I was pleasantly surprised, indeed delighted when I visited The Book Arts Fair at Hadleigh Old Fire Station. (Ironic that in the novel Fahrenheit 451, it was the firemen whose responsibility it was to burn books).
The event’s organisers should be congratulated on bringing a refreshing exhibition to this part of Essex. In most exhibitions, visitors arrive with different background experience. What made this show distinctive was that visitors were united on mutual ground. Every since childhood, at some stage in their life - even though their experience and knowledge would be varied - each person would have interacted with books. All could bring this understanding into play when considering the exhibits. This rarely happens with other shows.
One reason the exhibition was successful was that the visitors’ mutual experience - with its inevitable limitations - was then shaken up, so that the visitor could reassess their notion of what a book meant, through a new divergent language.
As a retired art teacher, I have visited innumerable exhibitions that nowadays I can speed read and leave after a few minutes. I had anticipated that the book fair would be the same. I was wrong.
I stayed a long time and was one of the last to leave as I found the work and artists thought provoking. Rarely have I enjoyed a show as much. There was considerable diversity in interpretation of what a book could mean and how it may be used as a vehicle for self-expression. Added to this was a particular resonance, poignancy, in the work that shared so little with today’s increasingly technological lifestyle that is devoid of a fuller sensory encounter.
Art movements are organic and react to the established cultural status quo. Therefore, the lack of sensory experience to be found in the Ethernet and the electronic book will naturally create a counter movement that is concerned with unique, individual work characterised by tactile, visual and poetic concepts. The book exhibition offered a fuller refreshing sensory/conceptual experience.
I was reminded of exhibitions I visited in the 1960s, most notably at the Royal Festival Hall, concerned with Concrete Poetry in which the physical structure of the word was used in connection with the word’s meaning. (The most obvious example is to write the word ‘tall’ in two-meter high letters). The hand-made object connects with the Arts and Craft movement of the late 19th and early 20th century, but extends into more conceptual and abstract directions.
The idea of taking the book - a heavily potent symbol - and to ’play’ with it employing lateral thinking to create rich poetical ideas was an engaging, rewarding, activity that increased my artistic perception. What added considerably to my visit were the exhibitors, who willingly participated in a dialogue about their products. As an old hand in the arts business, I was introduced to some new ideas, quite a rare for me.
It is always sad to finish a good book, so another chapter please. I am looking forward to other, similar exhibitions in which the book as a physical and conceptual item is used as a means to express revitalising thoughts.
Geoff Licence November 2012
We received a lovely response from one of the visitors to the book fair held last November..
We are a small group of contemporary artists in Essex (UK) who share a passion for art and books.