Promoting awareness of artists' books

UWE Bristol research has significantly influenced understanding and appreciation of the artist’s book internationally. This has brought real benefits for artists, educators, curators and the general public, through successful events and book sales, advice, prizes and the establishment of a book arts resource centre.

Raising awareness and encouraging innovation

What is an artist’s book? Research carried out by Sarah Bodman and Tom Sowden from UWE Bristol’s Centre for Fine Print Research has had a major impact on the understanding of artists’ books – books made by artists using traditional, digital and innovative formats.

Bodman and Sowden’s seminal publication, A Manifesto for the Book, encouraged a wider perception of the artist’s book in its innovative and traditional formats. A dealer of artists’ books in the USA says: “I cite the work frequently when I lecture about both contemporary and historical aspects of artists’ books to reach the general art going public who may have never before heard of such a thing.”

Challenging conventional wisdom

This debate on the nature of book arts has challenged conventional wisdom by promoting innovative artistic practice alongside traditional skills - artists’ books can be made using knit or fine binding and can also take the form of performance art, sculpture and hypertext.

The researchers introduced new ways of thinking about artists’ books to an international audience of other artists, collectors and the public. This was achieved via a mix of academic and artistic collaborations, including interviews, case studies, exhibitions, and a major conference.

Bodman and Sowden have also made this innovative practice accessible to everyone via an online exhibition of 133 examples of contemporary artists’ books.

National and international impact

One of the great strengths of the project has been helping artists, events organisers and educators, to achieve their different aims. The impact has been felt internationally as well as in the UK.

For example, Bodman was invited to curate a section of books by British artists for the 9th Polish Book Art Festival, which showcased international artists. Her selection of 42 artists’ books, one of which was awarded the jury’s first prize, promoted works by British artists to a Polish audience.

Bodman and Sowden also gave talks to a book art festival in Denmark and provided free artists’ books for exhibitions and workshops. According to the festival organiser: “This attracted more artist participants from Europe and the USA, and more visits from the general public, collectors and librarians. This generated sales for exhibiting artists and further funding for the festival."

Access to specialist facilities

The UK’s first open-access book arts resource centre, the London Centre for Book Arts (LCBA) opened in 2013, inspired by the UWE project’s case study proposal of a model USA book arts centre, MCBA (Minnesota Center for Book Arts). Successful from its first day, the Centre continues to promote book arts and artist-led publishing in the UK through teaching and access to specialist facilities.

Bodman and Sowden’s influence has been widespread among practitioners and academics worldwide. South African artist, David Paton, from the University of Johannesburg says: “My involvement has had both direct and indirect impact on my work as a teacher, as well as on my own research in the field of artists’ books.”

Exhibit for an international audience

Bodman and Sowden are co-organising Bristol Artist’s Book Event (BABE) 2015 in collaboration with the Arnolfini Gallery Bristol. BABE is a biennial event promoting artists’ books which attracts thousands of visitors. BABE 2015 will exhibit books by 98 national and international artists, publishers and presses.