Impact 7: Intersections and Counterpoints

Melbourne didn’t really behave itself for Impact7; I know everyone makes jokes about the city having four seasons in one day, but to turn on its wettest Spring day in 100 years was just showing off, don’t you think? On the Wednesday, while I was sitting at my folio table showing my wares and talking to people, the sky went pitch black and the inside lights started flickering as lightning and thunder raged outside.

Luckily the conference was mostly indoors (unlike the filming session of Winners and Losers attempting to work on the grass just outside the conference) so apart from a wild wet trip over to another Monash campus for an exhibition opening, we all stayed pretty snug.

(A detail from Scott Lyon’s Fleurons exhibition at Postbox 141 in the city)

Impact7 was a densely-packed intellectual experience. In fact, many complained that there was too much content, and indeed, with six parallel sessions at any one time that weren’t strictly aligned, it was very hard to mix and match the papers and try to catch a broad range of topics. There were many streams of subject matter, from traditional printmaking to digital media, from letterpress to artists’ books. The two hot topics seemed to be cross-media platforms and artists’ books. I can’t speak for the media sessions (merely that there were a lot of them), but every session on books was standing-room only.

Highlights of the conference for me were (in no particular order):

  • All of Sarah Bodman’s showcasing of international artists’ books. She also brought a selection of books inspired by Ed Ruscha, and left them out for people to handle without gloves, which was fantastic. I like her relaxed approach to the book world.

(Sarah wore many hats during Impact, both as speaker for herself, for her collaborator Tom Sowden, and as a session convenor. Here she’s talking as herself & Tom about their Bookarts Manifesto project, which was a wonderful project because, unlike Drucker’s attempts to categorise everything, the BM acknowledged from the outset that it is impossible to define the genre, and then went on to explore just how crazy big it is. This is an image of some of the ways different artists positioned themselves within existing categories, adding more and rearranging the elements for themselves. I was excited to see my contribution to the project on the top left of the image!)

  • Seeing all of our Book Art Object works in one spot, arranged by theme. Some of the books haven’t been distributed yet, so it was a treat to see the newer ones. There were four BAO members at Impact: myself, Sara Bowen, Rhonda Ayliffe and Amanda Watson-Will, and we spent some time together, out of which a new theme for the next edition has emerged, based on a work by Sarah Bodman. We all spent time blogging about the conference (27 posts in the week between us!) so head over there if you want to see some BAO perspectives (that link takes you to one of the Impact posts, rather than the general blog).

(None of my Impact photos are very good! Here’s Rhonda, standing by our wall of BAO books.)

  • Paul Coldwell talking about Paula Rego and her Nursery Rhymes book (one of my bookshelf’s treasures, albeit as a Folio Society edition)
  • David Ferry, whom I encountered in Korea years ago, giving an hilarious talk about Double Acts/Double Takes/Double Entendres that had us all chortling.

(Here Ferry is illuminating all the various characters in The Biscuit Nativity from Vis magazine.)

  • Talking face-to-face with Book Arts high priestess Johanna Drucker at the end of her skype keynote talk, as I asked/made an observation about Fluxus being a dress rehearsal for the archive headaches that the internet is giving curators and librarians. Like many people also observed, her talk was a difficult and frustrating experience thanks to the vagaries of skype (low quality sound, drop-outs etc) but the moment that her face appeared, things just seemed better. A shame she hadn’t talked to us with occasional images, rather than attempted a powerpoint-like presentation.
  • my session, not for the fact that I talked, but because the two other presenters were also discussing letterpress issues (despite our session title lumping us as ‘Globalization, national identities and the post-colonial perspective’) and at the end we managed to have a conversation between the three of us and the rest of the room, which was wonderful.

(An image from Jacqueline Naismith’s talk about her NZ design students, working with letterpress to explore visual notions of local food; this is ‘colonial goose’, which was a popular colonial dish of stuffed mutton flavoured to taste like goose!)

  • Braving the storm and getting drenched in order to be at the launch of Monica Oppen’s exhibition and book The Silent Scream: Political and Social Comment in Books by Artists, an amazing array of books by an amazing array of artists (and I’m chuffed to be included in that array).
  • ANU’s Art History Professor Sasha Grishin outing himself as a zine reader in the last day’s panel on zines, and then proceeding to talk about his habit in terms of a drug user. Wonderful! Followed by a mini zine fair where I stocked up on all the back editions of Plastic Knife, among other things.
  • All the amazing exhibitions around the campus, of which I’m sure I didn’t see all, no matter how widely I wandered.
  • Experiencing Ruth Bain, the conference manager, who seemed to have swallowed The Little Book of Calm. She was incredible.

There was so much to do, so many thoughts to think. It will take a while for my brain to process all this new information.

(These are some of the people who weren’t rushing around between sessions trying to see & do everything.)

I caught up with lots of people I haven’t seen for ages, some who I only get to talk to at conferences, and met a whole heap of new people. I keep hearing of people I missed, which isn’t hard because there was a transient conference population of 300-400 people. Woah!

(Ancora Press, with Brian McMullin showing his printing skillz in the background)

I also popped downstairs to Monash’s Ancora Press, which is probably the last surviving bibliographic press in Australia. A bibliographic press is one used to explore traditional textual issues, teaching English students about how books used to be make and the kinds of errors and subtleties that arise from hand-setting and printing. Ancora Press is now shared by the English department and the Art/Design department, which makes an interesting mix and also makes it hard to keep the type ‘nice’… traditional printing methods and graphic design/art methods are completely at odds with each other, a topic I find endlessly fascinating, having one foot in each camp.

(Nicci Haynes and Genevieve Swifte, my Canberra comrades. Genevieve is showing her portfolio.)

(Here’s my portfolio table, looking as colourful and attractive as I could make it with travel luggage limitations!)

(A dark photo of master printermaker John Loane)

John Loane (Veridian Press) talked about his longstanding and ongoing working relationship with Mike Parr as a keynote address. It’s rare to have John talking without Mike dominating the space, and this time Mike was overseas, so the audience had John all to themselves. The talk was fabulous, but it struck me most of the way through that if a woman presented a body of work this gendercentric, she’d be typecast as a radical separatist. The only female presence in what we were shown (over decades of work) were some breasts Parr had drawn on himself. I get to talk to John a lot because he’s living in Canberra these days, but he’s a humble man, and it was nice to see more of what he does and says.

(Here’s a pic of Rhonda Ayliffe on the left, Paul Uhlmann (WA) in the centre and Nicci Haynes on the right. There are other interesting people at the table but out of shot: Iona Walsh (Canberra designer/printmaker), Amanda Watson Will, Sara Bowen, Annie Trevillian (Canberra textile printmaker). We’re eating at a fab little Sri Lankan cafe around the corner from the conference.)

And finally, a bit of Melbourne texture. I had a great week, and look forward to seeing what emerges from all the ideas and connections. Congratulations to Marian Crawford and Ruth Bain for a STERLING effort!

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