“An affair of volumes”


Gracia Haby & Louise Jennison
Presented in partnership with State Library Victoria
4th August – 26th November, 2017
La Trobe Reading Room
State Library Victoria

This time next week, why, Louise and I will have turned the dome dais in the La Trobe Reading Room of the State Library Victoria into one of our artists’ books.

In the pause between now and then, let’s take a closer look at our work for Looped, starting with a fragment of my tale, A whisker lighter.

Quickly, quickly, down the stairs at a canter, and out onto the street, I slipped into the crowd, following its motion. Swept forward in the direction of the soulless lunch halls, juice bars, and tiny cafés, I was the flipside of a flâneur with no room to saunter. But cobwebs could still be un-tacked and joints oiled in the rolling swell; I could still dissolve into my own world; disappear inside a crowd. Giving myself over to just walking, one foot in front of the other, until I found my longed-for beat. Turn right, ahead, pause, turn left, ahead. Walking with purpose and a steady pace to an imaginary appointment. Don’t move too slowly, mind. Just ‘make yourself invisible, or get busy with something’, advised the forever-walking words of Robert Walser in my ear.

There, at the tram stop, a beige of commuters. With their phones they could shut out the disturbances of other people around them. They could look important, interesting, disinterested, don’t bother me. They could be as hidden in their focus as they chose. It seemed that no-one noticed anybody anymore, and, of course, this was particularly advantageous to me; from not just the sidelines, but out in the middle, I could watch the quirks and patterns of others. Thanks to the handheld device, the twitcher in me no longer needed a bird hide in order to observe my subject. Make yourself invisible, or get busy with something. Would anyone look up if I pulled a face in spite of the wind?

Passing the library, a sizeable section of the lawn was fenced off. A low temporary barrier had been pegged in place to enable the grass its forty-winks to regenerate. A kip to allow the new seed to take hold seemed just what I needed also. And there, atop the bed of sleeping grass, a kit of pigeons, a flock of gulls, and a quarrel of sparrows with no desire to call in on the old ballroom when they had such a prize. Safe, and in possession of a sheltered location, they basked in the warmth of the sun. The pigeons, in particular, puffed out and fanned their feathers to make the most of the solar heat. Their fans lent the scene an air of Sunday picnickers, an Eden for Birds Only, and I was glad I had chanced upon this moment that threw sunlight on my impression of the world. It was in these small and ephemeral shards that life made sense. All that was good, transfigured into form! It was in these quiet encounters that I was pierced and purpose was found.


And keep your eyes on #GraciaLouiseLooped to be a part of the last minute particulars and the installation process.


(“An affair of volumes”, Gwen John quoted by Cecily Langdale, Gwen John: With a Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings and a Selection of the Drawings (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987) p. 1.)


Image credit: Gracia Haby and Louise Jennison, detail from trapezoid-shaped collage resting beneath the artists’ book No longer six feet under, 2017