Index
12 & 13 May 2006
Friday 12 - 6-9pm, Saturday 13 - 12-6pm

Artist's books from London Metropolitan University BA Fine Art students.


The Artist's Book

The artist's book is a medium more intimate and at the same time more public than other forms of cultural production. Its small scale and portability - it asks to be picked up and handled, even when the logistics of exhibition make this impractical - entail or at least imply a closer and more tactile relationship between viewer and object than is normally the case when we encounter a work of art. A book - any kind of book - is something we must have close to us in order to make use of it, so close in fact as to normally exclude other viewers from doing so at the same time. Other senses, besides the visual, are potentially engaged. The physical qualities of the materials used in its construction, their fitness or perhaps their awkwardness for the purpose, even their scents and sounds can play a part in the experience. An artist's book is a piece of art that we can weigh in our hands.

A successful artist's book will employ these sensual qualities self-consciously, and in some kind of relationship with the ostensible content. This is how one might begin to distinguish between artists' books and the more general sort. But 'form' and 'content' are already too abstract as categories - they belong properly to literary criticism - with which to understand the constructed physical object before us.

In an age when 'interactivity' is commonly cited as a virtue or even a justification for cultural productions, we should not forget that the book is a form that requires us to interact with it from the very beginning. At least we must open it and turn a few pages before putting it aside. More specifically, in any kind of book the contents are not accessed simultaneously; reading is an action that takes place in time. The experience of 'reading through' the book is in fact created by the reader as he or she operates the binding mechanism, and the act of reading constructs its own space and time out of an articulated sequence of contents. This mental construction is unique to the reader, even if he or she conforms to the given order of the pages (I always prefer to browse . . . ).

The artist's book reminds us that all books are physical objects, not just abstract stores of information. And as objects they have their fates in the world. In all cultures and in whatever physical form, the book has served not only to record information but to make it portable, to send it out into the world, sometimes even to change the world. In its potential for distribution the artist's book affords an alternative public space, more democratic than the gallery or museum, in which to show work and lead a public life.

It in turn requires a boldly public gesture on the part of its creator, a willingness to let the finished object stand for itself in all kinds of contexts that cannot be foreseen, let alone controlled, by an artist or curator.

Historically the book was one of the first mass-produced objects. Although it need not necessarily be produced in an edition of more than one copy, the artist's book naturally lends itself to multiple production. Due to the (usually) compact form of the book, its intimate relationship with an individual reader/owner and at the same time its relatively large potential market, an artist's book may be conceived and produced as a multiple object without aesthetic compromise. Indeed, an intelligent design will turn to aesthetic advantage the non-uniqueness of the object. In this respect, the artist's book serves to correct some still well-entrenched assumptions about artistic practice.

The artist's book therefore presents a particular challenge - as well as an opportunity - to the first year BA Fine Art students at this university. It requires them to think of a finished object beyond the process of its conception and production or even their own intentions in making it, and to think of their own artistic practice beyond the pedagogical relationships of the art college studio.