Luise Guest revisits her passion for works on paper, from ye olde scrolls to new fangled zines…
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect of Scrolls to Zines, but the title of this show intrigued me. In a previous life I was an obsessive filler of sketchbooks and maker of wonky hand-drawn, hand-bound books, and have always found the notion of the artist’s book hugely appealing. And even more so now, in these days of the instantaneous download, the backlit screen and the e-reader. There is something about the idea of the hand-made book that countervails our cultural norms, awash as we are in the glossy and the highly styled, in a world where people curate their lives (and their Facebook pages) to present a ‘zhuzhed’-up version of themselves, as if to an audience. The history of written and graphic communication from scrolls, to hand-made and hand-painted books or codices, to the development of printing, and then back again to the artist’s book and the newish and fabulously hipster form of the zine, covers an awful lot of territory. The connections between the various forms are rich with possibilities. The works in the show are diverse, representing a range of different practices. From Graeme Kuo’s gorgeously lyrical and exuberant scrolls, all calligraphic verve and gestural mark, to Suzanne Archer’s sculptural concertina books, to the quirky offerings from the queen of ‘zines, Vanessa Berry, the exhibition is eclectic and thought provoking.
Graeme Kuo, Scroll III, 2012, Ink, acrylic and colour pencil on paper, 145 x 75 cm, image reproduced courtesy of the artist and Janet Clayton Gallery.
This is sculpture month at Danks Street, and Scrolls to Zines represents a fresh look at where the boundaries may be drawn between 2D and 3D works. Books in boxes, books that are displayed as freestanding sculptures, scrolls that hang on the wall but move in every waft of air through the gallery, and even a performance – a work created during the opening by Flutter Lyon – extend the traditional notion of what is and is not ‘sculpture’. Lyon creates ‘ink-pressings’ – somewhere between a Rorschach ink test, contemporary graphic design and the highly patterned psychedelia of a Del Kathryn Barton. It’s engaging work and an interesting practice but is perhaps more decorative than profound, despite the fact that Lyon describes herself as working at “the intersection between creativity, identity and neuroscience.”
A centrepiece of the show is Helen Geier’s 4-panelled double-sided screen ‘Moonlight’, a freestanding sculptural version of a concertina book, which lyrically evokes a nocturnal landscape. It suggests a domestic, personal interior reminiscent of the panelled screens seen in paintings by Matisse, or the screen that Grace Cossington-Smith painted with images of her garden. Suzanne Archer has made three characteristically dark, mixed-media concertina books, layering expressive drawn marks with collage, ink and text. I was especially drawn to ‘Diary of a Doppelganger’ which appears to extend the introspective self-portrait as seen in her Dobell Prize-winning drawing into an extended investigation of psychological states and self-examination. She has said that she is interested in exploring the “intangible relationship of life, aging and inevitably death.” This intention is evident in ‘Manuscript of Mouths,’ another concertina book in which the repetition of the mouth form begins to take on nightmarish qualities.
Suzanne Archer, Diary of a Doppelganger, 2011, Mixed Media Concertina Book and Box, 30 x 22 cm (closed) image courtesy of the artist and Janet Clayton Gallery
Ahn Wells works on paper using a vocabulary of minimalism and abstraction combined with the use of textiles and fibre, stitching together references to the ‘high art’ of mid-20th century Modernism with memories of the domestic labour and craft of women. She told me that she generally works in a square format evoking the Modernist grid, but decided to make scroll-shaped works for this exhibition. ‘Inscription’ I and II are subtle and quiet. On close inspection they reveal richly layered pale gouache, oil pastel, ink, stitching, and finally a scribbled layer of pencil marks on paper punctured with tiny holes, prompting all sorts of memories and associations, from Pianola rolls to computer coding to the scribbles of children. Encryption, encoding and written script in all its forms are evoked in a manner that subtly suggests the sheer difficulty of communication and the ease of misinterpretation.
Angela Cavalieri’s ‘Certe Cose non si dicono’ (some things you do not say) and, most particularly ‘La Citta Continue’ reveal her interest in the way that literary, religious, and historical narratives coalesce, becoming a rich source of text-based imagery. Her hand-cut lino prints, bound as sculptural concertina books, make reference to epitaphs; inscriptions on public buildings both ancient and modern; as well as to poetry and religious texts from her Italian background. The text is integrated into architectural and sculptural forms, alluding to personal experience, family history, and culture.
Angela Cavalieri, ‘Certe cose non si dicono’, 2010 – 2011, concertina artist book bound by George Matoulas, hand printed linocut, brush and ink on paper , 25 x 34 x 1.5 cm, image courtesy of the artist and Janet Clayton Gallery.
Zines selected for the show range from the engagingly quirky to the genuinely original. Lee Tran Lam, perhaps best known for her food blog, The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry is represented with a zine, ‘Speak-easy #13’ which she has shown at the MCA Zine Fair. Vanessa Berry’s ‘I Am a Camera’ series of typewritten zines was featured in the exhibition ‘Avoiding Myth and Message: Australian Artists and the Literary World’ at the MCA in 2009. She has made over 120 zines about her idiosyncratic observations and obsessions since 1996. Her blog (vanessaberryworld.wordpress.com) has this to say: “You have found yourself in Vanessa Berry World. Do not be afraid. It is almost exactly like the world you are from.” This probably gives you a good idea of what you may encounter between the covers of her ‘Disposable Camera’ series in this show – these tiny photocopied zines are charming and desirable objects in the best tradition of subversive underground publishing. The artist has said that her dream job is to be an eccentric. Mission accomplished!
Vanessa Berry, ‘Disposable Camera’ (series) 2010 – 2011, Zine, paper, A6 16 page fold out centre map, image courtesy of the artist and Janet Clayton Gallery.
The defiantly hand-made character of each work in the show is a manifesto. From painted gestural mark to printed surfaces to the use of the vintage typewriter, the immersion of each artist in the nature and possibilities of their materials is the whole point of their practice.
Exhibition continues till February 3