I’m feeling a bit flattened having driven 800km to see Scott McCarney and Keith Smith give a seminar at the State Library of Queensland in Brisbane on Sunday: I drove up on Sunday morning, stayed with my stepson Patrick and his girlfriend Laura just around the corner from SLQ on Sunday night, met up with SLQ Librarian Helen Cole this morning and drove straight home again so that I can start my teaching week tomorrow. While it would have been lovely to attend Scott’s book making workshop at SLQ this week I can’t; when you only work two days a week, you don’t take time off unless you have to.
I really love the SLQ building; I marvel at it every time I go. The mint green colour scheme sounds as if it couldn’t work, and yet the green and the timber combine to make a lovely, airy space. The building was designed by two Brisbane architecture firms, Donovan Hill and Peddle Thorp, and opened in 2006 (just as we arrived in Australia – the events were closely linked as I’m sure you realise!) and won the Royal Australian Institute of Architects medal the following year. Public buildings often disappoint, even when commissioned by enlightened planners from funky architectural firms, but SLQ works really well.
One of the features of the building is that it offers many places for engagement and display as well as study: part of the facade functions as an extraordinary display case, allowing staff to curate all sorts of objects up and down the facade in glass boxes that are covered/revealed by the timber battens that are a theme of the design. And there are clever little spaces as well, including intimate booths that allow you to stop within the indoor/outdoor architectural setting and chat with a friend, work on a laptop or just take in the view. Even the meeting rooms are fun, with a minimalist aesthetic that makes the most of the materials and the light. The room I settled down in with Helen Cole this morning had sand-blasted glass doors, a theme which trails throughout the building with all sorts of things etched onto glass panels.
Last but not least I commend to you the cafe and bookshop! By far the best cafe in the arts precinct – for goodness sake DON’T GO to art gallery cafe which is possibly the worst food outlet I have ever been to in my life. Instead, go and sit under the cantilevered edge of the SLQ building on a comfortable banquette with puffy leather cushions, have a decent coffee and watch people walking past up and down the South Bank riverside. Much, much nicer, AND you can pretend to the wider world that you’re engaged in erudite and important research before disappearing into said bookshop and coming out with fancy cards as well as beautiful books.
But never mind all that, I drove all that way partly to see Helen and partly to see Scott and Keith talking about their artists’ book practices, and very interesting it was too. They were both very gracious speakers, especially so considering they’d only got off the plane from New York on Friday and were feeling rather jet-lagged, and it was interesting to see so many pictures of their work. I get the feeling that they share a slightly obsessive nature that manifests itself in their work in different ways.
Keith’s books are carefully considered and beautifully made, numbered all the way back to when he started making books forty years ago. Having bought most of his series of books on book binding I don’t think I realised how much his recent book arts practice revolves around photography, and he shared a great slideshow of recent work that consists of lots of photographs, digitally altered and printed. I particularly enjoyed his “Sebastians”: altered images of St Sebastian, taken from a multitude of old paintings and re-worked, sometimes with comic effect. His presentation style was very deadpan, with a quiet humour underneath… I think some of the audience was a bit shocked by the homoerotic tone of some of the images; the lady next to me couldn’t cope with the penises and left… I really enjoyed it, while at the same time realising how far removed my own creative interests are from his practice.
I found more commonality with Scott’s work and again there was a great slideshow of his work, going right back to early stuff from the 1980s. He interested in form as well as content and I really liked an early book in the shape of folded equilateral triangles. His “Autobiographies” series made everyone laugh: lots of collected lists, and a sort of head-shaking “woe is me” about his inability to throw anything out, which clearly rang a bell with the audience.
I feel very honoured indeed that Scott has joined BookArtObject this time around to contribute to Edition Four, so it was great I had a chance to meet him. I was lucky enough to say hello to both of them before the seminar started. They’ve got a couple of weeks in Australia so hopefully they’ll get enough time to adjust to the time change before flying back home! Maybe one day I’ll get to go over to the States and see them on their own turf. In the meantime I came away with a lot to think about and a desperate need to go to bed.