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