Tome of my Life
A new show is looking to bring books created by artists to Bangaloreans, says Jaideep Sen.
Despite the air of exclusivity that sometimes surrounds them, many viewers of art remain unfamiliar with artists’ books. The form itself perhaps needs some explaining – artists’ books aren’t about written, printed or published records at all, but rather are works of art conceptualised, and created in the form of books. These books, often released in limited editions, aren’t necessarily meant for reading from beginning to end like conventional books; rather, they have come to be regarded as individual works of art.
The book as a form of art has found favour among many artists, including Matisse and Picasso, said Jenny Pinto, the artist and maker of handcrafted paper who lives in the city. “In the last three or four decades, every important artist has made an artist’s book or book sculpture,” she noted: “Anish Kapoor, Anthony Caro, and Anselm Kiefer, to name a few.” Radha Pandey, a designer from New Delhi, added that da Vinci was said to have cultivated the form as well. “The form has since evolved, depending on the historical contexts, needs and aspirations of artists,” she offered. “The intent of an artist makes the book into a work of art.”
Over the last few weeks, Pinto, along with Pandey and Yasmin Sethi, another designer from Delhi, has hosted a workshop specifically for some of the city’s artists to try their hands at the form. The outcome of those sessions is a show that will be held this fortnight at Scion Theatre, with works by Ayisha Abraham, Sheela Gowda, Surekha,
SG Vasudev, Umesh Kumar and the designers Jason Cherian, Jayshree Poddar and Sarita Sundar, as well as a group of art students, including Kamini Rao, Nikita Jain and Niyati Upadhya, among others. For some of the established artists, making these works has undoubtedly meant a return to a more elementary process, allowing them to re-experience the honing of a skill.
As far as experimental practices are concerned, artists’ books may well exemplify a return to a more simple approach to art, with an emphasis on the craft of book-making. Some of the most enthusiastic responses at the workshops have been from the designers. Poddar, for instance, said she was keen on realising “a three-dimensional form [that] can be studied, handled and explored visually, in a tactile way, in its aspects of volume and mass, colour and contrast”. Having worked primarily with textiles, Poddar said she was keen on the connection between “fabric as a two-dimensional plane, and the aspect of a book as a stack – or a sheet of paper, many times over”.
Cherian said he was interested in the aspects of geometry and patterns in his works, and was looking to play with the organic nature of the materials. Kumar, in turn, said he was interested in matters of “form and materiality”, and that he wanted to focus on the “aesthetics of the ordinary”. His aim, he said, was “to examine the notions of a book outside of literature”, and work towards a small piece using a few common materials “from everyday transactions and domestic relations”. Sundar explained that she was hoping to attempt a “fusion of narrative, structure and the form’s theatrical possibilities”, and to try and work her way through the different dimensions and perspectives of the medium and its processes. “Artists’ books are an extension of telling stories,” she reasoned, “and that is what we all love doing – telling and hearing stories.”
Pinto pointed out that there is a difference between creating artists’ books and other related forms such as art catalogues – for one, with an artist’s book, the emphasis isn’t necessarily on efficient design and functionality. “The artist brings an individual, original take,” she said. “At times this could result in a conventional form, be it a book or just a folder, at other times, it could result in a sculptural or altered book.” Pandey added that the form can prove to be fairly complex and challenging. “It seems to me that it’s a natural evolution to move from a flat sheet of paper to exploring the more dimensional forms of the book,” she explained. “In some instances, it’s about creating a narrative, and a book form lends itself to that intent.”
Exploring the form could easily prove to be an extension for artists who already involve narratives, text and image in their works, noted Pandey. “On the other hand, it may be a complete leap in a different direction,” she added. “The possibilities of the page and the structure are endless – in treating the book as art, artists re-define the book as a whole.” Ultimately, in the various explorations of the participating artists, the show will also be about giving new definitions to the form of artists’ books.