Research task: Book fairs

This brief asked me to research a list of art book fairs online. The aim of this research was to discover the wide range of books by independent book publishers, to understand the variety of books and publishing possibilities available. I had a look online at the different websites to find out more about each fair and wrote some notes in my sketchbook.

Unfortunately, this task was completed during the Covid-19 pandemic and a national lockdown. Things are gradually opening up again but there won’t be any opportunity to visit a book fair until later in the year. I have my eye on the Off the Shelf Literary Festival in Sheffield, very close to me, which should take place in October. It was quite sad to keep reading that many of the fairs were cancelled last year and early this year too.

I’m also planning to take a look at the ‘Lost Weekend’; the interim Bristol Artist’s Book Event, being organised by Sarah Bodman, Angie Butler, Phil Owen and Tom Sowden. There are online displays, films and recordings from artists and small publishers all around the world. It’s taking place over the 17th – 18th April 2021, so it’s timed perfectly to explore during this final part of book design. I’ll add some reflections on the Lost Weekend to this blog post once I’ve experienced it.

Before the Lost Weekend takes place, there is an online exhibition of artists’ books that explore mental health, wellbeing and recovery called ‘It’s a New Day’. I’ve been browsing through the images of the books and enjoying the variety. I was immediately drawn to Jean McEwan’s ‘I am blue sky’. I adore the simplicity, the collage and the use of text. It all feels very hopeful, a little playful and surreal. I explored her zine, which is available online here: https://issuu.com/jeanmcewan/docs/i_am_blue_sky_zine (accessed 30/03/21). It massively appeals to me. The content is based around quotes and inspirations from Greta Thunberg, Werner Herzog, Toni Morrison, Maggie Nelson, Olivia Laing and Thich Nhat Hanh, using collage and drawings and text to bring together these ideas. When I read through it online, it felt like flicking through someone’s journal – it seemed personal, like a collection of quotes and statements that were special to someone, brought to life with imagery and doodles. It actually felt a lot like looking back over my own journals, which I have rediscovered after a spring clean! I adore the style.

I love the use of collage, typewriter text, and handwritten text too. It feels so personal and emotive to read through.

I also felt a connection with the Artist’s Book Club (ABC) UWE and Beth Calverley’s (The Poetry Machine’s) ‘Word Binding’. Simplicity – black and white – but a double page spread that held my attention for ages. I found myself mulling over the words ‘characters from paper, zigzags from the random’ and spotting shapes and letters and words in the squiggles. I had a look through some of the Poetry Machine’s poems (https://www.thepoetrymachine.live/bespoke-poems/4594417127  accessed 30/03/21), which were beautiful. I certainly appreciate the way one line or one part of the poem is used in this book on one page, accompanied by an image – it makes me as the reader really think about that one line in depth, considering the ways it could be interpreted and linking it to the imagery too.

Finally, I was wildly intrigued by the images of Delpha Hudson burning a book, so I had to investigate this further. She revisited 30 years of diaries, read through them, rewrote them, and then burnt the originals. Although this immediately comes across as destructive, the idea behind it was to keep and take forward what we want to – hence, the rewriting process – and “living ourselves into our best stories” (https://www.delphahudson.co.uk/the-theatre-of-the-self/  accessed 30/03/21). The rewritten diaries are available in a little compact box, the project being called ‘Theatre of the Self’ – which I have ordered to have a closer look at (couldn’t resist!) I can imagine this being a very cathartic process, to take forward the things you want to and leave behind those you don’t, but still facing and processing everything in that moment.

I’m really looking forward to seeing more books on the weekend of 17th – 18th April. This research has certainly thrown up a wide variety of books and already motivated me to delve into my old diaries for inspiration.

The Lost Weekend

I thoroughly enjoyed looking through the videos and material online for the Lost Weekend (17th-18th April). I thought I’d write a little about my favourite artist books, artists and designers here. This was the link to the event https://arnolfini.org.uk/whatson-category/babe-2021-the-lost-weekend/ and this was a YouTube playlist of videos, including book flip throughs and explanations about projects.

First, I was struck by Elizabeth Willow‘s work and went to investigate her gallery on her website (https://elizabethwillow.co.uk/gallery/dandelion-seeds accessed 21/04/21). Her typography work is beautiful; she used traditional letterpress techniques and captures her message in the way the type is presented on the page. The faint text in the ‘to begin with they are not there’ image is haunting and ghostly. The ‘dust’ image is also really clever – the words forming from tiny particles of dust. I enjoyed going through her other type work and will definitely take inspiration from this simple, clever work. The form of the type helps communicate the meaning, like in visual or concrete poetry.

Egidija Čiricaitė‘s book ‘Curtain’ was in the collection of books displayed during The Lost Weekend. I was captivated by the use of letters and type, so I viewed more books by this artist (http://www.egidija.com/2021%20duet%20on%20rain.html accessed 21/04/21). My favourite was Rain. The text is still readable, but scattered like raindrops, forming beautiful patterns and swirls. The sentences flow like water. I was reminded of a comment by my tutor about trying to keep my own type experiments easier to read – helping the reader know where to start reading, for example. I think this is a great example to follow – concrete poetry but still very accessible.

I found Volodymyr Bilyk‘s book brilliantly entertaining! The concept behind it was to laugh off the year of 2020 and it is truly hilarious to look through. A really clever concept. I like how the laughter goes up and down and across the page, like the laughter is music. The sounds are like notes moving across the page, changing in pitch from high to low. (Volodymyr Bilyk, Gerry Ha Ha | Timglaset accessed 21/04/21)

I AM THE MESSENGER by Peter Morgan was such a powerful book to flip through (there is a free month flip through online at the moment so I was luckily able to read the whole thing). The book is published by Road Books (Road Books. Artists Books by Judy Kravis and Peter Morgan accessed 21/04/21) so a printed copy can be purchased. It was created as if by a child, from their perspective, inspired by the words of Greta Thunberg. The message is about our climate – it is alarming, strong and impactful. I liked the message behind it but I also appreciated the subtle and obvious ways Peter implied a child was talking. The artwork is bold, the images central to the page, very direct. I found it thoroughly entertaining. It was another example for me of how a message is communicated in the words, images, type and layout.

Julie Johnstone‘s work spoke to me. I spent some time looking at her work and reading about it; it was, again, the elegance and deceiving simplicity that attracted me to it. I particularly enjoyed reading about ‘Life’ (https://www.juliejohnstone.com/works/life/  accessed 21/04/21) an example of some really clever word play and layout. The words ‘life can only be understood backwards’ are read forwards, then the words ‘but it must be lived forwards’ are read backwards (the page on the website explains it better than I do!) It’s a pleasing use of opposites to express the way the quote (and life) works. I also enjoyed the fun of ‘Alphabet Week’ (https://www.juliejohnstone.com/essence-press/maria-white/ accessed 21/04/21) – sweet, simple and makes you smile. The other thing that struck me about these books was the paper – even though I cannot hold them, I can see how textured the paper is. It’s very pleasing to look at!

Finally, I enjoyed looking at Guy Bigland‘s ‘Uncertainty’ (https://www.guybigland.com/un-certainty  accessed 21/04/21). It is wire bound and has pages that are cut into horizontal strips. ‘Certainty’ is the only word that appears in every sentence – the irony of the certainty of certainty in a book called uncertainty is obviously a brilliant concept. It’s quite a philosophical exploration of one word – I quite like that the strips of pages could be individually flipped to presumably form different sentences too. A clever idea.

It was fantastic to browse through all of this wonderful work! I feel so inspired to actually visit a book fair once the pandemic has eased and restrictions allow. I have also ordered myself some of Jean McEwan’s zines – because I could not resist – so I’ll be exploring these soon too! Some of the work I picked out here will feed into my research into visual poetry, typography and type as image. I’m certainly learning lots about how the form of a book, the layout of a page and the way text and type is used communicates the message of the whole book. I’d really like to demonstrate this awareness in my final assignment.

2 replies to “Research task: Book fairs

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