Tomorrow morning we open the doors to BABE 2017. With hours to go and set up fully underway, we put some questions to artist Liz Mathews about her work and what she'll be bringing to the festival...
How did you start making artists’ books?
I’ve been working in clay as a studio potter and lettering artist for over 30 years now - my partner the writer and poet Frances Bingham and I set up our first studio in 1986 after university, and over the years we’ve done many many projects together. My first artist’s book was a joint project in 1999, ‘MOTHERTONGUE', with a brilliant story-poem by Frances and my images - many of which were works in clay, photographed and developed by hand by us both in a rented darkroom. We made a limited edition of 100, with lots of original handmade elements and some hand printing, and we had a wonderful time making it. This fed into other later projects, including our artists’ films, but I didn’t make my first one-off artist’s book until I’d been working in clay for 20 years, for an installation residency in the Southbank Centre’s Poetry Library. For this I wanted to draw the poems from the books on the shelves and fling them through the air - so the installation really invaded the library’s space, woven in among the bookstacks. ‘Poemwhitepagewhitepagepoem' is a book with pages made from fired clay, setting a poem by Muriel Rukeyser, and with 'Banners banner' I wrapped the ‘pages’ of a book round one of the huge pillars that run right through the Southbank Centre, tying them on with embroidery silks, clothing it like a robe. I’m still finding new ideas sparking from the poems I set for this installation, and I’ve been making artist’s books ever since, in many different forms.
What does BABE mean to you?
It’s a chance to get out of the studio and meet a great crowd, a real antidote to the sobering daily news of our times, and explore a huge range of really innovative books, bookworks and other strange apparitions. On top of this, we’re looking forward to a weekend with a fabulous informed and interested audience.
Would you like to tell us something about what you’ll be showing?
I’m delighted to be showing with artistsbooksonline.com - we’re an independent collective with a very diverse and exciting range of work between us - and with about 10 book artists showing on the stand, it’s almost a microcosm of the whole exhibition. I’m also presenting a screening of my new artist’s film 'The moment that holds you' on Sunday at 12noon, made from 16 of my artist’s books setting poems by renowned West Country poet Jeremy Hooker, and I’ll be giving a richly illustrated talk about some of my big projects, including 'Thames to Dunkirk’, the largest book in the British Library. So I’ll be bringing some of the books from my film, and one of my personal all-time favourites, ‘Paper Wings’, a 27m long double-sided concertina book that I’ve made from a cycle of love-poems by poet, writer and activist Maureen Duffy, a real hero of mine. And I’m also showing 'The Strand of the Thames' with a moving entry from Virginia Woolf’s diary about meeting a group of refugees in 1939 - words that resonate strongly in 2017.
BABE 2017 will be taking place at Arnolfini over the weekend of the 1st and 2nd of April. You can find out more about the much loved biennial here.