Place: A travelling exhibition of artists' books. Canberra Museum + Gallery. Until October 31, 2020.
Artists' books can take many forms - casual sketch books, visual diaries or, as in this exhibition, conceptual and carefully conceived works of art. Curated by artists Avril Makula and Liz Jeneid, Place is a wonderfully diverse collection of books from 40 artists from NSW, ACT, Victoria and Queensland.
There are traditionally bound books, concertina and folded constructions, pop-up and three-dimensional paper constructions. The theme of the exhibition,Place, can be a physical space or an imaginary place evoked by experience and emotion.
As with the work of so many contemporary artists, an underlying concern for the environment is a recurring theme. It seems that it is difficult to take delight in nature without an accompanying sense of its vulnerability - even if not directly stated by the artist, it has become part of the viewing experience.
Katharine Nix's small intricate work is called the Tree of life. The form of the book, based on the hexagon, questions the perceived hierarchy of humans over nature with delicate little green buds radiating from a centre, perhaps indicating a more viable and valuable life force.
Marama Warren's book called Migration (place to place) follows in text and collage the migration of the kuaka (the godwit) and its arrival on the coast of NSW where the artist lives. Its migration, once heralded by church bells in New Zealand, seems a perilous journey for this small bird.
Mary Rosengren's work Bower 1 isa reflection on the Satin Bowerbird. The pages of her pop-up book are finely cut to resemble the twigs the bird gathers and the book is accompanied by the blue detritus of plastic objects the bird collects for its bower. While Rosengren's work subtly suggests the suburban environment that the bowerbird now inhabits, other artists deal with the spread of the urban landscape in a more direct way.
Robyn Foster's work Dreamscape is a construction of pages decorated with architectural cut-outs that spill out from the book's cover like so many urban developments across the landscape.
Penelope Lee in Invisible City recalls in her folded paper construction the original plan of Canberra by Marion Mahony and Walter Burley Griffin that lies like a palimpsest beneath Canberra's modern urban footprint.
A sense of place as being somewhere else is imaginatively evoked by Lucia Parrella in her two works based on her experiences on the Greek island of Cumae and its renowned Sibyl. Her two books are constructed with side flats like a traditional theatrical stage to draw you into the Sibyl's cave both physically and metaphorically.
Terence Uren's Beach is a visual meditation on memories of beach holidays recollected through collections of sand, shells and montaged boxes.
A collaborative book, Coast, by three Canberra artists with poems by Bernard Hardy, woodcuts by John Pratt and typography by Caren Florance, is a moving and elegant tribute to the coastal experience.
Fran Ifould's book of Lima, Peru in contrast makes a more direct experiential recording of place with her dramatic graphite drawings.
A place can also signify betrayal and unhappiness as in Sue Anderson and Gwen Harrison's book Phantomwise flew the black cockatoo where dark childhood experiences lie recorded in text that is partly hidden behind the dark disturbing images.
And in Un/folded Sara Bowen creates a memorial book to a friend who committed suicide, recapturing a time and place when they had been happy.
Viewing the exhibition Place is an intense experience and, as artist Jackie Cavallaro so pertinently writes of her work, what we see is "just a sliver alluding to what is beyond the frame".