Between the Sheets: Artists’ Books 2017 – Australian Galleries

Kestutis Vasiliunas, Tea-Book, tea bags, rope, 32 x 23 x 1 cm
Below right:
Pam Langdon, Under the Eaves, (detail) 2016, 31 reconstructed books, recycled blackbutt and jarrah, 25 x 29 cm each
Lesley LeGrove, Precious Weighted Words and Layers, ceramic sheets, plant fibre papers, words on shellac tissue, gold leaf ceramic pear, 17 x 32 x 25 cm
Bottom right:
Helen Malone, The Legacy of Silence, drawing, printmaking, ink pencil, image transfer, edition 2, 17 x 37 x 1 cm

Jack Callil surveys some of the work in Australian Galleries’ new exhibition of artists’ books.

Artists’ books have long tended to subvert the idea of a book itself. Holding a kind of authority, the form of a book is likely to command respect, and thus remain unaltered. Whether etched into stone, scrawled onto papyrus, transformed by Gutenberg, or digitised by the Kindle, its form is usually fluid and transforming. Despite the creativity behind its evolution, text has usually dominated aesthetics—but artists’ books challenge that notion.

In association with Gallery East, the Australian Galleries exhibition Between the Sheets: Artists’ Books 2017 includes more than 70 artists’ books from an international swathe of artists from eleven countries. Each piece differs dramatically, reflecting the variety of expertise of the artists involved: photographers, sculptors, printmakers, wordsmiths, painters, digital artists and more.

Some artists’ books in the exhibition are visual spectacles, such as Pam Langdon’s Under the Eaves­­­—a reconstitution of book pages into a floral cross-section through intricate curlicues. Or Stephan Spurrier’s Stranger in the Garden, a series of five chaotic, psychedelic collages exploring some sinister facets of our perception of gardens.

Other artists’ books represent the passing of time. Kęstutis Vasiliūnas’s The Tea Book is a hand-woven collection of each tea bag he used throughout one year. Naturally delicate, the book is worn by gloves whereas Lorraine Kwan’s Time to Change the Sheets is a sturdy, plastic-wrapped single-page book of lint—every piece of lint she retrieved from her dryer during one year.

Some artists pay homage to writers, such as in Clyde McGill’s Dreaming of Murakami (Kafka One and Two). A pamphlet collection of blue-and-white etchings, each one depicts either a cat or bowl—an allusion to motifs in Kafka on the Shore, a novel by Japanese author Haruki Murakami.

Janis Nedela is Co-Director of Gallery East with David Forrest, and co-curated the exhibition. Nedela explains how the evolution of artists’ books reveals it hasn’t always been a respected art form. ‘In the early ’70s they were frowned upon, because they were considered only as ideas, not the real thing inside the book,’ he says. ‘But that’s changed. These artists are established in their own right, they might be painters, sculptors, printmakers, etcetera. But with books, they’re just another side to their art. Another way to express some of their ideas. Some of these books take as long to create as an oil painting, or a sculpture.’

When asked why people are drawn to this particular form, artists and audience alike, Nedela touches on the idea of familiarity. ‘People feel comfortable with a book,’ he says. ‘And they may be more comfortable with it than a painting or sculpture, or something totally abstract. But when they see a book, they know it.’

Between the Sheets: Artists’ Books 2017 is at Australian Galleries in Collingwood, Melbourne (13 June-2 July)