Gracia Haby & Louise Jennison
Presented in partnership with State Library Victoria
4th August – 26th November, 2017
La Trobe Reading Room
State Library Victoria
Yesterday, at 7 am, we tiptoed into the library. With an install kit of essentials — pins, small hammer, pliers, 2B pencil, paper template, scissors, tissue paper, eraser, cleaning cloth, Teflon bone folder — and our five artists’ books and accompanying slipcases, we were light on our feet, streamlined. Two modest in scale parcels, one that would unfurl and take centre stage, and the other that would help it to do so, and grinning ear to ear, the two of us. Having worked out the placement of each of our five artists’ books and their slipcases in advance, and with a map of where each pin was to be placed, we were up to the fun bit. The part where all the components slot into place and you see it as a whole. This is one of my favourite parts. We approached the dais like a familiar friend. After all, we’d been circling it often these past weeks, calling in to check its proportions, taking measurements, photos, and clocking particulars. Now, in the photos, the dais looks somewhat imposing in scale, like a huge organ I could never hope to play, but in the still of blue-light morning, it was welcoming. We had a plan, we knew what to do. We had a plan, and it was all coming true.
Seeing our artists’ books resting upon their large-scale collage bases is little short of a dream. Seeing them in such a space and feeling as though, yes, they fit, they belong, is a wonderful feeling. It is more than a sense of completion. It is something other. Rewarding, yes, perhaps this comes close to describing it.
For our exhibition, Looped, we hope that those who chance upon it might also feel an affinity with the space. In the middle of a grand domed reading room, out in plain sight, a certain intimacy evoked. Just you and the cabinet pages, as behind you someone plays chess and another person stares mutely at their screen. This dais with its jewel-like reflections on the glass and its honeyed timber and ornate carving is not so foreboding, not at all. Its edges have been rubbed smooth by many hands over many years resting upon its frame. And now, until the 26th of November, it is the spine to our five artists’ books which together read as one.
Each trapezoid-shaped collage serves to extend beyond the page. And within each of the five base images, some 100 different layers have been patchworked together. Working on such a large scale was a joy for us both, as shard by shard we grew icebergs and stitched mountains.
Running through the five ‘chapters’ you will also see a 19th century Japanese netsuke mouse. His or her neat wooden form has allowed them to blend into the dais and so nest there, along with the timber unicorn horns and other of-tree parts. Functional and aesthetic, just like a netsuke.
By 10 am, we had finished installing Looped. The morning had run at a gentle pace, though the first trapezoid to place in the cabinet took much patience. Lowering the bases in flat was more tricky than it perhaps sounds. Mounted on 5 mm forex, they gave no flex. With the expert help of State Library Victoria’s Bridie Fleming, we manoeuvred them into place. Or rather, Louise and Bridie did; I held the cabinets open. But all of this, all the things which underpin the whole, this is not what we hope you see. We hope it looks as though it all just ‘popped’ into place, 1, 2, 3, with books and slipcases already pinned, like an architect's model house or a diorama. Better still, we hope it looks as though it just kind of grew out of the timber. Like it was always there. Like it belongs.
Duck in to the library, and see for yourself. Walk around the dais, and turn the pages with your feet.
Image credit: Gracia Haby and Louise Jennison, Disrupted and rumpled (detail), 2017, artists' book