ARTISTS, BOOKS AND INTERVIEWS #1:
GRACIA & LOUISE

 

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, a goldfish named Henny, and two budgies, Agatha and Claude, as well as 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

 

INTERVIEW WITH GRACIA HABY

 

Honey for the Bears
Matthew Asprey
17th October, 2011

 

Gracia Haby & Louise Jennison, Moscow’s Bread Factory No.5 was the envy of all others for its form, efficiency and baked goods, 2008, collage from the artists’ book And we stood alone in the silent night

I conducted this brief Q&A with the Melbourne artist and writer Gracia Haby by email after buying a limited edition copy of one of her small books at the recent Melbourne Emerging Writers’ Festival. She frequently collaborates with Louise Jennison.

When did you begin creating zines and limited edition books? What was the attraction?

A quick glance at own web site tells me that I have been in the business of creating zines and limited edition artists’ books since 1999. As long as that? Yes, as long as that. Or as little, depending upon your viewpoint. As with most things, it feels both for a very lengthy period and to have flown by.

The limited edition artists’ books, made chiefly with Louise Jennison, sprang from a love of paper as a medium flexible and adaptable and affordable. A love of books in many guises, too, I've little doubt, led to us ambling down the artists’ book pathway. These things, these loves, plus ignorance in the best sense. We knew very little of artists’ books and even less of binding. The unknown side of things made for the appeal, and so we plunged in not overburdened by knowledge. A bookbinding course in Ascona, Switzerland opened the eyes and showed us the world we knew little about. A book is a familiar form to any reader, a sketchbook to any fan of the jotting and recording, but to actually make one — ah! This was a new arena.

The labor involved with making a book, both the book’s physical makeup and those images that creep and sometimes shimmy across the page, is long and involved. This is part of the love affair with the medium, for me. This lengthy process of detail, precision, reworking and more, pulled back the curtain on the notion of zines. Quick, immediate, simple and done, the allure of the zine was this. Zines are also good to be able to giveaway to loved ones and friends, something that we had initially thought of doing with our artists’ books.

So far, an interest in making both remains and so far, they sit well together. Both still enjoyable and challenging, as all things ought be.

Give me an example of how you create a new book. Where do you find your postcards and collage materials? How does it come together?
It begins with an idea. A suite of imagery. A series of characters or scenes that belong together. A tale to be told. From there, a structure is worked out. How could such a thing be bound? Namely, how can we bind this ourselves? Like many, you imagine what you would like to make if you had access to all the materials and imagery you desired, and then work back to what you actually have, what you can afford. There are many things I would like to try, letterpress components on a lithographic offset page for example, but would prove too costly to justify. Is it necessary this time round, or can something else be done to describe desired effect or idea? But I like these restrictions and particulars that force you to decide what is the most important element. I like to have to think up ways around something. It is similar to the exhilarated rush of working towards a deadline. No matter how organized, there will always be the all-nighter at the last dash.

So, we plan how to fit the most on the page before it is printed and later guillotined to size. We return to the library and borrow more books than can carry. We scan a tremendous amount of imagery and file for later use. It is ongoing.

As to the postcards, I have a very good source, but am afraid it is a secret only a few know. Perhaps I will tell you next time.

Have you found the independent publishing scene in Melbourne an encouraging environment for creativity?
I am sure it is. Certainly so. But, as with all my endeavors, I approach from the outside looking in. All of our artists’ books and zines too are self-published numbers. Louise and I are delighted that we’ve had so many chances to display our books in various exhibitions and that they are part of many collections. It is gratifying and humbling to think that somewhere in an archival box sits a collection of our zines at the Tate Library.

Is Melbourne an affordable city for somebody working in the arts? Is it becoming more difficult?
For me, I would say it is affordable, but then I will always live in a city that is foremost near to my family and friends. I could not really imagine living in another country from my parents; I would miss them too much. Seem to have fallen off track here, yes to affordability. The recent Melbourne International Film Festival was of particular affordable highlight when you translate all the inspiration and joy to ticket price.

Tell me about your current exhibition in the Netherlands.
Louise and I were most flattered to be invited to draw together a series of recent works for SOLV’s art programme.

The drawings and collages in Our Boat was the Lightest Feather come largely from our most recent zines. (Louise’s The interloper, and my three foldout postcard collage ones, Looking and almost never finding, It was quite a wilderness, and That in the moon did glitter.) In this collection, you can expect to find a few of our collaborative works alongside a coral-billed ground cuckoo, a Swedish balancing act in a public arena, and a bear pursued by the moon in London. Yes, all as it should be there. Here’s to the next!

Matthew Asprey