In interview
May 2008


The Australian collaborative duo of Gracia Haby and Louise Jennison has been delighting and intriguing fans for many years now. Using paper as their primary medium, the perfectly matched pair create limited edition artists' books, lithographic offset prints, zines and the like. With a half dozen websites between them (and who knows when the next one will be launched) catching up with either one can be something of a treasure hunt, but lucky for us, we got to connect with both of them.

Gracia and Louise live and work in Melbourne, Australia. They spoke with Elizabeth in May 2008.

Gracia Haby, I'm not trying to trick you; not purposefully (detail), 2009, artists' book exhibited as part of A key to help make your own world visible, with Louise Jennison

It seems Gracia & Louise has been together longer than chocolate and peanut butter or coffee and cream, but surely there was a time when you met — can you share that with us? Where the collaboration began and how it evolved into the magic that is Gracia & Louise?
Yes, I guess we have been collaborating for some time now. It's not one of those things we consciously entered into nor one we ponder upon the mechanics of. We rather fell into it, without even realising; a turn here, and a turn there, and here we are. We made our first limited edition collaborative artists' book, This morning I went into the garden, in 1999, so, yes, it has been awhile that we've been nutting out compositions, scoring paper, gluing covers and sourcing material and imagery side by side.

Both studying painting at RMIT (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology) we worked, for the most part, in neighbouring studio spaces and held several small group exhibitions together. Printing invitations, installing and de-installing an exhibition and all those other tasks both grotty and less grotty, we knew we could easily work together without either one feeling as though a toe had been stepped on or a corner cut. Our collaboration, in this area, felt effortless.

Why not, we thought, take this harmonious working relationship one step further and start to collaborate on an actual artwork too.

The joy of collaborating, as many will attest, is that you end up with something neither could have made without the other; you end up with a third image, one that neither I nor Louise could create, or would want to create, on our own. It is an enjoyable way for us to work, and it is challenging and productive as well.

We also work individually for otherwise we would have little to contribute to the collaborative pieces. I collage, Louise watercolours, and we both draw, and hoard. Some parts of our collaboration are done separately. Louise, for example, is far better than I when it comes to the precision of bookbinding, so the cutting and folding, the gluing and the pressing of uncut pages are largely down to her. Other stages are done so in complete collaboration with us both shoulder to shoulder at the computer, one mouse between two, deciding what needs to be removed, what needs to be added, and what needs a nudge to the left.

How did you get into collage work? Was there a particular inspiration? How would you say your work has evolved over the years?
As with collaboration, collage also, upon reflection, feels very much part of an organic process I fell into. Challenges aside, both are so comfortable that it would be hard to imagine never working with scissors in hand nor Louise by my side.

I enjoy working with material I have consciously selected and collected, and equally I enjoy the challenge of working with images sent to me in the form of postcards (For my Postcard Travels series of works, I use only the postcards sent to me by others, usually either those who read my blog, High Up in the Trees and/or those who know me in person).

I first experimented working with collage at art school, using elements of collage in my paintings and assemblages until I removed the canvas support, put down the brush, and moved closer to the world of books and paper armed with my scissors, glue pot and a brush for gluing. A stint in Switzerland to studying experimental binding techniques (thanks to a travelling scholarship courtesy of the Freedman Foundation) drew Louise and I further into the world of books and their binding, and this went hand in hand with collage.

Technically our skills have improved over the years, and, we hope, our visual language too.

Where do you collect your ephemera and images? Do you ever miss a particular piece once you send it out into the world?
I would like to say I collect all the time but financially this is not always possible; resourcefulness is a thing picked up quickly. That said, I also collect images in my mind from films seen and books read; a less tangible collection in some respects but not all. Everyday observations also play their part. The library, too, is a great place to search for such things (to borrow rather than own). Louise is someone you could say who knows the library better than the back of her hand.

To make collage, or anything really, the main ingredient needed is imagination.

I have a few spots I always go to find things, but really, once there, it is the things that find me. I may have a certain idea or visual in mind that I am looking for but it is best not to be too specific lest you pass something that proves ideal. To narrow a search never works for me. On the whole I will look for images I can add to or remove something from. An image that is complete and does not need anything is of less interest to me; I have little desire to add an additional element thereby subverting reality and altering narrative to such an image. It is the largely chance things I adore.

As to missing a piece, yes, we both do. That many friends and family, and collectors and public collections have purchased our work makes us glad, and it is always nice to know that someone somewhere is looking at it, holding it and enjoying it.

You and Louise create such fabulous zines. How do you go about creating a zine?
So quick and immediate, it is the less polished side of zines that appeals. Where an artists' book can take months upon months to create as we happily chip away at it, a zine represents the complete opposite whilst still being a labour of love.

We don't really collect zines but we do often trade zines. We have amassed a small but handsome collection this way, and they reside in a glass-topped cabinet that our cats Omar and Olive love to sit on (when closed).

Creating a zine (depending upon edition size) requires an idea, a computer (we scan our images and place them in) and access to a photocopier. A guillotine for trimming, a stapler or thread for the spine, and time to sit and collate, that is all you need. We then distribute our zines to Sticky (a zine haven found the Degraves Street underpass, Melbourne) and sell them through our online store, shipping them to new homes both near and far.

We can keep them affordable and they are deliciously low tech. Generally we sell them at cost; the fun is in the making. You wouldn't make zines for extra coinage in your pocket.

Can you share with us the inspiration that launched your newest endeavour, A Skulk of Foxes and A Husk of Hares — how do you balance so many creative outlets?
Collective nouns are so poetic and capable of conjuring such rich imagery that one can't help fall for them. A quiver of arrows, a tabernacle of bakers, a smack of jellyfish and a pitying of doves, how could anyone resist? From marvelling at such delights to creating a new blog space, A Skulk of Foxes and a Husk of Hares, the progression seemed a natural one. Inviting Elaine (my Mum and fellow artist) along on such an adventure, and my collaboration chum Louise seemed yet another obvious choice staring me in the face. Together we shall respond predominately visually to collective nouns for people, animals, concepts and things.

In terms of balance, I have little idea how that is achieved. Sometimes, most of the time, it feels as though things are in chaos completely and utterly. With so many things in the air, it is impossible to catch them all but it is awfully fun trying.

What are your favourite seasons? Favourite places to travel? Any places you'd love to visit in the future?
Autumn, hands down, is a favourite season. Light coats and scarves can be worn, soup simmers on the stove and the cats chase the light spots in the house and sleep in its warmth. It is a productive time of year for us and it signals that the year is halfway through.

Now, as to places to travel, both of us would dearly love to travel anywhere and everywhere. Tomorrow our airline tickets would take us to Russia and across to Finland. Care to join us?

Um, sorry kids. After being buried under 150 inches of snow this past Winter, I'm only booking flights to beachy enclaves — but do send us a postcard!
And, many thanks to you both!

Central New Hampshire, USA
Squam Art Workshops