QofR: Reflecting on my own practice

Updated: Apr 22, 2021

This is definitely the hardest part for me. Partly from a lack of confidence that what I make could be defined as 'creative practice' - something cohesive and progressional. However, the Question of Research module has made me see a consistency in my academic and creative interests. So I thought it might be useful to look at how I started this course, and where I'm going to go next thanks to what I've learnt.

I studied an undergraduate and MA course in English Lit. I'm pretty comfortable with research, and while my ability to synthesise and create a coherent argument may not come naturally (it genuinely is a painful process), I absolutely love the journey of investigation. This is something this course has confirmed. In particular, I've found the blog incredibly helpful in processing and structuring information in smaller chunks, as well as forcing me to record things as I go along (gone are the days of painfully reconstructing a bibliography out of mysterious hand written notes).

After I finished my MA, I ran a small printing press producing limited editions of literature and visual art. The driving concept behind Hurst Street Press was to create books that were as beautiful as their contents. We were inspired by the aesthetic sensibilities of the 19th Century livre d'artistes, but also their successors' notions of the book as a democratic, accessible format. We wanted to create books with the look of a fine arts edition and the price tag of a cheap paperback.

Key to our intention was recognising the power of the physical book: enacting a dialogue between text and image, and the page they sat on. This was in 2015-2018 and we produced some things I'm very proud of: a couple of individual collections (The Divers, Grits) as well as a three part magazine featuring young local creatives (IRIS) and a series entitled ANON that reprinted forgotten women's writing from the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.

The books were hand-bound, printed with letterpresses and risographs, painstakingly imposed with amateur InDesign skills. We made marbled covers, included pull out sections, printed on acetate and tracing paper, and played around with typefaces. The biggest restraint was our intention to sell the books and to make some kind of profit, which held back our experimentalism - we were making 300 copies of each edition by hand.

The page below shows a tongue-in-cheek advertising page we created using a double run on the risograph. We inserted a QR code which took readers to a website with a non-interactive pdf upload of the page. The self-referential contents mocked our own serious intentions for creating a print book.

We experimented with typography, combining letterpress printing with risographic and laser printing. What I both loved and hated about the risograph is the complex imposition process, which led to many a page printed upside down or back to front. The screen printing style layering of colour also had interesting consequences: if you want to colour a page, you can either colour the corresponding page too, or have to put it through twice, printing each page of the leaf separately, incurring more work. Sometimes we just stuck the whole sheet through and hoped no-one would notice - this led to weird coincidences, like when we used a purple colour for some images on one half of the sheet and consequently coloured a page of text purple from a story called 'Lilac Fever'.

For this poetry collection, I designed a letterpress block for the inside of the cover. We also included a hand drawn map of Europe for the inside spread, we printed this on acetate as a transparent pull out, that doubled as a dust jacket.

I left the Press in 2018 to focus on other things, but had unfinished business - both as a researcher and as an artist. When I chose the question - 'How can materiality enhance end user/audience experience?' I didn't consciously set out to think about artists' books, it happened quite organically. And while I've long had a vague interest in the physical book, I hadn't developed that research until this year.

So what have I learnt and how will this develop my practice?

My Major Project started as an interest in folklore, partly because I liked the general aesthetic of folklore, and partly because being stuck in one location during lockdown has meant I've become increasingly interested in the history of the land around me. I began by thinking about oral transmission and our relationship with nature (folkloric tales spend a lot of time attempting to understand and explain the outside world). I noticed that a huge number of the stories I read were about transformations: human-animal, human-nature (tree/mud/rock) etc. I saw the process of transformation as a symbol for the fragility of civilisation; the permeable membrane between wilderness and domesticity, between man and beast. The stories served as a humbling reminder of our place within the world around us - not as king and consumer, but as one small part of a fragile ecosystem that we are intelligent enough to have some insight into, but not quite smart enough to stop destroying.

I knew I wanted to create some kind of pseudo-scientific catalogue to capture the essence of these stories, to make an artist's book that somehow represented these ideas. However, the research I've done on this module has encouraged me to think about how, rather than just drawing the transformations, I might enact them. I've thought far more about the relationship between my work and the person who views it, and how this relationship can be made integral to the intention of the work.

I've begun some very rudimentary experiments with paper engineering and movable parts. using what I’ve learnt in Question of Research, I want to remove the distance between the audience and object and transform audience into user.

The novelty devices and paper mechanic will force the user to enact the transformations rather than simply passively observing them. This complicity will hopefully encourage a self-awareness of their own bodies as mutable spaces and ones to be celebrated rather than overlooked.

I want to follow Martha Carothers idea that the novelty devices should 'explain, describe, or entertain, at the same time piquing the viewer to action, both physical and mental', rather than simply act as a collection of gimmicks. The choice of the novelty device and the actions involved should compliment or disrupt the visual content. So I have begun to think carefully about how this could work - could a cadenza be used to pull a wing from the shoulder blade? Could a tunnel pull out show a woodland bough, with a human slowly growing leaves and bark from their feet? Could a transformation pull be used to imitate an eel slipping through the reeds as hands and legs fuse into a single slippery body?

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