In celebration of Book Week Scotland, the DCA held an exhibition of books, published ephemera and (maga)zines made by artists selected from, amongst others, the Heart Fine Art in Edinburgh, the DCA’s recent exhibitions programme and the Centre for Artists’ Books which is based in the Visual Research Centre in the building. Exhibiting books is never easy – balancing the desire to touch, open and explore with the need to keep the work in a safe and fit state for display is difficult, so it was good to see tables where handling was actively encouraged. Indeed, that hands-on element comprised the first section of the exhibition, where Thomas Hirschhorn, Don Graham and Raymond Pettibon presented strongly. Otherwise, the gallery showed three conventional glassed cases and a mural display.
The first vitrine focused on the sixties and seventies, most particularly on significant Minimalist and Conceptual artists’ works. Sol LeWitt’s tight geometrics in a less familiar medium were worth seeing, while Ed Rucha’s wonderfully witty and irony-heavy “Royal Road Test” was joyous. Weiner’s “Declaration of Intent” is a must for anyone seeking the roots of Conceptual Art theory.
The fun that was “Aspen” dominated the second case. Phyllis Johnston (formerly editor of “Woman’s Wear Daily”) wanted to create something “away from the bound magazine format” and certainly, she succeeded. Lou Reed, Andy Warhol and others featured in a media-crossing adventure. Perhaps taking the records out of the sterile casing, and playing them, particularly “La Monte Young” – a drift study, with the instruction “May be played at any constant speed”– would have been a multi-disciplinary addition and entirely fitting.
The third case contained arguably the most beautiful of the books and ephemera, from Edwin Morgan’s evocative poem “the Chaffinch Map of Scotland” to Ian Hamilton Finlay’s explorations in other aspects of Concrete Poetry – there was a real sense, here, of celebration of the typographer’s art. Monk, Shrigley, and particularly Bellingham, sit comfortably there. Two Pavel Buchler books featured, but we return to that central problem; through the glass, all that was visible was the line drawing on each cover. A more innovative approach to display would have been advantageous.
The last vitrine, and indeed both the last table and mural display, provided an exciting contrast to the crafted, preceding work. Fanzines, the thrill of the punk explosion, and the individual, anarchic flair of the underground were well represented. “Fucked Up and Photocopied” (Turcotte/Miller) is probably the most informative and comprehensive book on the “Instant Art” of Punk.
It was good to see DCA’s own “Chicks on Speed” here, and both that and Aberdeen’s “Cake” –“comics, art and social commentary served up with a pinch of irony and a side helping of self-deprecation” richly deserved their space. The wall collage and incorporated submission challenge of the Dundee based curatorial collective, Yuck and Yum, appealed, yet this display was disappointingly less varied than on initial acquaintance.
The anarchic, anti-graphic design stance of the fanzine was well-captured in the exhibition, but it would have been exciting to balance that story by showing some of the elegant, and often tactile, contemporary work of private presses, or the challenging, interactive typographic experiments seen earlier this year at Stanza. In truth, these are the real successors of Morgan et al. Additionally, an opportunity was missed to display the exquisite work of artist/crafts people’s handmade, mixed-media books. Superb work in this area can be found in Dundee and Fife, and in the National Library of Scotland. There was much to excite and to challenge here. A longer exhibition and a commitment to showing a more open interpretation of the term “Artists’ Books” would have produced a more comprehensive and satisfying exhibition. No matter. There will be other Book Weeks; more chances. The book is far from moribund.