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Thursday, 16 December 2010

Between the Books

A Book in the Hand, Jessa Leff

Something caught my eye the other day, a poster for an exhibition called 'Between the Books' in Cambridge library. As a literature student who loves art, this has an obvious appeal. Anyway despite the horrendous weather I decided to venture out for some fresh air, I didn't quite know what was in store. So let me tell you about the books and the bees...

Smooth sea do not make skillful sailors, Gill Collinson

Armed with a list of the 30 pieces of book art on display the visitor is instructed to 'hunt' the bookshelves and workspaces of libraries to find them. At 2o years old, peering down each aisle of books, I felt a little embarrassed (mostly because I was sure that the regular library users had no idea what I was doing), but also very, very excited.

Steampunk, Deborah Barker ( This was the first book I found and definitely one of my favourites, it reminded me of surrealist photomontages and cubist collages from the early 1900's.

The book hunt was a return to the simple pleasures of childhood and I had to use my imagination to find them. Initially my search was fairly fruitless because I assumed that the books would only be on top of the shelves, they couldn't be in amongst the books themselves? But they were. I scoured three floors and countless catalogued sections in an attempt to find as many as possible. As an adult, the books were as exciting as chocolate eggs had once been.

Where is the spider? Hilary Moreton

Exploring the diverse possibilities of putting together a book; from the materials involved to technical methods such as Japanese punch binding, the exhibition presents an innovative selection of experiments. I took sneaky photos of some of my favourites but other highlights included; 'Ten weeks of Off-cuts' by Rosemary Bangham which collected and laminated waste material to form a new book; Wing Yee Mak's 'Spice Trail' which had secret spices hidden in pockets; and 'The A-Z of Bury Farm' by Candida Bradley which collected a wealth of material and included some beautiful lettering.

Mapping, Henrietta Eagle-Wilsher, made up of maps of Cambridgeshire and including journeys and memories.

The exhibition reminded me of something I saw in China, 'The Change Heart Reading co.' by Jin Shi. Jin Shi created a whole bookshop for the perusal of the viewer, with books crammed, stacked in a labyrinth of shelves. However in China I could only experience the visuals of the installation; colour, the shape of chinese characters and bright illustrations. In the library my interaction with the artworks was far more important because I could experience the linguistic message too.

Had I been able to read Mandarin perhaps I would have pulled books from the shelves, taking time to absorb that lush sensation of being immersed in a beautiful bookshop. Instead the exhibition showed me closed possibilities, language shut me out.

'Book Arts bypass the constraints of the gallery-giving the creator complete control. The 'walls' or pages, of the book are the limit of your gallery. One can transform the form of a book from how we are accustomed to it, to something much more creative and thought-provoking.'

Between the Books is on at the Cambridge library until January 9th.


  1. Sounds like an interesting show. Reminds me of Douglas Crimp's story about stumbling across a book by Ed Ruscha cataloged in the "transportation" section of the library.,Douglas

  2. So glad you enjoyed the exhibition and thank you so much for featuring my steampunk book :-) I'll send a link to your blog to Rosemary and Candida so they can let the others know.

  3. HKP, only just got round to having a look at your link, thank you! It's brilliant!

  4. Thanks for this review and lovely pictures. I'm going to try and make sure I make it to the library to take a look before the exhibition closes on 9 Jan. On the subject of maps, have you seen the Hand Drawn Map Association?

  5. What a wonderful way to spend a day on this hunt! I would have loved to do something like that, the combination of art and literature would excite me too! That mapping is just my cup of tea, I would have spent ages with that one!