Thursday, October 7, 2010

Q & A with Caroline about Between the Covers exhibition...

Between the covers 3

Town Hall Gallery Curator asks project co-ordinator Caroline Carruthers some questions regarding her project and current exhibition, Between the Covers.

MN Curator: "Where did the idea for this project come from?"

Caroline: "In 2008 I worked with a group of frail, older seniors with physical and mental health issues on my project 'Seeing Ourselves'. This experience was life-enriching for me and, I think, everyone involved: participants, carers, staff at the Evergreen Centre, volunteers, and exhibition visitors. I was so moved by the participants, their stories and life experience, that the idea of telling their stories in a more literal way seemed a natural step. "

MN: "What inspired you to do a project around the 'art of the book'?"

CC: "For an artist who is also a writer I think that the 'art of the book' is a natural convergence of my creative interests.

As a writer I feel an affinity for the tactile experience of books, which means that while I have little interest in the incorporeal unreality of e-books and web publishing, I have a perhaps inevitable interest in creating the physical entity of 'the book' as well as its content.

As an artist I am excited by the explosion of forms and formats that are evolving out of the idea of 'the book'. The link between a conventional printed book (words on pages between covers) and an artist's book (non-traditional but containing elements of a book) has become subtle, but that is part of my enjoyment of the form. I particularly love the sculptural forms of many artists' books and the unexpected changes made in conventional books that have been 'altered' in some way. I'd like to capture some of that surprise and intrigue that I feel in this exhibition.
And I wanted to work with the inspiring people of the Evergreen Centre again."

MN: "Were there challenges with this project?"
CC: "Inevitably. Life never runs smoothly that's part of its charm!"

MN: "What were they?"
"Obtaining and managing funding from a number of different sources is time-consuming and it can be difficult to satisfy the requirements and needs of different sources. The project itself may last a few months but most funding applications need to be made long in advance meaning that a typical project takes about 2 years of work to get underway.

My previous experience of working with seniors required four sessions over a two week period. This project required seven workshops over seven weeks which meant that continuity of attendance was a problem for some participants, but some were so committed to the project that they worked on their books in their own time.

The relative complexity of the project meant that the physical abilities of some participants were challenged. This meant that a high ratio of helpers to participants was needed. However participants enjoyed the challenge, for example one legally blind participant who created an especially tactile book to suit her circumstances.

As noted above having enough support personnel was crucial. The wonderful team of professional staff, work experience students and volunteers from the Evergreen Centre, together with the volunteers from the Boroondara Writers' Group, were essential support to the participants in achieving their vision.

I was probably a bit ambitious with the length of the project, as noted above some participants did not feel they could attend often enough to complete their books. However some people worked in their own time or completed two books, so perhaps it's more about the differences between people than a failure of the project design?"

MN: "Was there something that has amazed or surprised you from working on this project?"
"Just the old cliché - that everyone has a story. It has been a powerful reminder of the individuality, the uniqueness, of each one of us. These seniors have shared their experiences, hopes and expectations with the project facilitators, and now with everyone who gets the opportunity to see their creations. We only used two simple formats but the books are very individual, especially in their content: pictorial essays on a life of travel, forty years teaching in Tanzania or a life in aeronautics; a serious autobiographical work or a tactile experience of nature created by a blind participant.

I was also surprised by how some participants 'usurped' the process, coming to the project with clear ideas of how it would work for them. Book formats were adapted and ways to 'edition' the books were devised for some participants."

MN: "For the exhibition you are showcasing works from the project alongside more professional artists works."
"Yes. I always had the intention to include 'artists' books' in the exhibition, mainly because I am so amazed at what artists have done with the idea of books. In some cases 'artists' books' resemble a conventional book but often the relationship between an artist's book and a conventional book is very tenuous indeed but they should have some element of paper, words, images, covers, to connect them to the concept of a book.

I don't think I plan this way, but on reflection I like to develop projects that have an educational element. In this case, not only to show the participants, volunteers and staff how to do something new, but also to share my interest in unconventional 'artists' books' with participants and visitors. "

MN: "Do you think that participants in the project have found this inspiring?"
"I think they are interested to see what these 'artists' books' will be. The simple, non-traditional book formats we have used have stretched the participants' imaginations and opened them up to new ideas about what a book can be. I think the participants who are exhibiting their books are rightly proud of their achievement, and I think their work can stand beside the professional works as equally powerful expressions of emotion, instinct and intellect."

MN: "Who are the 'professional artists'?"
CC: "The professional artists are Robert Clinch: a contemporary realist painter based in Ashburton. He has received many awards and he is represented in the Town Hall Gallery Collection, as well as other private, corporate and public collections in Australia and overseas.
Gail Stiffe, who is based in Glen Iris, has made paper since 1984 and books since 1990. She has received many awards and is represented in public and private collections in Australia and overseas.
Bronwyn Rees is a printmaker and painter based in Kew. She is represented in the National Gallery of Australia collection and is exhibited in Australia and internationally."

MN: "Why were they selected?"
"These artists were selected because they are locally based and have experience with artists' books, creating 'art expressed in book form'. Each represents a different approach to artists' books. Robert is more of a traditionalist in his approach, working with a master printmaker to create 'books' of prints created from his paintings and drawings. Bronwyn is a printmaker herself and works with paper and ink to create images on paper which form her 'books'. Gail makes paper and creates 'books' (often sculptural) from it."

MN: "What do you hope that viewers come away from this exhibition with?"
CC: "I hope that first of all they will be moved by the books made by the project participants. I hope they will be inspired to make their own books. I hope the exhibition can promote understanding and appreciation of our elders' lives and contribution. I hope viewers will be surprised and entertained, and that they will learn something about the obscure art of books."

MN: "What do you hope that the participants in the project come away with?"
CC: "Initially, a fun activity which has challenged their capabilities and expectations a little and given them enjoyment and a sense of achievement. An activity which has given them a new appreciation of one another through the process, and through each person's 'story'.

For the participants exhibiting, I think they will experience a pride in their achievement to see their work in the gallery context alongside the work of professional artists, and at the end of the exhibition they have their books to share with friends and family.
And I hope that for some of them this is a beginning to the creation of more books for whatever purpose suits them. One participant has been inspired to get professional editing assistance in completing his autobiography. "

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