25 October 2023

Exhibition celebrates books as a dynamic form of art

| Liz Jeneid
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An item in the exhibition, called We Are Volcanoes.

Lizzie Buckmaster Dove’s work, We Are Volcanoes, where she has reassembled pages of an old atlas to tell her story. Picture: Supplied.

On the windswept NSW South Coast, north of Wollongong, just before the sweeping curves of the new and stunning Sea Cliff Bridge going north, stands the iconic Clifton School of Arts (CSA).

There is hardly any land in this location that can be built on. The escarpment above does not allow for much development, although the railway line from Sydney, having at times what seems a precarious hold on the escarpment, is still intact.

The small School of Arts stands firmly in place looking out over the sea. A thriving, community-based, cultural hub for the Northern Illawarra and beyond, the school has been owned and operated by the community for over 110 years.

The present building was constructed in 1911 after much fund-raising by the local community. Land for the purpose was donated by Mr Vickery of the Coalcliff Colliery, continuing the association begun by Alexander Stuart, former owner/operator of the local coal mine.

The CSA website states that miners at Coalcliff were on strike for six months at that time, and are reported to have provided some of the labour for the construction of the building.

It is here that Prelude: Artists’ Books Now, will be shown in November. The project has been taken up by a small group of artist members, to bring together selected work created by established and emerging book artists, celebrating the book as a dynamic contemporary art form that takes many shapes.

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The curatorial team is made up of artist members of CSA: Liz Jeneid, Lucia Parrella, Judy Bourke and Kathryn Orton. Each includes artists’ books in their artistic practice and has had curating and exhibiting experience nationally and internationally. Seventy-two artists were invited to submit work, with 50 works selected to be in the exhibition.

Prelude: Artists’ Books Now will showcase a variety of approaches to making books and the many ways that artists find to share information. It aims to explore ideas and convey artists’ deep interest in a particular topic – from politics to bees, from the environment to past histories, and from meditations on place to our personal relationships.

According to the Smithsonian Institute Library: “An artist’s book is a medium of artistic expression that uses the form or function of ‘book’ as inspiration. It is the artistic initiative seen in the illustration, choice of materials, creation process, layout and design that makes it an art object.”

But there are many other ways of describing what an artist’s book is! What about the artist’s intent? It can be made through fine art printing using letterpress or hand-cut lino text, using computer-generated images or photocopies to illustrate the content, so, as a genre, it can be an exciting and liberating art form.

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For some, it is a book object – for instance, a book that cannot be opened, or an altered existing book such as We Are Volcanoes by Lizzie Buckmaster Dove, where the artist has reassembled pages of an old atlas to tell her story. Books can even be part of an installation or performance piece! As you can see, the possibilities are endless.

Many of the works include printmaking but other artists have used watercolour, collage, text and unusual construction techniques as in Alan Purdom’s Babel, a free-standing tower referring to the Declaration of Human Rights while Mary Rosengren’s wall-hung documentation, Peatlands 1 and 2, is housed in wooden drawers.

The name Prelude was chosen for this exhibition as it will be a forerunner of two more artist book events to be held in 2024 and 2025.

The exhibition will be staffed by two artists who will be available to talk to visitors and explain different approaches and techniques. There will be an afternoon of artist talks by local bookmakers on Saturday, 11 November, from 2 pm to 4 pm.

Prelude: Artists’ Books Now will take place at Clifton School of Arts, 338 Lawrence Hargrave Drive, Clifton from 3-12 November. The exhibition will be opened by Akky van Ogtrop, president of the Print Council of Australia, on Friday 3 November. For more information about Prelude: Artists’ Books Now, visit the CSA website.

Liz Jeneid is one of the curators of the exhibition and a member of Clifton School of Arts.

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