The Idea as Book : The Book as Idea

I've been meaning to do a write-up of a seminar I chaired at the ICA earlier this month in association with MA Poetic Practice, but I've been putting it off as my transcript is sketchy with a lot of gaps. The seminar entitled, The Idea as Book : The Book as Idea, took place on the 14th of July and looked to interrogate the artist’s book in relation to ideas of conceptual art and concrete poetry. It was part of a series of events tying in with the current exhibition Poor. Old. Tired. Horse. which takes an imaginative and expansive look at text-based art practices from the 1960s to the present day.

The aims of the seminar were to explore the limitations and the potential of artists’ books with regards to the book as space, the book as self-reflexive, the book as performance and the book as process. It drew upon past and present examples of book art, conceptual art and concrete poetry in order to foreground the ever deepening cross-over between these art forms. Members of the panel included Redell Olsen, Allen Fisher, Mark Pawson, Elizabeth James and Kate Gallon.

The following was discussed: "Space" as public and private and the 2D/3D relationship between a work and how you view it. The social formations thought to be missing from the show. Typewriter works looking old-fashioned yet possessing a nostalgic quality. Redell Olsen referred to Lilian Lijn's 3D sculpture, Sky Never Stops, as a type of book, a "cone book" in fact. Like a book it invites the viewer to read it but in a way that requires the viewer to be aware of his/her own physical presence as well as the presence of the moving cone. Both object and viewer are moving and participating. We talked about books not only referencing spaces/sites but via their materiality they can very much hold a site too. I guess an example of this would be Dieter Roth's Daily Mirror. The "preciousness" of the art object was also brought up and in particular the issue of allowing artists' books to be handled. Suggestions about their display and distribution were also made. Ed Ruscha's Information Man was mentioned but I can't remember in what context.

If I were to take one thing away from it, it would be the concept of space in relation to the book, that is, the book as an object made up of pockets of space as well as the book as an object occupying a space. Some did say that they didn't think it useful to discuss the book and space, but I'm interested in Ulises Carrión's play with space in relation to the book. It's potential is limitless and that's not just in conceptual terms but in actual physical terms. How people choose to use the book is obviously interesting as is the space in which it is made and then stored or displayed. During the discussion Allen Fisher pointed out Carrión's book Tell me what sort of wall paper your room has and I will tell you who you are, a book that comprises of a selection of wallpaper pieces with labels such as 'Living Room', 'Bedroom' and 'My Friend's Room' overprinted onto each page. Each page references an external space collated into the space of one book. Carrión moves you from space to space / place to place, each individualised as the reader turns the page and feels the uniqueness of the textured wallpaper. I think it's important to bring up Carrión's work as concrete and visual poetry did play a part in his break with literature in a more traditional sense. He also emphasised the close relationship between poetry and artists' books, insisting that poets were responsible for opening up the way to such bookworks.

A big thanks to the panel and everyone who came and to those who helped and read and re-read my list of questions just days before the event.


Tonight we performed EVERY DAY A BATTLE and we're lucky enough to do this in the impressive Mosaic Rooms.

There was film, a tape recorder, paper cuffs, moving paper structures, entangled paper rope, a list of names on a ream of paper splitting the room in two, bookmaking, books to read, envelopes to open and generally lots of words and actions to respond to. We tried to incorporate each medium and the different aspects of performance. It was all about remediation, translation and the evolution from one state to the next. Not just revealing a finished state but the process involved.

During the performance I made books to be distributed and to be read/performed at the end of the performance. Some weeks ago we all met in Earl's Court to gather and make material which was recorded and would be remediated through performance tonight. In Earl's Court I was filmed making books filled with material provided on the day. Tonight I continued to make these books, however, they were filled with the material circulated during the performance, which was in itself remediated when read at the end of the performance.

Below is an example of the books made. On one side is a map of the Earl's Court area, on the other side are words taken from tonight's performance. The books were made using a sheet of A4 paper cut and folded and placed in a translucent folder.

My aim during the performance was to just make, that was to be my one and only response. However, I soon realised that with paper cuffs falling into my eye line and with moving paper structures walking round me and with language being exchanged in every direction it was impossible to remain transfixed on making. I was naturally encouraged to contribute to an energetic space of words by vocalising my own.

For me the success was that the performance was able to foreground our personal interests but still come together as a collaborative. It took me back to thinking about the bookmaking day and stealing Perree's term "cross-fertilisation" - we were combining individual work, ambitions, dialogue and exchange in the same time, place and moment.
Becky's documented it all with her camera here.

WET INK and Scenery Chewer Present ‘Every Day A Battle’

Place: Mosaic Rooms, 226 Cromwell Road London SW5 0SW

Time: Saturday 11th July from 6.30 pm to 8.30 pm.

£5 – All proceeds to go to charity.

We seek, for an evening, to revisit the notion of Earls Court as cultural battleground. This event takes inspiration from Peter Barry's book Poetry Wars: British Poetry of the 1970s and the Battle of Earls Court which uncovers the 'battle' at the National Poetry Society during the 1970s between radical and conservative factions. Thirty-five years after Eric Mottram heralded a 'British Poetry Revival', the question of how to negotiate with the poetic mainstream still infiltrates choices made in the everyday practice of many emerging poets. We present the work of several new poets and hope they will be joined by some of the leading figures of this historical moment to revisit the scenes of an important struggle for creative freedom.


Tonight we performed RHYTHM CITY DREAM SURRENDER. It's the first time we've performed something for the second time. I think it went well. We were thinking a lot more about us and space and how we use it and move through it and respond to it.

Anna is DREAM and her Anna-Grams are lined up against one wall which she reads aloud as she walks back and forth.
Becky is CITY and she stands transfixed, a central point reading her city-(sound)-scape.
Ryan is SURRENDER navigating his response to the word in and around the room.
I am RHYTHM keeping a constant beat with a tapping shoe and moving in relation to the sounds around me.

We each fill the room with sounds and words that stop, start and restart in relation to what we each hear, responding through volume, tone, repetition and movement. Our physical presence occupies the space through physical means.

The physical sounds of the city perhaps... dragged in, prodded, roughed up and shaken and then dragged back out with us.


Yep, that's 6.30 tonight
The Simpson Room in Waterstones, Piccadilly