Unidentified Book

This is the second in a series of posts about the Fifth-Sized Book Adventure. For the rest of October I will be posting every couple of days about this project, explaining how I have created my contribution to it. My role in the project includes sharing my process of developing work, for the participants on the project, but I also wanted to make this available to anyone else who might be interested in following that journey.

Having listed (in a previous post) some of the qualities that interested me about the Fifth-Sized Book collection, I realised that it was the physical nature of the books that I was interested in. How could I choose a particular book because of subject? That approach wouldn’t be right for the way I work. I am interested in the materiality of things. It was the way that the books had changed over time that really grabbed my attention: the way that page edges or corners had become scuffed with use or marked by contact with hundreds of people’s fingers and exposure to light; the torn and worn covers or those missing parts of their covers; the marks made by institutional stamps that were now integral to the pages, recording a history of ownership, use and classification.

One particular book stuck in my head after that first visit to the library. It was a chunky volume, sitting on a shelf amongst different sized books. Its spine was missing, leaving the stitching on the inside of the spine exposed and showing how the thick book had split into three sections. The whole volume was tied untidily with old string to keep the sections together. This binding and the loss of the spine cover meant that there is no way of knowing what the subject of the book was.

On my second visit I made straight for this volume, confirming my gut reaction that this was the book upon which I should focus my work. This seemingly very old book was a most intriguing object and by not knowing what its pages held it would remain for me an object whose physical state greatly interested me.

When this book is touched it leaves a mark on your fingers and any clothes or surfaces it comes into contact with. What remains of the leather cover is breaking down into a powdery brown dust. The exposed stitching on the spine is clogged with residue of the glue that previously held the cover on. Some sections retain fragments of the spine cover, with one small area showing blue with embossed gold detail, like a glimpse into the book’s previous state.

5th size book adventure

This is going to be the first in a series of posts about a project I am currently involved in: the 5th Size Book Adventure based at Newcastle Central Library. I am one of a group of lead artists on this Arts Council England funded project, commissioned to share my experience with the participants and make new work, the development of which will be visible for the participants to engage with as they wish. There are around 20 participant artists who are all creating work in whatever medium they use (and it is wide-ranging) in response to the 5th size book collection. They are also recipients of a programme of professional development sessions. All the work will be presented in November in an exhibition in the library itself.

What is a fifth sized book? There are various different ways of classifying book sizes. Most library books, in the UK at least, are classed as 1st size (up to 27cm). There are second, third and fourth dimensions and then anything over 63cm is classed as fifth size.

At Newcastle Library the fifth size book collection is an eclectic mix of subjects, sizes, formats, ages and states of repair. The shelves of third, fourth and fifth size books are all out of access to the general public and the main thing that unites them is their non-conformity with the more standard book sizes on the standard library shelves. It struck me, when being shown the collection, and whilst walking past the area where newspapers are collected and stored (for 1 month after publication), that newspapers are a more ephemeral version of over-sized books. The local newspapers, the Journal and the Chronicle, therefore might be considered part of the collection.

To be invited to take a whole collection of books on such wide-ranging subject matter as religion, architecture, Shakespeare, poetry, history, atlases, dictionaries and many more is a pretty wide starting point. Some might choose one particular book, either by careful consideration or picked at random. The subject matter of that book might take one off on all sorts of creative journeys. Some might decide to focus on the collection as a whole; its physicality; the fact that it is hidden away from public view. Others might concentrate on the whole idea of scale: large scale, possibly small scale, even changes in scale.

I picked a few volumes off the shelves for a closer look: The Complete Woodcuts of Albrecht Dürer; One Day in the World’s Press; Goethe’s Faust (this had a library stamp on every page); Illustrated Catalogue of Bookbinding. The borrowing history in the front of this last one was interesting because it was first borrowed on 20th August 1904, recorded with handwriting in pencil. It was then borrowed 18 times during the next 30 years. On 5th September 1949 it was borrowed and the record was made with a stamped date for the first time. It was borrowed five more times until the last recorded date stamp on 26th May 1966.

After this first visit I listed the things that had jumped out at me:

Shelves

Rows

Repetition

Gaps – views through to more books

Books leaning

Different angles

Piles of books

Stacks

White Gloves (some of the books are fragile but we were actually given gloves to protect us from dusty and disintegrating covers)

Worn covers

Embossed spines

Leather

Book cloth

Textures

Split covers

Too fragile to open

Dust and staining from perishing covers

Worn and grubby

Weight

Greys, blacks, browns

Bubble wrapped

String holding one book together

Gold lettering

Pattern and texture on spines

Massively varying subjects

Ridged spines

Curled corners

Loose edges of spine

Findings in a line

We hung Findings last week at the Ropewalk Gallery, Barton on Humber. This gallery suits my work very well in both scale and environment and I am really pleased with how the exhibition looks. Having hung this body of work on three different gallery spaces during the Knitting and Stitching Shows last year it is good to have had some time to reflect and then show it again, making a few changes to how the work is presented. There are some additions as I sold some pieces from the original show; some pieces have been re-mounted for the wall rather than being shown on plinths; my recent walking book series has been incorporated as these book structures record many of the locations that feature in the rest of the work.

This time the work hangs in one continuous line, so you can take a journey through the objects, studying each one in turn. Each individual piece is intimate in scale and the detail is all-important. Together they form a much bigger whole and I hope that they tell a story; each viewer reading a slightly different narrative.

Shall I take you on a walk around the gallery? I can’t show you every piece (there are over 200) but this will give you a good flavour of the work…

As many of you will know, there is a publication which accompanies this body of work. Findings, which has close-up images of much of the work as well as writing that links the pieces to the places that they record and essays by Nigel Morgan, is available to order here. The exhibition continues until 3rd September.

DIS/rupt

DIS/rupt opens today at the Museum in the Park and tomorrow at Lansdown Hall Gallery, Stroud. This exhibition and associated events is by the Textile Study Group and is launching as part of SIT select. There are twenty members showing work across the two venues and some of us are teaching workshops linked to the project. You can read more about DIS/rupt here, book onto workshops, the DIS/rupt symposium and see all the other events happening here and you can read a bit more about the work I have made for this exhibition here.

The Private View for the exhibitions are this Friday – do come along if you can.

Ally Pally

alice_fox_findings_allypally

Last week the Knitting & Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace was full-on and tiring but a great experience. It was an honour to be amongst some really high quality exhibitions at the show and in such an amazing venue. After so long making the work for Findings it all came together on display for the first time and it was really good to see how the many visitors to the show reacted to the work. It was lovely to watch people working their way around the walls of the gallery space and breaking into smiles when they realised that what they were looking at were stitched acorns or shells.

The way I presented my Findings was as if they were part of a natural history collection or a group of archaeological artefacts. Perspex boxes, rows, grids and entomology pins helped give a flavour of a museum collection. My visit to Manchester Museum last year helped me plan for this. Once the work was up and lit in the gallery there were all sorts of interesting shadows cast by the both the pieces and the perspex boxes. I think the best views were looking through the side of the boxes seeing the work inside surrounded by reflections of other pieces and the work on the walls beyond.

alice_fox_findings_detail

Now I’m looking forward to doing it all again in Dublin next week.

Findings

alice_fox_findings_stitched_limpet

The autumn Knitting and Stitching Shows are upon us, with the Alexandra Palace show opening on Wednesday 5th October. My front room is full of Findings in boxes waiting to be loaded into the car and taken down to London tomorrow. There are still some unknowns about exactly how the work will fit in the space: it is impossible to test it out fully and the actual space may well feel very different to the imagined one. But careful planning means that I hope it will come together successfully over the next couple of days. As I was making the final fixings and preparations I got really quite excited about how this collection of objects will come together next week. I’m looking forward to seeing it all together on display rather than in and out of boxes in the studio.

9780992705121

My Findings book, published to accompany the exhibition, arrived a few days ago and this will be available at the show along with my other titles. The new book is now on the shop and will be available to order in the next few days. I have put a page with the work list of all the items in the exhibition here. This lists titles and prices and is intended for reference whilst viewing the show or as a reminder afterwards. It isn’t possible to post images of all the work but I hope to be able to show how the exhibition looks once it is up.

findings-flyer-2

old lime kiln re-visited

Alice_Fox_Upper_EdenI spent last week in a quiet part of Cumbria. It was a working week but in a beautiful location away form home and studio. We made time to explore a bit as well, enjoying the sweeping views across the valley and the changing weather patterns.

Alice_Fox_fell_fieldAlice_Fox_Ladle_LaneAlice_Fox_limestone_pavementAlice_Fox_lime_kiln_in_landscapeAlmost exactly a year ago I had a similar week working here and came across an old lime kiln that had been used recently as a bonfire site; a place to dispose of various bits of agricultural rubbish. You can see this structure on the picture above, in the middle near the bottom. What remained amongst the ash and nettles were various bits of metal, rusty and burnt. Some of these objects formed the starting points for a section of my Findings project. I brought this group of work back with me, intending to photograph them ‘on location’. So last Friday, with good light conditions and a pleasant breeze, the pieces accompanied me on a walk up onto the edge of the fell until I found a suitable limestone rock. This was within view of the old lime kiln and made a very suitable foil for my line of Findings.

Alice_Fox_lime_kiln_objects_on_limestoneI’m now in the midst of putting together the book to accompany the exhibition. This publication, like my previous self-published books, tells the story of the project. Images and words are gathered together from the places that sparked off the ideas, the making of the work and the finished pieces.

 

in progress

Alice Fox Findings weave and stone work in progress

I’m busy in the studio at the moment making work that will be shown in the autumn as Findings. You can read a bit more about the exhibition on the Knitting and Stitching Show website here. Findings is made up of a series of collections of objects. Some are forms that I have made, incorporating a found object within their structure. Once constructed, the form is then either soaked or dyed to allow the fibres to be stained by the embedded object; the detail of how the stain develops and ends up is unpredictable. Some are structures that I have made and then coated in gathered mud or ground-up stone, changing the colour of my woven, knotted or looped surface but also changing the character of it, transforming it into an almost ceramic-like surface. Other pieces are objects that I have gathered and then altered or added to, stitching or weaving into or onto the object itself.

Most of the pieces are made using neutral thread, allowing the staining to develop at the end after construction is complete. It can be quite difficult to make the leap from a fairly pristine surface where the contrast between clean fibre and rusty metal, weathered wood or hard stone is stark. But once the fibres are stained or marked the relationship between fibre and object becomes much closer, more complete. There are images of how some of the pieces are developing on here.

Each piece is an experiment, a trial, a question: what happens if I do this? There are variations on themes within the collections, some forming a series of developments, others being more individual because of their particular characteristics.

more keys

Alice_Fox_40SycamoreKeys1-10

Alice_Fox_40SycamoreKeys11-20

I’m now half way through my drawing project 40 Sycamore Keys. Each time I go to the studio I start the day by doing a couple of these drawings. The latest 10 are now listed on my shop. I’m really enjoying working my way through the collection, studying and recording each one in turn.

This week I haven’t managed to get to the studio. I’ve had a great deal of administration to do, so I’ve concentrated on that and done research and reading. I find it depressing to spend a week staring at the computer screen rather than doing what feels like ‘proper’ work. However, it is all relevant stuff and next week will involve much more making.

Once again it is the time of year when Craft & Design Magazine run their Selected Makers Awards. Voting is open until the end of March. If you would like to vote for me (here) your help would be much appreciated – thank you!

 

40 Sycamore Keys

Alice_Fox_Hackfall_sycamore_keyAs I mentioned a couple of posts back, I spent my 40th birthday exploring the wonderful Hackfall woods in North Yorkshire. This special place is a historic landscape garden, which appears wild but has been manipulated by the hand of man for over 400 years. Now managed by The Woodland Trust and The Hackfall Trust, it is a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

For two whole days, from sunrise to beyond moonrise, we drank every detail of the woodland in. Walking every path, treading each 18th century step, discovering all the carefully planned vistas and more. From our precariously perched hideaway we looked down onto the steeply sloping valley, lined with a tapestry of trees recently exposed as their winter selves. The luminous larch held the light and glowed from it’s soon-to-drop yellowing needles. Walking amongst the trees we came upon the recumbent trunk of a fallen tree that had become home to a whole community of plant species: a garden where fairies might have partied, littering the populated surface of the trunk with their tattered wings. The death of majestic birds was exposed before us on the path: blood spilled and feathers strewn. The naked pink of sycamore stems caught our attention. We marvelled at hazel branches holding droplets to sparkle in the last light as the moon rose behind silhouetted boughs. And through it all the rushing river wound its noisy way; energetic always. Water is a constant in this wood: dripping, rushing, hanging, pooling, reflecting.

Alice_Fox_Hackfall_sycamore_keys_log

Those tattered fairy wings I found were sycamore keys in various states of delicate decay. I collected a few, popping them into a little jar to study later. Back in my studio I emptied out the jar and laid out the keys. Counting them I found that I had collected exactly 40. I set out to draw each one, studying the detail of their veined surface and aiming to capture something of their fragility.

Alice_Fox_40_sycamore_keys

The drawings are made in walnut ink on watercolour postcards. The ink was made from walnut husks gathered in the Yorkshire garden of a friend. The first few of the series are now posted in my shop and a donation will be made to The Woodland Trust from the sale of each drawing. My drawings are ongoing, a few a week until all 40 are made. I’ll let you know how I get on.

Alice_Fox_Hackfall_sycamore_keys_1-6