The individual units that make up ‘Unknown Book’ are a series of small Coptic bound books. The structure that encases the books is made up of 106 units in a grid. Some of these are filled with one book structure, whilst others contain a number of separate sections. There are therefore around 250 individual items that make up this collection.
The book structures are made of a mixture of good quality printmaking paper and re-purposed paper from publications discarded by the library. Edges are torn and uneven.
The books made of new white paper have been marked, dyed, stained, printed, wrapped, scrunched, rubbed, scuffed, distorted and dipped. The structures made of re-purposed books, magazines and papers have been bound, scrunched, curled, wrapped, sliced, deconstructed, reconfigured, cracked, folded and formed.
Together these make up a collection of experiments with material, form and process. They contain a record of my thinking and making around the subject of a collection of books; about scale and accessibility; about classification and collections; about the physical properties of paper and the changes it might go through.
Having made certain decisions about what I was going to concentrate on (book structures as ‘units’, exposed stitching, split sections, fragments of cover, staining, page edges) it was now time to experiment with those details. I sampled different possibilities, identifying exact scale and dimensions and finalising how the work would be presented. These areas were explored alongside each other to some extent. I identified a type of acrylic box divided into units that would sit well within the standard library shelves. I wanted my work to be shown on the shelves, whether that was in amongst the normal book collection or in a gallery space within the library. This acrylic unit (about the scale of a large book) would encase my little books, keeping them safe from disruption by library visitors, whilst enabling viewing from both sides. That containment would also echo the string-bound big book, which cannot be opened: my little books will not be open-able either. The divided acrylic unit had a suggestion of the exposed spine of the big book, which is divided into an uneven grid by the lines of stitching in one direction and the split sections that make up the thick volume in the other. I could fill one of these gridded boxes, or 3, or any number, depending on how long it would take me to make the book units to go within.
I have long been interested in making simple book structures. My work previous to this project had included making a series of small Coptic bound books that then became the repository for recording some aspect of the landscapes I was visiting. The stitched binding remains exposed on the spine of the book, which is made up of page ‘signatures’. Bound together with a series of interlocking stitches, the book structure becomes a unit that flows beautifully in your hands or can sit open in a variety of curves through to a full circle. Using a fairly substantial, good quality paper for these books, I became fascinated by how this basic structure as my ‘blank’ unit could then be dyed, printed, dropped in puddles or dipped in exposed estuary mud, collecting some physical aspect of the landscape, just as I had also treated similarly ‘blank’ units of hand woven thread.
So it was only natural that my initial thoughts for this project were to make books. But… surely that would be too obvious? Wouldn’t everyone else be making some sort of book? Just because the starting point is a collection of books the creative response could take any form…
I considered something less bookish… I had thoughts about possible directions:
using the shelves on which the books are kept
the spaces within these shelves
the repetition of the book unit
the scale of these large books – making something big!
But I kept coming back to that incredible exposed spine. Just because something seems obvious doesn’t make it wrong. That gut reaction I’d had about ‘my’ book seemed just as relevant for my intuitive desire to explore this stitched bound book structure. Furthermore, to have some sort of continuation of themes between projects seems very justifiable. After all, we divide our work into ‘projects’ to present to our audience but really an artist’s work is a continuum, an ever-evolving line of inquiry.
Earlier this year, during the time that I was developing my ideas for the Fifth-Sized Book Adventure, I was invited to take part in an exhibition initiative by the Embroiderers’ Guild. This group exhibition under the title ‘Page 17’ was to be shown around the same time that the Newcastle Library Project would come to fruition. In fact it is on show this weekend at the London leg of the Knitting and Stitching Shows. Participants in Page 17 were invited to take a favourite book as their inspiration for a new piece of work for the exhibition. I don’t know what is on page 17 of ‘my’ book, just as I don’t know what is on any of the pages due to it being bound shut. However, I liked the synchronicity of this project with my current thinking and decided to accept the invitation.
The requirements for the Page 17 exhibition were set out by the organisers and are quite specific due to the nature of the show and its location. This gave me a set of constraints within which to conceive a piece of work, something that can often be quite useful as a starting point. I decided that I wanted to explore the exposed spine and to continue making small units, bringing them together to make a larger whole. These would then be encased in an acrylic box, showing mismatched stitched spines and page edges in a block that would remain tightly closed and restricted.
Constructing this piece proved a useful testing ground for the library work. I planned out the units that would sit within the clear box and then made them one by one, fitting them together at the end like a sort of jigsaw.
The bright white of the paper and stitch was too ‘clean’ to relate back to my old worn starting point, so each unit was dipped in tea to gather more sympathetic tones and marks along their folds, stitches and edges. Fitted back together the piece became a study in texture within a constricted form: rough torn edges and uneven junctions between units, all contained by clear straight boundaries.
I will be teaching a workshop in March at West Dean College in West Sussex. As a new tutor to this renowned centre for the creative arts I have been invited to show some of my work in the College foyer in the run up to my course there. I have sent a variety of work to show in this exhibition, including: Spurn Cloth #1, the large art quilt piece I made during my 2012 residency at Spurn; 49 Beer Bottle Tops (shown above) and 76 Hair Grips (both incorporating found metal with hand stitch and natural staining); a selection of paper-based pieces incorporating rust prints, collagraph and stitch. The exhibition runs form 10th January to 10th March.
When I was in Italy a few weeks ago we explored the nearby lanes and land, collecting plant material and objects that we could make use of in the studio through various printing, mark making and construction techniques. Most of what we used then went to the tip when we’d finished with it. There was a lot of rubbish on the lanes, so I feel that we did quite a good litter-picking job, making use of things before they went in the bin.
There was charred wooden debris amongst the olive trees, presumably as a result of tree pruning, the brash being burnt on site. I used a piece to draw with on my first walk around the fields. There was also the smell of bonfires in the air all week as neighbouring farms and small holdings cleared the land ready for the growing season ahead.
There were a few objects that I picked up in the olive grove around the Masseria and these came home with me to the studio. I have since been playing with them and forming new structures and surfaces in response. These will form part of Findings, which I will be showing later in the year. There were various nut shells: walnut, almond and acorn cups. The acorns from the majestic Macedonian Oak, which we saw in various places are huge in comparison to the ones I’m used to here in the UK.
I’ve been making small vessel structures from paper yarn and once the surface of these is rubbed with mud they take on a really interesting quality. These structures are made with a looping stitch, sewing with a needle but building up a three-dimensional form. I used the same looping stitch but with a pliable linen thread on the burnt olive wood, encasing and wrapping the forms, getting to know each line, crack or subtle change in the surface as I work my way round and round the wood. And as I handle the wood the aroma of smoke takes me back to the place that they were found.
I’ve updated my online shop here with some new items. Some of the stitched leaf cubes that featured in my Leaf Stitching exhibition are on there now, along with a selection of other small 3d and 2d items, books and cards. I do always have a selection of framed pieces from previous exhibitions available, as well as unframed and mounted works (textile and print), but these are not advertised on the shop. I am happy to arrange a visit to the studio (Keighley, West Yorkshire) if you are looking to buy. If you are further afield and have particular requests then do send me an email and I’d be happy to discuss options for work I have available.
Leaf Stitching is showing this week in London and I’m enjoying being back in the calm space that is the Society of Designer Craftsmen Gallery. This exhibition is all about detail. Most of the pieces are intimate in scale and they draw you in to notice their intricacies. Small careful stitches punctuate the natural leaf material; the colours and surface qualities of the leaves invite close inspection.
I have a flurry of workshops at the moment for various groups, which is getting me out and about around the country. In between those and the preparation for them I am making final touches to work for my exhibition Leaf Stitching at the Society of Designer Craftsmen Gallery, London in a couple of weeks. It seems very fitting to have this exhibition as autumn is upon us and I hope it will be a celebration of the leaf at a time when we become particularly aware of these wonderful objects.
As well as pieces featured in the book I published earlier this year with the same title there will be some more recent leaf stitching I have been working on, including 2D and 3D pieces. The Oak leaf Quilt I made a few months ago will be there, and some panels made from eucalyptus leaves that are still work in progress…
I was thrilled to be invited to be part of Meticulous Stitchers at Unit Twelve Gallery, Stafford, alongside artists whose work I really admire. The two pieces I have made for the exhibition are part of my Rust Diaries series and have involved hours and hours (and more) of stitching.
The exhibition opens on 4th June and runs through until 29th August. I will be teaching a couple of day workshops at the gallery in July and there is a ‘stitchers soiree’ on 27th June, a mid-exhibition event (open to all) instead of a private view. You can find more details here and on the Unit Twelve website.