Book Art Object 1. Learning Absence, 1986 (2010)

Book Art Object is an ongoing project bringing together book artists around Australia to respond to a set text in the form of an editioned artist’s book. Each participant gets a copy of everyone’s work.

Learning Absence, 2010. Artist’s book of letterpress and monoprints on Kozo washi. Text is the poem Learning Absence, 1986 by Rosemary Dobson. Handprinted and bound in a hardcover Asian stab binding with either handmade denim rag endpapers (made by Katharine Nix) or blue commercial momigami endpapers. Edition of 15, made for the Book Art Object project. The poem is reproduced with permission from the poet and is taken from her Collected Poems (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1991).

Learning Absence, 1986

Dobson’s poem has a special meaning to me, as I have known her for a long time now. I wanted to make a book that could draw from my experience with her, but also be more generally appealing, in the same way that Dobson’s poem itself is personal yet taps into broader emotions.

monoprint hands

I decided to use monoprinting to make images for my book. I think that loneliness and grief – the two dominant emotions I get from the poem – are universal human experiences, but that no two experiences can be the same, so monoprinting suits as an visual metaphor. I added text using handset and printed letterpress, and kept the entire book in one colour range: a deep blue-black mix that varied as I printed, in an attempt to create a melancholy early-evening lonely feeling to match the sensation of arriving home to an empty house. I tried to make the visual movement of the imagery move from external to internal and then out to universal.

editioned pages

The binding had to be formal (a hardcover stab stitch) with a personal touch (a hand-stitching in vintage thread across the front). I printed enough copies to be able to give one to Dobson’s family, and they responded well to the way I’d presented the poem, understanding the connection I’d made to the poet herself, which is very gratifying.

compiling & binding

Book Art Object is a loose grouping of book artists that shifts with each project. The central concept is that of a book club for book artists, so we pick a text that we all like and then respond to it and discuss the results. I am treating my BAO participation as a way of experimenting with processes and forms that I would like to try, so I don’t think of each piece as something to be eventually exhibited (even though it probably will be!).

Working with other artists on this project has been wonderful for both the feeling of support and also the chance to discuss approaches to the text, which is so enriching to the development of our ideas and working methods. We communicate through our Book Art Object blog, sharing ideas and progress, and it’s wonderful to witness at the end how differently we all respond to the same text.