Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Southern Cross Uni - an intriguing selection process

In our criss-crossing of the country in the past few weeks, we managed to make it to Lismore on a Saturday night to attend the opening of the Southern Cross University's Acquisitive  Artis' Books exhibition.

I really wanted to be there so that I could hear what was said about the books that were selected. Living in a small country town  and not having studied art formally at all, I am inexperienced in the ways of the 'art world' and like to listen in whenever I can. And this Saturday night was a true lesson for sure!

I also knew that Sara, who hosts and supports the Book Art Object project that I have been fortunate to participate in this year (altho I use the term 'participate' loosely as I am yet to make my books...) was going to be there and it seemed too good an opportunity not to try and catch up with more blogging buddies!

next art gallery, Lismore
In selecting those pieces that would be purchased by the University for inclusion in their Artists' Book collection, the 'selector' took a very conservative path. He acknowledged this up front, apologised repeatedly for who he was and his selection approach and proceeded to explain what he thought an artists' book was and which ones he felt comfortable with.

My observation of the selection was that he didn't really want to see the hand of the maker in the work, as digital prints were preferred along with some quite traditional fine bindings. He wasn't at all fond of a book that appeared in the slightest bit sculptural and wanted to experience a reading of the book in a traditional way.

On reflection I figure that the Uni knew his style when they asked him to select; so perhaps they were keen to get the collection 'back on track' with some worthy and formal artists books. Perhaps it had veered off into the chaotic over the past few years?

So both Sara and I knew early that our books weren't going to pass muster; but the one thing that worried me most was his comment that he looked through the collection and decided 'who' was missing; and chose people who he thought 'should' be in the collection.  I felt this approach was a) not about the quality of the books on show; and b) encouraged homogeneity amongst collections and c) kind of left all the emerging artists out in the cold with no hope of being invited in...I wondered and worried about such an approach a fair bit.

But in the end I saw some BEAUTIFUL books; I loved a number of pieces there and would have loved to have been able to purchase one in particular (but the $1000 price tag was hmmmm somewhat beyond us on the night shall I say?!?!).

They produced a great catalogue and I am proud to be in it.

Here are images of some of the books I loved...in no particular order of preference!

Book of Dreams - Triptych by Annique Goldenberg
Book of Dreams - Triptych by Annique Goldenberg (detail)
Speaking Tongues/Armada - Sara Bowen
Threads by Nicci Haynes
Threads by Nicci Haynes (detail)
Landscape plane by Sally Anderson

I think I'll talk some more about artists' books and what they are later on sometime...I am sure there is plenty more to be said!

Sara and I failed to get a photo - we were about 10kms down the road when I slapped my forehead realising we'd missed the chance. So it just means Barry and I will have to go adventuring south again sometime!


  1. Fiona....I'm sure you've seen some beautiful work...as you've shown us here...I love Nicci Hayne's piece! And the selection/jurying process always just comes back to the juror. Artist's books have so many possibilities....for me, it's ever so much more interesting to see the hand of the maker, but obviously not everyone feels that way! You must carry on with the beautiful work you make!! Cheers!

  2. It is often the way that selectors, judges, etc., look for familiar names. While this is not fair perhaps it spurs the rest of us on to greater efforts in order to stand out. It is a shame that someone with such 'power' has not an open mind, but is constrained by tradition.

  3. Lovely post, Fiona. When I was still working in the acquisitions department of a fine arts library, many artist's books crossed my path, some quite stunning in their innovation and their classicism, some more conservative than others, and some that were trying so hard to be new and different they seemed to be neither books nor art, at least to my mind, which is very open in these matters! And yet the artist received recognition, publication, and exhibition all the same. I recall one book done as a sort of hybrid between a one-off artist's book and a limited edition special exhibition catalog. The cover and entire body of text were purposely printed slightly out of focus, to match the blurry style of the artworks this particular artist was presenting. Someone almost returned it as defective until I intervened and found some nearly illegible disclaimer inside alerting the reader that it was meant to be that way! It all comes down to taste, I guess. Would love you to delve more deeply into this topic!

  4. I wish I could see this show in person but thank you for the next best option-- love the books you featured here and congrats as it sounds like you are included in the show? I would love to see the catalog too.

  5. Thanks Fiona for sharing your impressions of the night. I agree that SCU would be well-aware of the judges they select, their background and probable leanings. After reading Sara's post, I wondered why the uni didn't do their own selecting. The funds available are so limited, and it is their collection after all - for the use of their students, really. I realized that they get their input by their choice of judge. Does this, more conservative selection of judge indicate a desire to move the collection in that direction? Perhaps after the next award in 2013 it will be clearer. My guess is they just want a varied collection and will continue to vary their judges accordingly. Looking forward to seeing the full catalogue too!

  6. Thanks for posting shots of so many interesting pieces. I'm fascinated by Annique's work.

  7. Both this post and Sara's are very thought provoking. Wonderful that you were both able to be there, and I'm sure there'll be another opportunity for the photo. Thanks for sharing your photos of some of the books on display - this is the closest most of us will get to see them.

  8. Hi all - its an engaging topic and one I shall pursue further!

    Patti - yes Nicci's is the book I would have if I could have kind of thing - it was simply stunning and breathtaking. I was pleased he was upfront about it at least and I agree - if I ever got to be a juror there would be plenty who would disagree with me!

    Jo - Its funny isn't it - I know that people will be drawn to the safety of 'names' but a little part of me inside hopes that they won't!

    TT/G - I love that story! I have struggled with what is an artists' book for myself for a few years; have researched, read and thought and figure that whilst its fairly open and is capable of embracing all sorts - its also possible to sort and categorise them a bit so that we now what we're talking about.

    Donna - some beautiful books - simplicity, texture, tales...

    Amanda - yes I think they knew as well; and figured they needed it for a reason - either to balance or re-balance the collection; or simply as you say to have a diverse collection.

    Annie - Annique's work was the first to grab my eye - I loved them!

    Carol - It was good for 2 of us to be there and share our reflections - and I really hope for that second photo opportunity (which you and I also missed by the way - we should have started the whole shebang!)

  9. I experienced a familiar sinking feeling while reading about the selector's views. It took me back to when I painted abstracts and had to explain myself to conservative viewers. The works you have showcased have raised my energy however.Nicci Haynes book is stunning!

  10. Robyn - yes the world is full of all sorts and you realise what a precious thing it is to find fellow folk who 'get' your art; appreciate it and don't need multiple explanations. Nothing is more disheartening than trying to describe and explain - the magic just vapourises. Yes Nicci's book is inspirational!

  11. Nicci Haynes, thanks for your positive comments about my book. And yes I put a high price on it because I got attached to it and didn't really want to sell. Mind you, it took an awful long time to make and there's only one. In the end I let it go to State Library of Queensland - at least there it is available to more people.


I appreciate your thoughts and comments; thanks for taking the time.