Friday, August 30, 2013

Parental Discretion Advised


Frugal with the Brueghel, my altered book collaboration with Bethwyn Littler has been reinvigorated this winter. Bethwyn has quit her job and now has lots of time for creative practice, which is lucky because we committed to participating in a group show at the Hamilton Fringe Festival, opening next month.  We are installing a little reading corner with nine of the altered books that we've worked on over our four years of collaboration.

We are frugal with both Brueghel the Elder and Brueghel the Younger.

We started altering books together (or frugalling as we like to call it) when I was writer in residence at Hamilton Girls High School in 2009 and have kept it going through all sorts of life changes since then. Our first books were pretty random but we soon began to impose themes or restrictions on each book project. We often use a children's board book at the base and then collage wacky additions from all sorts of other source books. The board books are usually relatively quick to finish in three or four mornings together.  The most recent of these is Origami Flowers: The Ballet of Today.

Bethwyn putting the finishing touches of Peepshow: Books and Competitors
Other books are based on cloth-bound adult non-fiction, and with so many more pages to fill, they may never be finished.  Three of these 'works in progress' will be included in our exhibition.  We started Handsome Man Maintenance and Am I Woman or Lady: Pages of Fun way back during the residency (when they were known as the Man Book and the Woman Book) and The New Book of Kitchen Sex (aka The Courtship book) a couple of years later.  Although there are still plenty of pages left to add to, there is also plenty of altered content to enjoy. Together the three books address the rich complexities and confusions of gender, sexuality and relationships.

At the Fringe Classic exhibition at Hamilton's Riverbank Mall we are providing gloves and comfy seating so visitors can sit down and have a leisurely leaf through the pages.  There is nothing deep or meaningful to look at in our books, but we hope they make other people laugh out loud the way we do when we look at what we've done.  Most of the humour comes from the juxtapositions we create, but some of it is intrinsic to the books we are cutting up: Men's Hairdressing (1972) is a perplexing favourite; and also our deeply mined copy of Photo Love Annual 1980- a treasure trove of banal speech bubbles and headshots almost as gruesome as Men's Hairdressing.

Some of the content of our books is a bit risque, though nothing more perverse than most music videos.  In fact, despite feeling naughty while we do it, our making children's books a bit sexy seems quite tame compared to the mainstream media's widespread co-option of pornographic tropes. However, the title of our reading corner installation, 'Parental Discretion Advised', is so that parents aren't (we hope) deceived by the children's book element of our work.  I wouldn't have been comfortable for my preschooler to look at some of the sexual references made in our work, and I assume most parents would like to exercise their own discretion.