Since last October, the University of Edinburgh postgraduate intern, Elliott Jenkins, has been working with the artists’ books and photobooks collection in the Central Library’s Art & Design Library. He has researched the current collection as well as the Scottish artists’ book scene in order to suggest further acquisitions. This research has culminated in an exhibition entitled, Pushing the Bindings: Artists’ Books and Photobooks from the Art & Design Library Collection. The exhibition seeks not only to showcase the wide range of artists’ books in the collection but to explore what makes an artists’ book special – and the artist book scene in Scotland specifically.
Artists’ books are artworks created through the medium of the book form. Typically, these books are printed on a small scale and with limited editions. Sometimes they can even be made as one-of-a-kind objects. Additionally, it is not uncommon for the artists to own the press from which the books are printed. This would be an example of the artist controlling the entirety of the artistic process. However, the artist chooses to create and print their artists’ books, they are sure to set themselves apart from the standard novel or text book. Sometimes the book might follow an artistic narrative or simply a common theme is repeated throughout, but in all cases they are artworks in their own right. The library has an array of styles of artists’ books. The collection holds an international collection of contemporary artists’ books dating from the 1960s onwards totaling approximately 200 items. This includes works by renowned Pop Artist Edward Ruscha, Conceptual artists Sol Lewitt and Joseph Kosuth, and famed Scottish artists Ian Hamilton Finlay and Kate Whiteford. Therefore, the collection spans all categories of artists’ books and is therefore an excellent resource for researching and understanding this form of art.
The Art & Design Library began collecting artists’ books in the 1990s and has been steadily adding to the collection, with a more recent focus on artists working in Scotland. While Pushing the Bindings exhibits books from Scotland, England, France, and the United States, the emphasis is on the Scottish artists’ books in the collection. The Scottish artists include the late Ian Hamilton Finlay, Elaine Fullerton, Joanna Robson, Susie Wilson, and Lynda Wilson – just to name a few. Most of these artists are working today and have prolific careers creating artwork through many mediums including artists’ books. The Scottish artists within the collection also exemplify a signature style that may be developing within the scene in Scotland. In Elliott’s research and in the exhibition, it is argued that Scottish artists take on a style of abstraction and craftsmanship which transforms the book into something more; and, therefore, separates them from other artist book practices. While this argument is not solidified, the exhibition invites visitors to examine and explore the way in which Scottish artists’ books are similar too or differ from practices in other parts of the world.
Another overarching theme within the exhibition is the accessibility of artists’ books and democratic way in which they make artwork available, more so than a gallery or museum would. Artists such as Ed Ruscha and Sol Lewitt, who are extremely important in the history of Modern Art, also used artists’ books to create works of art. While the book itself may not exactly be a work of art, as it may be the case with Scottish artists, it demonstrates Ruscha’s and Lewitt’s desire for their artistic practices to reach a larger audience. By simply requesting to view Rushca’s, Lewitt’s, or any artist’s book from the Art & Design Library, you are participating in one of the most important features of the medium – their accessibility and their capacity to turn a big idea into a book you can hold in your hands.
The final feature of the exhibition is the inclusion of the photobooks in the Art & Design Library collection. A photobook is a collection of photographs usually by a singular photographer in order to display a specific body of work. However, it is more than just a document of work; it is a compilation of the performative act of taking the photograph and then the concluding result of a cohesive narrative or an overarching theme. The specific photobooks in Pushing the Bindings are similar to the artists’ books on display in that they are projects created by a singular artist and about one specific subject. While the artists’ books may focus on an aspect of the artist’s life or on a specific object, these photobooks focus on a topic or issue that is of importance to the artist. Many of these interests lay within the documentation of everyday life and the natural world. The way the photographs are displayed in the book, which sometimes include corresponding text material, inform us of their significance to the project and to the artist. Due to the relational quality of photography, the photobook – similar to the artist book – becomes a medium that allows for a more personal and intimate encounter with art.
Pushing the Bindings: Artists’ Books and Photobooks from the Art & Design Library Collection is on display on the Mezzanine level at Central Library until 30 April 2018.
Elliott and the staff of the Art & Design Library hope that you visit and enjoy the Pushing the Bindings exhibition. We hope that it encourages you to visit the library in the future, peruse the photobook section, and request to explore some of the brilliant artists’ books in the collection. The collection can be viewed on request during normal library opening hours. Appointments can be arranged for group visits. All artists’ books are listed on the Library catalogue and are for reference use only. To view items from the collection, please contact the Art & Design Library. Email firstname.lastname@example.org and telephone 0131 242 8040.