Sarah Bodman, Ian Chamberlain and Paul Laidler gave talks on their arts practice. I have to say that I do feel rather lucky that I resonate with each of them in different ways, despite the fact that they do such different work from one another, but there are certain themes that chime with my own interests, which certainly confirms that I am in the right place at the right time.
I actually got to hear Sarah give two talks on the same day, which was a real treat. Sarah has endlessly promoted the good works of others, but doesn’t do the same for her own amazing work, so it was long overdue to find out more about her artists’ books.
The first talk was organised by Leonie Bradley and Catherine Cartwright, 2nd year MAMDP students, for the Artist Book Club. This was a lunchtime talk, and longer than the one she gave to our group with Ian and Paul, so it was beneficial to be able to see both, as those who received the abridged version, did miss out.
The overall aesthetic of Sarah’s books varies, and she does not seem bound to make her books look a certain way, but rather she alters them to suit the subject inside. So, you might not necessarily know immediately that the book you are holding is a Sarah Bodman book, unless you read, by Sarah Bodman, but you may know that you have a book by Sarah Bodman if you pick up one from the brilliant series Flowers in Hotel Rooms.
There are two things that I want to talk about related to this series. First, factors that I think make a book a desired object. The look and feel. How it is printed, and quality of paper. Does it contain images or only text? What is the subject matter of the images, and how are the images printed? Are the images, photographs, screenprints, etchings or woodcuts (and of course there are many more possibilities)? How much text is there, and how it is printed. What is the overall design? The covers and bindings. All of these factors, and many more contribute to the book as a desired object.
Secondly, what about the conceptual, academic, and ideas that feed into the making of a book. Are the ideas and aesthetic equal? Is the concept stronger than the visuals or vice-versa?
I have not seen all of the books from the series Flowers in Hotel Rooms. I have only got my hands on Volume IV. The cover is tactile, and begins us on our journey that this book is a desired object. It has a concertina fold, which also requires interaction. And, I do find that the concertina book design can have a very cinematic feel, so the fact that in this case the images inside are photographs, works very well in this format. Each photograph is moody and intriguing, and they could easily in and of themselves be stand alone pieces.
The concept for this series grew from an idea spurred from Richard Brautigan’s novel, The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966. One of the characters from this novel grows flowers in hotel rooms by candlelight, so it was this visual that caused immediate action for Sarah to create her own manufactured scenes in hotel rooms. Now that this idea has blossomed into a series, it takes 10 trips to make one book, so there are layers of ideas, research, and sense of place that all gets inter-weaved into the folds of these books. I am not an expert, but if one is in any doubt about what an artists’ book is, then I do think this series displays a perfect definition of what an artists’ book is. This series perfectly straddles the book as an object of desire along with the intellectual. Branches of thought and making that one craves when looking at art. Thank you Sarah!
Architecture and otherworldliness are recurring themes throughout Ian’s work, and something that is attractive to me when I glean for my own work. Ian uses traditional printing methods with technological and futuristic subject matter. Even if the buildings are historical, they have an element of futurism, because many of them resemble modernist quasi-Brutalist architecture. The piece that I would want to purchase, if I had the money would be Dome I, 2016. I can’t help think of Buckminster Fuller’s Geodesic Domes. Fuller is a hero of mine, and although he is a historic figure now, he still represents the future to me, and perhaps it is the reason why Ian chooses the architectural sites he does. They look so modern despite the fact they are now ruins.
He talked about possible future work that may include the concrete ruins found along the Atlantic Wall. Sarah Bodman asked the question about graffiti, and wondered whether Ian would include it in this new work, as these structures are now covered with it. The graffiti would suggest a time stamp. He seemed okay with this possibility, but I have to say, I am not sure I would. I would much prefer to see these structure bare, and un-touched by vandals, as they are so beautiful in their natural raw state. Not that beauty should be the end result. But it would be such a strange and wonderful surprise to come across these walking along the coast. It is this element of surprise, and which makes this work otherworldly, and why it strikes a chord with me. But of course it is difficult to erase all history of the buildings, they are almost monuments, which adds extra weight to them, and makes them more than technical masterpieces.
What little I do know about Paul’s work, I will write about here, but I do hope to get to know more, as it is this strand of printmaking that is making some serious leaps in the world of print, and is an area that I really want to incorporate in my own work. It involves the aspect of the print world that sometimes isn’t favoured by those who savour the slow processes of traditional printmaking. Digital. It was this digital world that almost kept us from hearing Paul’s talk. Irony. But the digital can be a tremendously slow process too. Not just getting your laptop to sync properly to a projector, but what about the world of 3-D printing. We are all attracted to the endless possibilities, but how do you do it!? Are you still the maker if you rely so much on others to make?
This leads to Paul’s talk, and specifically, process. I am sure all of us on the MAMDP programme will probably mention the importances of process in our work, or will do at some stage. But, in Paul’s case, the meaning of process is at a higher degree, maybe to the degree of a polynomial. I don’t actually know what that means, what I just said. I know nothing about polynomials, but it just seems appropriate here, as the heavily processed can lose us in the digital world, but, the part I like, also gives us the otherworldliness that I mentioned earlier when talking about Ian’s work. The otherworldliness, the future, the endless possibilities, is what is so appealing in the digital realm. And although it can be slow when learning something new, digital also gives us speed and access to a world that wouldn’t have been possible for all of us in the analogue world. It was just too expensive.
But, what about the haptic in our making and the haptic as the viewer. It should be no surprise to see new generations of artists using woodcut as their print choice, relief done by hand and by the laser cutter. And I suppose it is this binary that gives meaning to the post digital “movement”. If one can strike the right balance between traditional and digital, then the results could be splendid. I hope I can do this one day.
I went to a Thread talk, last February, the theme was digital innovation. One of the speakers Dan Efergan, Creative Director of Aardman Digital, talked about virtual reality and the emotional human story that is missing at this stage of VR technology. This is a good example of when technology is really amazing and innovative, but the user cannot connect to it in the same way we do when we watch a film. It is missing the haptic anchoring that humans need.
Just because something is made by hand, doesn’t mean it is an automatic emotion generator. Paul showed us the process of sending his photograph/replica of his 3-D printed scull, to a paint by demand company in China. A photograph of the replica, printed, then painted then photographed, and then repeated on a continuous cycle creating a hall of mirrors effect. This is done in a factory of artisans who in effect are replacing a machine, but basically are performing as machines. I guess this process is a good segue to Paul’s other project Looking through the eyes of machines.
On the one hand, Paul is incredibly futuristic in his making, progressive processes, and academic results. But I can’t help but feel the bittersweet. Which is, I suppose, the point. A sense of loss under the shiny veneer. This could easily be missed if you don’t pay attention, but then again, you might be happy enough with the sheen.