Category Archives: Exhibition

Praising the Daisy – Senate House Library contributes

When an email came through announcing Professor Elizabeth Robertson’s Matthews lecture in the Senate House on ‘Chaucer and Wordsworth’s Vivid Daisies’, the opportunity to enhance the occasion by displaying a couple of books to allow Chaucer and Wordsworth to speak for themselves through the printed word seemed too good to miss. After all, Senate House Library has strong literary collections, which we want people to be aware of and use.

Selecting an edition of Chaucer for the praise of the daisy in his ‘Legend of Good Women’ was easy. The first edition in which it appeared, the Workes of 1532, appealed to the eye by virtue of being printed in black letter, and exercised all the attraction of the earliest appearance of the work.

This copy of Chaucer’s Workes formerly belonged to Sir Louis Sterling (1879-1958), and the Sterling Library of first and fine editions of English literature turned up trumps again with Wordsworth. But the first edition of Wordsworth’s Poems in Two Volumes (1807), containing his three ‘Daisy’ poems, could not as a drab duodecimo volume be expected to exercise quite the same aura as the Chaucer folio. We played with the idea of showing the facsimile of the manuscript of  Poems in Two Volumes, a good way to indicate the creative process, and also to showcase Senate House Library’s palaeography collection. Manuscript facsimiles constitute a significant proportion of this, and this Wordsworth book provides a salutary reminder that these are not exclusively mediaeval. Ultimately I chose A Decade of Years: Poems by William Wordsworth, Wordsworth-11798-1807 (1911). This is a selection of Wordsworth’s poems, mostly composed between 1798 and 1807, arranged to present ‘as a whole and subjectively those special characteristics which make Wordsworth pre-eminently the poet and interpreter of the mysticism of nature, to wit, his own mysticism & oneness with the spirit of the universe, “that impels all thinking things, all objects of all thought, & rolls through all things” …’ (p. [3]). The volume was printed by Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson at the Doves Press, the private press he established with Emery Walker in 1901 to print works of great literature in productions rendered beautiful with type alone, devoid of illustration and other ornament.

The Matthews Lecture is being delivered by Professor Elizabeth Robertson (University of Glasgow), at 5pm 18th November in Beveridge Hall in Senate House, London, WC1E 7HU. It is followed by a wine reception. This event is free and everyone is welcome but you must book a place. You can view the exhibition of books mentioned above in Beveridge Hall.

Spiralbound at Sluice Art Fair

Sluice is a radical four-day art event that questions the role of the contemporary art fair. Taking place during Frieze Week, Sluice acts as a refreshing counterbalance to the corporate manufactured glamour of the Frieze Art Fair. This year Sluice is located on the South Bank in London’s iconic Bargehouse building at Oxo Tower Wharf. Throughout the weekend there will be performances, screenings, talks and a collection of artist-run spaces and galleries exhibiting new and challenging work. Unlike Frieze, entry is free. Spiralbound will be at the Sluice Art Fair throughout, displaying our range of recently published books.

Spiralbound is a non-profit artists’ publishing project exploring the susakpressinfluence of new digital technologies on the material presence of the book. Strongly supported by London gallery studio1.1. and existing as an offshoot of Susak Press, we work with artists and writers who want to use the book medium to experiment beyond, and challenge their usual practice. By subverting the capabilities of digital print on demand, the project’s aim is to publish book editions that remain uncompleted and in flux as we allow our authors the opportunity to re-shape and interfere with the book’s original version. Spiralbound is investigating how new digital technologies influence the way in which we read literary texts and how new digital influence is encouraging experimentation with the materiality of the book.

Spiralbound holds events throughout the year and at each event we launch new titles and also new editions of existing books. Our authors have the freedom to re-visit, edit and make a new edition of their book by adding or taking away image and text. As a result, the books Spiralbound produces reveal successive drafts and stages of an author’s work in progress. This allows the reader to collect and compare different versions of each book. By producing non-static content, Spiralbound is channeling performance and the immediacy of the live event into the book’s materiality whilst attempting to capture the flick and switch and pause and collect of internet-manifestocentered new digital media. For example in Manifesto (Daniel Devlin, John Hughes and Keran James), blurred images of unheralded literary and artistic figures of the twentieth and twenty-first century are uploaded and updated in each printing. These recycled and found images are juxtaposed with a collaborative group hacking and re-writing of an experimental text. Similarly, Skip I Am Far Above You (Keran James) unpacks and transforms internet spam into a piece of (in)coherent storytelling.

Books, like painting and sculpture, invite us to get our hands dirty socratesunlike the clinical touch and trace of digital surfaces. The materiality of new digital technologies, from the click of a mouse, to the thin peel of a protective iPad cover, to the buzz of a mobile on vibrate, are making contemporary writers and artists more conscious of the physical aesthetic of the book form. What connects the Spiralbound books is an engagement with the boundaries between fiction and reality. Both Socrates (Daniel Devlin) and Manifesto of A Tranny (Brian Dawn Chakley) capture live performance by combining text and video stills but it is unclear if these grainy images are depicting events that were stage managed, accidents or if they even took place. Biographies (Ghazal Mosadeq) plays with the recording and fabrication of fictional authors’ real life stories. Many Weathers Wildly Comes (Carol many weathersWatts) captures the practicality of an everyday walk yet is recorded through the blurred snapshots of a London dreamscape. Lamping Out The Trains part 1 (The RMT Jubilee South Branch Audio and Film Collective) combines oral recollections with fragments of radical London literature addressing themes of nostalgia, trauma and left-wing melancholia through a manipulation of found audio, film and text. The Glass Slipper (Athanasia Hughes) is a futuristic satire on consumerism and fashion and our increasing dependency on technology, yet the story is told through a relationship with a hologram.

Computer software programmes and applications like Photoshop or Final Cut glass slipperhave appropriated the visual materials traditionally related to books through their use of cut and paste, scrolls, paper clips and page turning. Digital Media theorist Lev Manovich states that ‘many new media objects are converted from various forms of old media’ (Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media, 2001; p. 28). For example, a webpage can be read like a photograph album or an iPad application similar to a pack of playing cards (Manovich, p. 220). At the same time, archived text messages and emails cease to be emails. Rather they take on the form of a photograph, becoming a screen shot frame that has fleetingly captured a moment of a past life. This peculiar digital aesthetic is the essence of Spiralbound. Taking something fluid and in motion, freezing it, observing and considering it, watching it but allowing it to develop and evolve. As a result each book acts as a snapshot of live text, a fleeting moment in our spiral bound times.

Spiralbound books, therefore, exist in an in–between world. The books are produced and bound professionally yet they are determinedly not part of commercial publishing. These books cannot be found in bookshops. In a way they don’t really exist, as they have no ISBNS. Yet neither are they Artist Books. There may not be many copies but they are not limited editions. Print on demand allows easy access and production, and all Spiralbound books are sold at £5. They are not zines or pamphlets but borrow the DIY spirit of Punk. Just as Sluice is re-positioning and challenging the contemporary art fair, so Spiralbound, by responding to the influence of new digital technologies, is helping to re-position the Artist Book.

spiralbound3

Spiralbound will be at Sluice Art Fair 16 – 18 October 2015

11 – 6pm

Bargehouse, Oxo Tower Wharf, South Bank
http://sluice.info/2015

To see a preview of the books at Spiralbound please visit:
http://susakpress.org/spiralbound

Chaucer and Science – an exhibition

This post introduces an exhibition to coincide with the Biennial London Chaucer Conference  on the theme of Science, Magic and Technology. It runs from 29th June to 12th July at Senate  House library.

Senate House Library often puts on displays to support conferences. It’s a win-win situation: the conference is enhanced by the books or manuscripts shown, and the Library demonstrates a sample of the richness of its holdings and the relevance of its material for research. This is the second time that it is supporting the biennial London Chaucer conference. Last time it exhibited a range of editions of Chaucer, from Richard Pynson’s 1492 printing of the Canterbury Tales onwards, and including private press editions noteworthy for their production as ‘books beautiful’. This time we broadened the display to fit the theme of ‘Science, Magic and Technology’, focussing on the science – more specifically, on astronomy and astrology.

From Chaucer's 'Knight's Tale' in 1550 edition of Chaucer's 'Workes'
‘The Workes of Geffray Chaucer Newly Printed’
Geoffrey Chaucer
London: R. Toy, [1550?]
[S.L.] I [Chaucer – 1532] fol.
We still showed a couple of early editions of Chaucer: his Workes from about 1550 (ESTC S122266), open at the ‘Knight’s Tale’ because that tale is rich in astrological symbolism, and the Workes from 1532 (the first complete edition of Chaucer) because it provides the earliest printed appearance of Chaucer’s Treatise of the Astrolabe. And we fetched out some other examples of medieval literature: a 1554 edition of Gower’s Confessio Amantis (in part imbued with astrology), and an illustrated edition of Dante’s Comedy from 1544, showing Dante’s paradise of nine concentric circles around the earth.

 

'Philosophia Naturalis, Compendium Clarissimi Philosophi Pauli Veneti' Paul of Venice Paris: J. Lambert, [ca. 1515?] M [Paulus] SR
‘Philosophia Naturalis, Compendium Clarissimi Philosophi Pauli Veneti’
Paul of Venice
Paris: J. Lambert, [ca. 1515?]
M [Paulus] SR
But we also used early scientific works. Possibly the rarest item, and the item with the most illustrative appeal, is Philosophia Naturalis, by Paul of Venice (ca 1368-1428), printed in Paris in about 1515. Despite its comprehensive title, this book comprises just one work, De Compositione Mundi – an abbreviated Latin version of the thirteenth-century monk Ristoro d’Arezzo’s Composizione del Mondo, written in about 1282. The Composizione, itself based on work by Ptolemy, Aristotle, Averroes and others, is the first astronomical work to have been written in Italian; a further claim to fame is that it may have influenced Dante, who influenced Chaucer.

 

Visit the exhibition  at Senate House Library (4th floor, Senate House), 29 June – 12 July 2015. Available during Senate House Library opening hours: Mon. – Fri. 9.00-17.45; Sat. 9.45-17.15.