Monday, November 09, 2009

Book Art Object

While I've taken a break from blogging lately, I've still been making art. It's been a great source of both consolation and distraction, and I feel lucky to have it as part of my life.

Back in August I joined Book Art Object, a group of book artists established by Sara of Double Elephant fame. The idea of the group is for each member to make a work in response to a set poem or novel. There are a few guidelines to draw the works together, such as size of finished work and inclusion of a colophon acknowledging the inspiration and the group, but other than that, we have left our options open, at least for this first project. One of the most appealing aspects of group membership, apart from being part of this special little online community, is the fact that at the end, every member receives a "full set" of the books made. If you would like to follow our progress or read more, head over to the blog here.

The set piece for our first project is a very evocative poem, by Rosemary Dobson. Here it is:

Learning Absences (1986)

Being alone is also to be learnt
Long time or short time.

Walking the length of the house, shutting
The doors and the windows

No longer calling casually over one's shoulder.
Returning to find no trace

Of the other, companionable living -
Bread smell, the stove still warm,

Clothes on the line like messages,
Or messages written and left on the kitchen table:

"We need to keep watering the cumquat."
Or, "I have paid the milkman."

At night, at this season, lingering at the window
Not being certain where to find Halley's Comet,

And looking a long time at the darkening sky

Text taken from "Rosemary Dobson, Collected Poems", part of the Angus & Robertson series 'Modern Poets'. Published 1991, ISBN 0 207 16864 4. Text copyright © Rosemary Dobson 1991.

It is important to me that any works I make extend the concepts that I have been exploring over the past few years. Since starting my masters, I've been examining transience and change in life, and this has at times inevitably led to works about death. I view death as an inevitable part of life, and something to be worked with and understood, before we finally must face it ourselves. There is in fact so much (in fact, almost everything) in life, that could prepare us for death and make it less frightening, but many people choose to avoid looking at this truth, which surrounds us.

Only 3 weeks after the poem was chosen for the group by Sara, my mother died. At first I wondered whether I'd be able to continue in the group. It wasn't apprehension about the subject matter that raised this for me. I was more concerned about my health and energy at this time, which I view as one of the most important and significant psychological and spiritual moments in a person's life. I want (and need) to be able to engage with the learning and adaptive processes that can be catalyzed by an event like this. I knew I was entering a challenging and tiring period.

Eventually I realized that the poem chosen by Sara and the opportunity to make work in response, were a gift and as long as I remain open, the project could be very healing and therapeutic for me. So I plunged in and began thinking about how to approach the poem.

Inspired by some ideas I've had rattling around for ages, I've taken the subject matter of the poem as a starting point, rather than working more illustratively. I'm aiming to draw parallels between the cycles of the seasons and the human life cycle. Dobson focuses on the experience of absence, probably the most painful aspect of loss or death. In mt book, I'm working with the idea that because change is constant, there is always absence of what was before, and this process can help us learn to deal with those "big" absences.

This is quite a long wordy post - I haven't chatted with you for ages so I've got lots to talk to you about! But before I go I thought I'd share a little of the imagery for the book. I started by developing a digital image for each season. Bear in mind that these then have to be worked into pages, and will change somewhat. Below are spring and winter.

Next time I'll tell you how the book will be printed and how I developed this imagery.


  1. Hi Amanda, thanks for posting about Book/Art/Object. I admire your clear way of looking at things and that you are able to use the project as part of the process of self-reflection around death. In some ways I find this project is also a reflection on my mother's death, which is entangled in my head with my daughter's birth. I like your images - particularly the second one - and can't wait to see more of your book, Sara x

  2. Anonymous4:09 PM

    I feel so much better for seeing what someone else is working on. It feels a little lonely sometimes!
    How's the press shaping up?

  3. I've loved reading about your thoughts on the book-art-object project (and now you have me really looking forward to seeing how your piece finishes)

    I was making some solid decisions about my work for the project today - so I'll have to show a little of where I'm at soon (I'm not as far along as you appear to be - love the initial imagery - v. evocative)

  4. wonderful images! I look forward to seeing how it all comes together.

  5. Thanks everyone for your comments.
    Sara: I think that is the beauty of the poem you chose, it will resonate with almost everyone...we all lose someone eventually. It is really hard when a death is mixed up with a birth, although also quite balanced really, if you think about it. My own birth was closely followed by the death of one of my grandmothers - I know that was hard for my mother.
    Moreidlethoughts: Glad my post helped! I know what you mean - I've been hesitating to post for some reason, but as soon as others said they were going to soon, I felt okay to go ahead. Haven't been able to test the press yet - still waiting for my felts to arrive from Melbourne!
    Ronnie: I look forward to seeing some of your progress soon.
    Ida: glad you like the images. Thank-you!

  6. Hi Amanda, I was very moved by your most thoughtful post. As you know, I lost my mother last week, and my head is full of conflicting thoughts. I'll read your post a few more times as I try to sort out my thinking.