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This weekend I’ll be off to the wonderful Bristol Artists Book Event.  It’s always such a good weekend – welcoming, inspiring and exhausting in equal measures, I highly recommend it. I’ll be sharing a table with David Armes of Red Plate Press so I’ll have a proper chance to look around this year.  I’m taking the hold, follow books made in response to walks around Staithes this winter.  Below is a spread from hold, follow – step, hollow, arch.

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I’ll also be bringing a new booklet – Accumulated Data – concertina folded wood cut prints, in an edition of 10 – detail in image below.  This work is made in response to the John Rylands Library, Manchester.  The original wood block was cut in 2015 and references the incidental and intentional marks that craftsmen, readers and other visitors have left on the library and it’s furniture.  You can read more about the project in the blog post from the time here.

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Staithes Studios

March 24, 2017

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Returning to Staithes this weekend for the last day of hold, follow at Staithes Studios Gallery. David of Red Plate Press and myself will be in the gallery on Sunday between 2-4pm, do come and say hello if you find yourself nearby!

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June 22, 2016

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Come along to turn the page artists’ book fair this weekend

Just over a week ago I spent 2 fascinating days in the company of Artists, Poets, GP’s, Academics, Archivists, Occupational Therapists, Art Psychotherapists, Mental Health Nurses and Patients at the symposium and workshop organised by the University of Kent and the exhibition PRESCRIPTIONS.

The programme of events was built around the collection of books made by Martha A Hall, that were donated by the artist to be used as a learning resource at the University of New England.

Hall’s books focusing on her experience living with breast cancer are uniquely powerful as patient narratives. The intimacy of the book form draws students into relationship with the artist’s narrative, suggesting that the body and the text are inseparable. Handling such books, which contain intimate pieces of a person’s life experience, creates deep impact for students and is especially valuable for those planning to enter the health professions, which is the case for the majority of students at the University of New England. Hall’s books not only emphasize her struggle for voice and self- determination in the medical encounter; they demand that the patient’s perspective be heard. But beyond that, they invite readers into a partnership and reframe the encounter with the patient’s body in ways that radically shift students’ understanding of the health professions and of their own embodied experience as human beings.

The above text is taken from the symposium programme where you can read about the speakers and the abstracts of their presentations.  The symposium was organised by Stella Bolaki who had studied Martha Hall’s books for some time. Here you can find an in-depth article by Stella Bolaki on the subject.  Each presentation approached the symposium title from different angles: from the medical humanities looking for a way of rebalancing failures in the current health education system; as academics and artists making and curating work to express and document ill health; as archivists using the collection of Martha Hall’s work to educate new health practitioners; from sociology understanding society and the individual through the action of making. See below for some of my free flow notes taken on the day.

If you have time do watch Martha Hall talking about making and using her books in the film below. Aside from the experience of handling the books in person, this film gives a sense of the real practical use that artists’ books can offer.

 

Artists’ books only exist in the hands. Artists’ books problematise the way we read books, they force us into new ways of reading. ..spine of the book…Palimpsest – re-writing  / re-authoring narratives – power in healthcare.  Making a book is a temporal experience as is the reading of it… Artists’ books are made for 1:1 interaction but can reach many people.  The form matches experience: balances, enclosure / exposure, inward and outward. .. We need to be producing and redistributing sensibility capital…the production of insensibility by medical culture.. Walter Benjamin ‘how we sense is cultural’…Penisula appointed a Professor of Visual Art alongside Professors of Music and Medicine…Pity (greek compassion) v’s empathy..  ‘Patients want a good conversation, they don’t want to be told certainty for it to be wrong’… ‘I just want my doctor’s knowledge not their empathy’ The arts produce ambiguity…  Turning the page…the viewer is complicit in the action….  ‘I ‘d reach for what’s closest and make what I needed.’…  Making art to make sense…  ‘Painting the mural gave me the excuse to stand on the street and talk about the grief surging in me’…  Painted blazers were a walking gallery… Artists’ Books tell the truth…equal heft to science textbooks… Some want empathy, some want knowledge, all want respect and time..Doctors need to check expectations and learn to read what people are looking for….  ‘We have answers, but we don’t get trained to deal with situations when we don’t have answers’…  Increase visual literacy and increase self-determination and expression…  Rita Charon encourages parallel charts…art practice can be cathartic but not helpful for the condition…how to make a practice informed by health needs as a preventative..to maintain equilibrium?

 

The exhibition at The Beaney was co-curated by Stella Bolaki and Egidija Ciricaite who wrote a lovely post about one of the main strands of the exhibition on the blog collective investigations.

The show features the work of 78 artists alongside 15 books by Martha Hall you can see the online catalogue below for more information on each artist and book.  The work looks great in the display cabinets and offers fleeting glimpses into each experience captured. A frustration expressed by many was that none of the books can be fully read in this state. Due to issues of insurance and liability at The Beaney, the core message, that the handling of artist’s books can increase the ability to ‘read’ others sensitively, is trapped behind the glass.  Happily, the last I heard, the co-ordinating of handling sessions were being discussed. Many  of the artists have donated their books to the Artists’ Books and the Medical Humanities collection to be housed at the University of Kent for future handling, education and research.  I’ve donated the last of my home edition which can be seen being handled here.

 

The workshop gave the opportunity for a day of active reflection on the issues raised by the symposium speakers and books in the exhibition. With initial activities, led by Jennifer Tuttle and Cathleen Miller, linking the structural and material elements of Martha’s books to content, the large group very quickly engaged with the subject matter and once Andrew Malone had given the lead into the practical activity, linking technique and materials available with now familiar examples there was a visible surge in energy and focus in the room as people sought and found their visual language very quickly.  It was a very positive experience to witness a group of people, largely new to artists’ books take to the medium so quickly and with such potency. Scouring imagery and piles of materials is always fun but there felt a hunger in which we all sought them.

Here are some pictures of the book I made. I used the workshop as a chance to digest what I had heard and seen the day before and approached the book making as a reflection exercise, thinking about my relationship with health and healthcare and my role in the health of others through personal relationships and my job within healthcare.  Andrew gave us each a length of concertina folded paper which is a great place to start from and a lovely way of comparing and sharing experiences later. I used my own concertina as a dividing line between myself and healthcare, myself on one side, healthcare on the other, and used openings and translucent layers to suggest the links between the two. I don’t often use collage but found it a really helpful way to think things through, as visual metaphors continually jumped out at me from the piles of imagery and tactile surfaces! Lots of engineering diagrams, traces of past civilisations, Victorian style explorer illustrations and offcuts from Andrews’ own work – absent subjects hinted at by the contours of a backdrop. No epiphanies yet but it’s a start.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Image: Martha Hall, Maine Women Writers Collection, University of New England

This week I’m off to Kent for a symposium and workshop on Artist’s Books and the Medical Humanities.The symposium is linked to an exhibition of Martha A Hall’s work curated by Dr Stella Bolaki and Egidija Ciricaite at The Beaney,  see below for more details.

Prescriptions: artist’s books on wellbeing and medicine

with featured artist Martha A Hall in The Drawing Room at The Beaney House of Art & Knowledge CT1 2RA from April 22 – August 14. Preview April 21.

The exhibition focuses on the book art of Martha Hall, on loan from the University of New England, and linked to a University of Kent symposium. Hall’s books document her experiences with breast cancer and interactions with the medical community, and are accompanied by a curated show of artists books responding to themes of art, empathy and wellbeing. Supported by the Wellcome Trust.

 

I’m also really pleased to have some work in the supporting show.  home was made to give me time to reflect upon and share my understanding of my nan’s dementia, and how it affected both her and my relationship with ‘home’. Sharing the work at book fairs and exhibitions has opened up conversations with others in similar situations, has allowed reflection and disclosure of thoughts and feelings often censored in situations.  Along with some other exhibitors I’m donating my final copy of this edition to the University of Kent’s collection for future research by medical humanities students.  I’m really looking forward to hearing more about the project later in the week.

 

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home, screen printed  flash cards 2009

a brief visit to Detroit

March 29, 2016

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Last year my partner David Armes of Red Plate Press was awarded a Winston Churchill Travel Fellowship with which he toured and printed in some of the many letterpress studios in the United States. You can see the blog of his trip (and in effect details of parts of mine) here.

Amazingly, I got the chance to visit him, landing in Detroit during his final week working at open access print shop Signal Return and received the same kind and generous hospitality from the team and their founder that they had extended to David.  On my visit to the printshop I had the pleasure of hearing readings from Anatomy of a Museum a book  written by A.Kendra Greene recently published in collaboration with Lee Marchalonis the Printer in Residence at Signal Return.  The book is an account of getting-to-know the Icelandic Phallological Museum, with letterpress printed cover and mono printed endpapers, the book is well worth the read and purchase of.  Kendra and Lee also read from  their most recently completed collaboration and talked of the nature of such wonderful things happening through residencies and time apportioned.

On a kindly lent bike I got to have a scoot around the city.  I guess partly because the city, built for the car, has a much smaller population than it once did, the roads, wide and empty, are pretty safe to cycle on (though there’s quite a lot of bumps). In other U.S cities  I hear people don’t even dare.  Attempts seem to be made to encourage it in Detroit and I did see other cyclists, especially on the Dequindre Cut, a recently installed cycle route running from the Eastern Market through downtown to the river front.  Detroit also have racks on the front of buses where you can stash your bike and hop on.  Even with oil and gas as cheap as they are in the US cycling has still got to be the most economical option for a cash strapped city.

From the river front you can see Canada, in fact Detroit is the only place in the U.S where you look south to Canada. If you carry on along the front you can cycle the wide bridge to Belle Isle Park.  A leisure island home to, among other things, a nature zoo, aquarium, many picnic shelters, a beach, water slide and the Belle Isle Conservatory, built in 1904, run by the state of Detroit and quite lovely.

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I think this was part of the Nature Zoo

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Having just left a small friendly town in the U.K. I found myself getting the same kind of reception and community vibe from the Detroiters, perhaps again, this is because the population has dwindled and folks feel more inclined. Perhaps Detroit folk have always been warm and keen to acknowledge each other. Perhaps I was just looking for it.

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I certainly passed some places where sadness dwells; empty lots next to grand locked up houses, the vast abandoned Packard factories, Michigan Central Station.  I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to watch, not only a big powerful city but a city called home, fall like Detroit did.  At least now, it seemed like in many of these places sadness was being met with creative optimism. On the evening we visited The Heidelberg Project  a young troupe of gymnasts were posing and cartwheeling around for a photographer.  I got an excellent walking/eating tour of Detroit Market Garden who offer apprenticeships and run a twice weekly food bank with crops grown across the city.  There are lots more projects like this.  At least in these places it felt like folk were looking to move on and put something back into the city community whilst doing so, I hope it helps.

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I took these photos as the sun went down in Hamtramck a city nearby Detroit, the most ethnically diverse and feeling-like-home city that I saw in the US.  We gawped at the backyard wonders of  Dmytro Szylak along with a little girl and her mum and read in the comments book notes from international visitors.  Perhaps a little noisy and bright for some of his neighbours, but what a joyful gift to leave the world with.

In June 2013 Manchester Adult Education Service (MAES) cut it’s Arts provision completely. MAES had suffered cuts over 10 years along with most council services and in 2013 offered the remaining 12 tutors of it’s Visual Arts team the chance to move across to Family Learning, IT, ESOL or Jobs Group. Some tutors chose to move subjects, some took redundancy.

Having previously worked in the service for 10 years myself, I was saddened by the cuts and felt moved to make some form of document of a service that had an important role in our local community at the very least.  I also wanted to mark my colleagues, the last of the team, their roles as tutors and creative people.

I decided to take pencil portraits of their hands, the tools they used to teach and create with. Utilising classic ‘learning to draw’ exercises; drawing fast, without looking at the page, drawing with a continuous line, I made several portraits of each tutor. Whilst drawing I talked to them about their time in adult education, how they fell into the work, what they enjoyed about teaching and how the job had changed over their time in the service.

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After spending a good hour or two with 9 of the 12 tutors it seemed that between them they had told me the story of the development of the adult education provision for arts in Manchester since the 1970’s.  Taking visual cues from the old education aesthetic – old D-file dividers, a random selection of fonts, handwriting and photocopying – I compiled a book using the hand portraits and quotes from each tutor.

Apart from the history of the service, what I got from talking to each of the tutors was a sense of what it is to be a teacher, a creative person and a learner; a person who values people, community and social learning.  Also, what it means to be valued, discounted, be part of something bigger, ways to cope and ways to adapt and make new paths for sharing these skills with others.  I wanted to keep it simple but I hope something of that comes across in the book too.

Each tutor got a copy of the book and copies have also gone to the Local History section at Manchester Central Library.   If you would like to own a copy, or share your own experiences of adult education, get in touch or come along to Manchester Artists Book Fair at The Holden Gallery at MMU this Friday or Saturday. Draw with it, paint with it, point with it  will also be available to read in the Reading Room during the fair.

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I’m very pleased to be showing work alongside Nina Chua, Dennis Whiteside and Richard Shields in the display cases of the Historic Reading Room at John Rylands.

Case Studies, curated by John Lynch is part of Manifest Arts Festival – 10.7-12.7.

Each artist has made work using the display cases as their starting point.  Case Studies continues until 27.9

SIGHT     OBSERVATION     ATTENTION      READING     PATTERN

LEARNING     BUILDING     KNOWLEDGE     STORAGE     SHELVED

TEXT      IMPRINTS     REPEATED READINGS      LINES  OF  DATA

LINES  OF  MEMORY      CRACKS  IN  STONE      STAINS      CAST

SHADOW      NOTE  TAKING    DOCUMENTATION     REFLECTION

GLARE   OBFUSCATION   CARE   CONTAINMENT   CONSERVATION

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some sense of how my work evolved; sketchy photos of work in progress

a pattern develops

June 23, 2015

I feel like I’m front crawl swimming. A stroke that, as an adult, I only perform when I’m feeling most brave. Without goggles I can’t see very well; as my head tips up to breathe, the water drips off my eyelashes and if I don’t get the breathing pattern right the water goes up my nose. Front crawl swimming takes up all of the energy and focus. Not bad but not a stroke to be doing when you want to keep calm, feel measured and cast a reflective eye on your surroundings.  I feel like I’ve been front crawl swimming, in circles for months now. Time for a little breaststroke, so here’s some of what I’ve been circling around. Gemma phone_20150209_003 V and A shadows V and A metalwork birds at High Barn, holkham forge Chinese New Year in Manchester, beautiful shadows and metalwork at the Victoria and Albert. Swallows set in an old tree at High Barn courtesy of the wonderful Holkham Forge. GL.longing Gemma phone_20150203_012The Allotment, Crouch and Ward GL.anything the earth Building understandings of home and allotment.  Printing and gathering work together into new books. Books taken to fairs and photos soon to be on the website proper. cherry blossom time lead and light, camden Journeyman, Ewan MacColl Draw with it.. cover A book to be read about growing up in Salford and a book made about the last of the Arts team from Manchester Adult Education. LCR annual subs case

A batch made of this years Little Cracked Rabbit subscription box set.

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Time spent pondering the data, cracks and conservation in The John Rylands Library for marks that have been made and marks to make for a new piece to be shown in the cases July- September as part of MANIFEST

and then it was spring

March 22, 2015

And I wondered just what I had been doing since January…Well, among other things I’ve  been printing and gathering and now I’ve started compiling the books I intend to take with me to Bristol Artists Book Event in April and Turn the Page, Norwich in May.

Today I finally returned the box to the allotment after spending last summer cutting the one in the other or cutting the other into the one on the other….are we all following?!  I also brought one of the full textile prints I had taken of the box and hung it between canes to photograph. I’m making a book of the box prints on paper, these will be housed in a portfolio which should also include one of the stills I took today, to offer a little more context to the piece. It turns out that whilst taking stills my camera is also, without my knowledge (I really should have downloaded the manual) able to take film. So here is a brief preview of what stills may be available!