This isn’t the photo I was looking for – I think it must be lurking in a box, still packed up and hoping for the day when we might have the shelving organized in our house and can finally get the photo albums out – but it’ll do. I wonder if you can identify it?
What I was actually looking for was a picture of me on a motorbike, rev head that I am, because I was reminded of myself after visiting my (step)son and his fiancée in Brisbane last weekend. Helen has already commented on the BookArtObject blog about the seminar we attended along with Jack Oudyn, Robyn Foster and Amanda Watson-Will at the State Library of Queensland – it was great fun and very interesting. Helen Coles, keeper of the Artists’ Books collection at SLQ, Noreen Grahame of Graham Galleries and Editions in Brisbane, and Jan Davis, Adjunct Professor at Southern Cross University and my PhD supervisor gave presentations about “The Trouble with Artists’ Books” from their perspectives as curators, gallerists and artists, respectively.
I learned, for example, that curators – or at least, Helen! – look at artists’ books in a particular way, asking themselves whether the piece of work they’re seeing ‘needs to be a book’ or whether it could ‘exist in another form’ and presumably with a different name attached. They also ask whether it is “sturdy and strong” since the longevity may relate to the concept of the book and/or give them a real archival headache c.f. the book we saw made of dried fish! Much will depend, from an acquisitions point of view, on whether a book is “worth making allowances for”, since artists’ books are considerably more complicated to keep, store and exhibit than some other art forms.
Noreen talked about having battled against the tide for many years, commenting that “A culture of private collecting didn’t exist then and doesn’t exist now”. The Libris Awards at Artspace Mackay, the Southern Cross University Acquisitive Artists’ Book Awards and Monica Oppen’s private library of artists’ books are lonely exceptions in Australia.
Jan talked a bit about how artists have come to explore artists’ books: while for printmakers there is a natural synergy with making artists’ books in the sense of a genre familiarity with editioning, for example, Jan suggested that some artists have turned to artists’ books as a refuge from the crisis of conceptual/post-object painting, which wasn’t something about which I had previously thought much. She also spoke about artists’ books as visual thinking: sometimes as preparation for work in other media, sometimes as things in themselves. Artists’ books as “art as storytelling” and a means to convey ideas.
All three speakers came back for a second turn to share with the audience books that they particularly love from the SLQ collection. Having myself poured over various works with Helen Cole and BAO friends in Brisbane I sympathized totally with their difficulty in choosing only a few works about which to speak! While they were talking, I was thinking about my current TAFE students who are doing a multi-media unit with me at the moment that centres around artists’ books. I jotted down interesting phrases such as, “A monumental concept made intimate“, “Using the potential of the page” (very good as we’re doing typography next week), “The bottom, sides and gutter [of the page] all have power” (how true), “An irony of dust and numbers” and, “Accumulated expression” – oh how I wish I could remember which books they were referring to for those last two excerpts in particular!
Anyway, the pleasure of the seminar, meeting good friends – I had lovely chats to Ron McBurnie, whom I met at Sturt earlier this year AND managed to catch up with Monica Oppen and Suzi Muddiman – and a delicious afternoon tea were matched by the pleasure of spending time with Patrick and Laura.
The fact that tomorrow is Mother’s Day in Australia caused me to reflect on what joy my relationship with Patrick brings me. When I first met him he was almost 11, slightly younger than darling daughter is now. The fact that his Dad and I were able to progress in our relationship is largely down to the good nature and generosity with which Patrick welcomed me into his family, and the love and respect for each other that we have developed over the intervening years. He was a great kid, and he’s now a great man. At first, of course, I thought I’d probably end up strangling him because I had NO significant experience of children before we met and we drove each other nuts! And of course, we had all the usual difficulties of blended families in that he had a perfectly good mother elsewhere and we endured years of access issues, financial support issues, legal threats and god knows what else. I wish in some ways that I’d been more motherly, in the physical sense of giving more hugs and stuff, but I didn’t want to be a replacement mum and I thought Patrick would find it confusing if I was ‘huggy’ all the time. So instead I was like a third parent: someone whom he came to for advice and long conversations, and to whom he brought the sort of really embarrassing questions that he didn’t want to ask his biological parents! I was quite useful, I think. At the time dearest husband and I thought all the shenanigans would never end but here we are, fifteen years and a lot more grey hair later, with a strapping twenty-five year old son who is getting married next March to Laura. We are – I am – so proud of him. And unfortunately I can’t say anything about him riding a motorbike because of course, that’s what I did! And here’s a photo to prove it, as dearest husband just managed to find a scanned copy of it on the server. Patrick had fun zooming off on his nearly brand new Harley Davidson (an unforgiveable lapse in taste, I may add) and I developed a severe case of motorbike withdrawal symptoms. Have a happy day tomorrow, whether you’re a mother or not.