Sara Bowen
Book Art Object
27th October, 2011


Gracia Haby & Louise Jennison, collage from Whose lights were now seen glittering, a zine for Milly Sleeping and LookStopShop, 2012

When I was at Impact 7 I had big ideas of going round, mobile phone in hand, interviewing the great and the good in the world of artists' books and printmaking, uploading live as I went. Of course it didn't turn out quite the way I'd planned because I was (shy) (lazy) far too busy soaking up the art, the knowledge and the people. However, when I got home it did occur to me that the wonders of modern technology mean that I can ask (nosey) intelligent questions by email, thus allowing my interviewees the luxury of answering at their leisure, in the comfort of their own homes!

I am delighted to say that Gracia & Louise graciously consented to be my first interviewees: meeting them was a high spot in the conference because I've admired their collaborative work from afar for years, and it was a pleasure meeting them. I think I should stick my neck out and say what I like about Louise and Gracia's work, and it revolves around layers of fascination: through their collages and watercolours they create a world that is colourful, whimsical and fantastical all in one go, but intelligent and philosophical, not superficial. As they say of their work,

The animal is ever present and easily detectable, the centre of our paper stage. Hard to miss, over here and over there, the animal runs up hills, scales rooftops and passes through a scene new or more familiar. For us, the animal is there to question our very behaviour, those moral principles one governs the self by, and to explore the relationship with the natural world.

With their playful and unexpected juxtapositions of animals and people in strange situations they gently hold a mirror up to our more familiar world. In the text accompanying their 2009 exhibition A Key to Help Make your own World Visible Gracia and Louise explain that they read Herman Hesse's novel Der Steppenwolf:

Spoken in warm voice by Pablo to Harry: 'I can throw open to you no picture-gallery but your own soul. All I can give you is the opportunity, the impulse, the key. I help you to make your own world visible. That is all.' From such we took impulse and created a series of other worlds that lie hidden, other interior worlds viewed with twin 'gleam of pain and beauty that comes from things past'.

I've had fun this evening, looking at your work on your website while partaking of a very civilised scone and jam with a cup of tea! You describe yourselves as 'besotted' with artists' books, and I wonder what they have contributed to your joint (and I guess independent...) arts practice since you stumbled upon them?
One of the things we love most about artists' books is their scale and versatility. They can be anything. They are hard to exhibit. They allow you to play with sequence, to double back on a narrative. They allow you to use found treasure or work with binding something new. Surely, it is the freedom of the book that draws us close.

For us, it lends itself naturally to the collaborative process.

Please can you describe for me a good day (or evening!) at work in your studio?
Any good day or evening is one where you look up and suddenly discover that several hours have passed quite without your noticing. The same principle applies to working in the studio. Things go well when the clock seems to tick to new rhythm.

A good working day could see us working on a new project that is yet to form legs, or signing in pencil an edition of new prints. As our studio is our home, it is quite feasible that a good working day is varied, and when one project comes to an end there are several others in the wings. That and a horde of pets to feed. (Our home is shared with Omar, Olive, Percy, Misha, goldfish Henny, budgies Agatha and Claude, and a few local blow ins.)

What is your favourite tool?
For Louise, her favourite tool is her bone folder for its many uses and durability. As for me, my honeybee scissors are my trusty faves. They snip neatly and sharply, and they are comfortable to hold in hand.

If you're not feeling very creative, what do you do to get back into the swing of things?
Something else. Always something else. Films are a good way to forget what might not be coming together in the studio or on the computer. A film that is all consuming in tale. A film in the middle of the day, even better. Recently we saw PINA 3D, a film for Pina Bausch by Wim Wenders, and left the cinema believing we could dance. A good film (or performance or exhibition) can make one feel indestructible. And if leaving the home is not an option, a hot shower or a spot of gardening. Perhaps both, but in reverse order. Perhaps not.

What did you get out of Impact 7?
We had a great time participating in the Impact7 Sticky Institute mini zine fair at MUMA. Especially for it, we made a foldout zine, An even distribution of weight. It was great to meet new faces and catch-up with those familiar. Of greatest excitement for Louise and me though was getting to meet Sarah Bodman from UWE Bristol UK in person (having only ever conversed by delight of email).

You can see more of Louise's work at her blog Elsewhere, and more of Gracia’s work at her blog High up in the Trees. You can also follow Gracia and Louise on Twitter, and buy from their shop!

I hope to bring more interviews to the blog every now and again; I hope you enjoyed this one and thank you to Gracia and Louise!

Sara Bowen