Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Book arts rant!

I am just back from a flying visit to Auckland for the opening of Bookworks at North Art Community Art Centre. I have two books in the exhibition which is on until 3 July. There are about 60 works submitted from around New Zealand (and one kiwi living in Australia), including Allie Snow 'guest artist' with a large number of books.

It was thrilling to attend (and be part of) my first real live book arts exhibition- until now I have been the only book artist in the exhibitions I've contributed to. I looked at everything three times and took notes and made sketches of some of the most interesting works. There are some wonderful pieces in the exhibition.

However, I think the show demonstrates ...um... the immaturity... of book arts as a art form and practice in this country. It is a very diverse exhibition not only in style (handbound blank books and photo albums, altered books, collage pieces and more conceptual works as well) but in quality. Original ideas about structure and content sometimes partially compensated for sloppy production. But poorly made yet conventional blank books sat uncomfortably beside some very finely executed and conceptually sophisticated works.

I spoke with the curator and she said that they were disappointed by the low number of submissions (60) and decided to accept everything, although they would have preferred to be selective from a larger pool. I was surprised that many NZ book artists I know of were not represented in the show... why didn't they submit work? Did they have some secret knowledge that it was going to be so patchy and deliberately withold their participation so as to avoid being tainted by association? And what does that achieve?

To have book arts taken seriously in New Zealand will require exhibitions of a much more consistently high standard than Bookworks is, but the patchiness is not just the curator's responsibility. If the leading book artists in New Zealand do not submit their works (yes, even to a community arts centre, even to an open call) then the curators do not have to opportunity to select for quality rather than universal representation. The NZ book artists who are recognised internationally but who decided, for whatever reason, to not submit to this exhibition do the local book arts community a disservice. My development as a book artist would be better served by a rigourously selected show- even if it excluded my work. Then at least I would have something more to aspire to, a challenge to strive towards and teachers and leaders to learn from.

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