Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Blood on Paper

The V&A currently has two artists books exhibitions, Blood on Paper and Certain Trees. The two shows are a great foil for one another, presenting two very different aspects of the book arts. Unfortunately I have posted my brochures home, so I’ll have to write from memory. I guess this is an interesting exercise in itself, as it will show what really made an impression.

When you enter the exhibition the first work you encounter is Anselm Kiefer’s book which was commissioned for the exhibition. Unfortunately I can’t remember its title, although I know it was something about “nature”. It is taller than me and a codex form, with a speckled grey surface which I thought evoked galaxies. It’s the first time I’ve seen a book of human scale and it was intriguing to stand beside it. As a book, it was massive, as are the galaxies, but really I longed for some human-scale content on the pages with which I could interact.

Blood on Paper includes books by some of the big names of contemporary art – Picasso, Matisse, Robert Motherwell, Anish Kapoor to name just a few. It is interesting to see what artists of this calibre do with a medium that is not their primary form of expression. In some cases, the works represent earliest examples of artists books as a modern genre and I did enjoy seeing some of these iconic works. An example is Ed Ruscha’s 26 Gasoline Stations, a photographic essay in concertina form, which is an early example that is often cited.

The most surprising work was a digital one, which turned the two walls of the gallery into the open pages of a book. I never did quite work out who the artist was, but if anyone reading knows, I’d love to hear from you. There were white and red words projected high onto the walls, and they slowly moved around the “page”. I sat for a while and observed their movement, and realized that they were in fact layered, and therefore perhaps represented multiple pages. Occasionally the words would form sensible two or three word phrases, other times they would bounce off each other like a toy car rebounding from an obstacle. Mostly, it was not possible to make any sense from the words and I thought the work operated as a very effective metaphor for the virtual online world, which contains so much information, but arguably contributes relatively little that is understandable.

I also enjoyed 'Danger Book' by Cai Guo-Qiang. His work often includes fireworks and I’m familiar with it from the Asia Pacific Triennials in Brisbane. This work included a video of the book being formed, as well as its charred remains. Fireworks were set across the pages and once ignited, it did appear possible the whole thing could be destroyed. I did really enjoy the smells associated with the book and the allusions to the burning of books throughout history, while obvious, remain with me and are still disturbing.

I love an exhibition which introduces me to a new artist that I end up loving, and this one did that. The artist was Eduardo Chillida and maybe I should know him, but I didn’t. His books were examples of beautiful bindings and I was really pleased to see this type of book included in the exhibition. From my google search I see Chillida is a sculptor, and I guess I should have realized I would love books made by a sculptor.

In the final space in the gallery, music by Brian Eno was playing, creating a quiet, meditative space well-suited to the books here. There were works by Anish Kapoor, Caro and another one by Kiefer. This one was three large open books laid flat. The pages were created with paint and medium, but the effect was highly textural and initially I thought they may be clay. I could have stood and soaked up these pages for ages.

The V&A website has some good information on this exhibition, including quite a few pictures. You can find it here and here.


  1. What a great opportunity to be able to see such an exhibition, it sounds amazing. Thanks so much for posting this, I really enjoyed reading about the exhibition and your thoughts on it.
    I hope that everything is well with you and your husband.
    Take care

  2. Hi Amanda

    it's Aine here, your message to the PrintAustralia yahoo group arrived in my email box and thats how I happen to be on here now. Thanks for your own personal review of the exhibition. From what you said - I bet it was interesting and hopefully inspiring. I like Louise Bourgois's spider and like you I think I would have particularly liked Chillida's book. I have known of him for ages. I think there were certain of his works that I liked at some point in my artistic development although I cannot remember what they are now. I have been having a pretty rotten time of it. I decided to write about it on my blog and the funny thing is that since then I have probably had more posts than ever. Not that its that many but still its nice.
    Hope your trip is going well and that YOUR health is holding up reasonably well.

    very best wishes