauss that gifts are nearly always reciprocal, and come with certain obligations. What are these obligations in a research context?

Proof. That word that conjures ideas of evidence and progress, that which nods to what happened, what occurred, what physically provides witness. The concertina books that Jo and I made with participants in conferences in Latvia, Hungary and UK are proof that workshops occurred. The stitch that holds the paper together, along with the photograph illustrating the participants stitching, creates a paper trail of evidence. This paper trail, this ‘stitch’, is furthered through blog posts as ‘witness’ accounts of what has occurred, the consent sheets of the participants as claims of both ‘I was there’, as well as agreement to use their presence as witness and consent to the occurrence of the workshop. It happened, I was part of it, you can say I was part of it and you can use my image and my writings as evident proof. In this sense the ‘gift’ of the book that participants get to take home, in which they made but also learnt how to make, is in exchange for the validation of research which encompasses both Jo and I’s theses, but also that the other book copy can and will become part of the archive, and hence come to represent it.  Is this what research matter is? An act of witness? An act of record?

But this witness is further complicated. How is this evidence being interpreted? What is being collected? What is given hierarchy? What cannot be given physical, material witness? At the close of the workshop, a discussion of the process of making books in reaction to Woman’s Outlook and the book art responses, turns to that which is missing or hidden. What women are represented? What aspects of their lives remain undisclosed? Who is speaking on behalf of whom? A participant is drawn to a page in the concertina book art piece that lists a series of words that she finds problematic, that she finds undisturbed. Perhaps the same question should also be asked of our own research matter. Rather than considering what research actually matters, what research matter is missing? This is always an area so highlighted in an academic context: how will you research area contribute to knowledge in an original approach? What matter is deemed appropriate documentation? Newness is integral. Newness can be found in the past, through the bringing of Woman’s Outlook out of the archive. It can be found in the learning of a new book skill. Even in the re-consideration of a word, such as Zhandra Belgasmi’s reclaiming of “No” as a term shied away from by women. It can be done by ripping up a literature review and rearranging its pieces, as demonstrated by Sian Hindle.

The messy, torn-up literature review brings me back to the scattered paper on the workshop tabletops. I need to tidy the paper, to draw it to closure, to make sure it matters. But I am reminded of the promiscuous feminist methodologies in education proposed by Sara M. Childers, Jeong-eun Rhee and Stephanie L. Dazs, who embody ‘dirty theory’ and ‘messy practice’. Promiscuous feminist methodologies aren’t necessarily a way to do research, rather a form of metaphor, one which is grounded in an engagement with materiality and understanding of what is ‘always already happening.’ It recognises that research is often a partially failed and violent attempt to represent the world and other within current symbolic systems and languages, so highlighted by Hindle and Belgasmi, and a running theme throughout the Research Matter(s) conference. Here research matter on the periphery could actually be a strength due to its marginalized position, working within the mechanisms of critique, but pushing at the edges of what is possible within an academic context.

Working with and against what we read as the bounded and mainstream discourses of what counts as feminist research, we neither attempt to reconcile our approaches with the mainstream nor the margins, but rather accept unfitting and edgework. Promiscuous feminisms do not represent a desire for inclusion or synthesis or to assert a new center or margin. Rather, coming to see our work/selves as promiscuous has become a source of energy and survival in our institutions and research lives. It has been the link to our “selves” and others, a reminder that vulnerability, contamination, wildness, excess and being pushed out (or existing between), though painful can be powerful.

There have been times in which Jo & I have felt our workshops on the periphery of the conference context, often in a sense that somehow book making isn’t ‘theoretical’ enough. This of course is not always the case, there have been other conferences, including Birmingham City University, when testing of materiality, theory and embodiment are closely linked. What I believe the metaphor of promiscuous feminism allows us to see is that excess, moments of vulnerability and even the space between, although areas of difficulty and sometimes conflict, can be the most rewarding in terms of drawing out meanings. Perhaps we do have too much paper, too much matter, but shifting through this messy pile allows us to draw new connections, see that which we missed before, consider matter which is ‘unofficial’ within discourse. So when one participant finds a statement in their bag on their way home from the conference, reading ‘she sank unconscious to the ground’, this decontextualised statement from Woman’s Outlook magazine reminds me both of our own vulnerabilities, but also the vulnerability of matter to be forgotten and then hopefully found again. Often at the periphery, often at the bottom of our bags.  And so I hope that this somewhat messy blog post, unfinished, provides new answers and further questions when I return.

Works cited

Childers, Sara M., Jeong-eun Rhee and Stephanie L. Daza (2015) Promiscuous Feminist Methodologies in Education Engaging Research Beyond Gender. Abingdon: Routledge

Eason, Andrews (2010) ‘On Making Reading’ The Blue Notebook. 5.1, pp.37 – 42

Isin, Engin and Evelyn Ruppert (2015) Being Digital Citizens. London: Rowman & Littlefield

Mauss, Marcel (1970) The Gift Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies. London: Cohen & West Ltd


‘Woman’s Outlook’, Past Present Future

Rip, Mark, Stick, Create, Multi-Vocal Image Making

On Thursday morning I fly to Riga, Latvia for the first in a series of collaborative workshops with my colleague Jo Darnley. The workshop will take place at the Nordic Summer University under the Winter Symposium, Practicing Communities: Transformative societal strategies of artistic research. This exciting endeavor was brought on by Jo & I’s mutual love of printed material, in particular a desire to understand methods of ‘reading’ printed material and what it might mean to ‘read with others’.

Jo works with The National Cooperative Archive, and researches women’s identity within and through Woman’s Outlook, a magazine produced between 1919 – 1967. It soon became clear that my research into collaboratively produced books (often as a means to create/explore identity) and Jo’s research into a magazine (which explores a particular historical construction of identity and community) could prove an interesting crossover. With Jo’s desire to ‘open up’ the archive through encouraging discussion and interpretation around the magazine and my wish to watch the act of collaboratively producing a book in action, a workshop was born!

Here is an abstract of our workshop proposal:

The reading of images and texts as a mode of transformation connects Jo Darnley’s research into Woman’s Outlook, (WO), (1919 – 1967), a magazine which enables entry into a women only, political, broadly non- party and regional perspective, published by the National Co-operative Publishing Society (Est. 1871) and Gemma Meek’s reading about socially engaged book art (2000 – present day). This collaborative workshop proposal, aims to explore a multi-vocal approach to selecting, responding and transforming imagery from WO magazine.

Participants will be invited to engage with pages from WO through an open discussion on what themes and imagery speak to individuals. This subjective approach aims to reflect the transformation of imagery through participants’ readings, highlighting both the challenge and freedom that underpin the critical enquiry of the historian. Furthermore, this multi-vocal approach to artistic research can be seen as a move towards transforming society through the fostering of critical and creative everyday reading and awareness. Therefore, challenging the singular voice of the historian through disrupting perceptions and encouraging research communities.

Participants are invited to ‘play’ and investigate, creating a collage page of clippings, drawings and writings. These pages will be collated into a book, as a new space in which to map connections between readings, repositioning the authority of the historian’s voice.

So, off to Riga it is! Watch this space!