Phil Owen | Arnolfini Collaborations Producer
Arty (2001 – ongoing), Transition Editions
Cathy Lomax, ed.
I think I first became aware of Arty magazine about 15 years ago, when I bought a copy of Arty Greatest Hits (a collection of the first sixteen issues) from Here on Stokes Croft. It felt like a distillation of a world I was just becoming aware of – I had studied at a really conservative university, but through undertaking a range of poorly-paid part time jobs, was starting to meet practicing artists: people who were both critically engaged in a tradition of contemporary art, but were also just making opportunities for themselves, setting up shows and events in small spaces, and taking an active part within a DIY creative network. Arty looks and feels like a punk fanzine, but with references to nineteenth century painters, degree shows and Frieze. I thought it was incredibly cool. It is irreverent without being cynical. Leafing back through it now to write this, I find it stirs surprisingly powerful reflections on what inspired me then, and what I have maybe allowed to atrophy now. I really hope young, aspiring artists are still reading it.
You can buy Arty from the Arnolfini bookshop, once lockdown is over. In the meantime, and for further information, see http://www.artymagazine.com/index.html
Vantar/Missing (2014), Bird Editions
I couldn’t compile this list without including a piece by Nancy. I first met her when she was running artist book surgery session at BABE in the Arnolfini Reading Room. Since then we have become friends, and I have become a committed fan of her work.
In selecting which of her pieces to include here, I thought of Vantar, which she made during a residency in northern Iceland. It combines beautifully printed photographs of snowy mountainsides and close-ups of rumpled white bed sheets, with a very sparse text on avalanches, and the etymology of the word vantar (from the Old Icelandic for to want or lack). From the disarmingly simple combination, the book seems to evoke a lot about remoteness, distance, dreaming and intimacy. All of which makes it feel especially appropriate for our current lockdown lifestyles.
The Chantilly Codex
Chantilly, Musee Conde MS 564
There is a definite connection between contemporary artists’ books and the books of the later medieval period. The shift from orality to literacy threw up a particular awareness of and playfulness towards the scope of books and reading, that I don’t think was seen again until you get twentieth century artists looking to books as a means to disseminate their ideas. The Chantilly Codex is a manuscript of polyphonic music from the late fourteenth century. Some of the pieces are written in a system of musical notation that enables the composer to write music of such formidable rhythmic complexity, that you wonder whether it was ever intended to be performed at all – and wasn’t instead simply to be contemplated as a sort of ingenious equation, on the page. Similarly, a few pieces in the ms set out the notation in a graphic style, which is highly reminiscent of twentieth century concrete poetry – a love song printed in the shape of a heart, a perpetual canon written on a circular stave.
A PDF of the Chantilly Codex is available here: https://imslp.org/wiki/Codex_Chantilly_(Various)
While a luxurious facsimile edition is also available: https://www.omifacsimiles.com/brochures/chantilly.html
I should also mention this wonderful online source of medieval British manuscripts:
I remember when I first trawled through the Arnolfini artists’ book collection, being struck by a several large, thick almost telephone directory-like volumes, in among the boxes of pamphlets and folded papers. These were four volumes of the Assembling series, which the American conceptual artist and writer Richard Kostelanetz founded in 1970 with Henry James Korn. The premise was simple – they invited artists and writers to submit one thousand copies of up to four pages (8 1/2” x 11”) of whatever they wanted to share, bound these together to create an edition of one thousand, and sent them out. Pieces were included according to the alphabetical order of the artists’ names, with no editorial interventions – Kostlanetz has said ‘we wanted a compositional structure radically different from the restrictive, self-serving nature of traditional editorial processes’. The result was an incredible diversity of creative output by a massive range of artists, some famous, many others not, and an extraordinary capturing of the zeitgeist of conceptual art in the 1970s.
The fifth, sixth, seventh and eight volumes of the Assembling series are available to view, along with a number of other book works by Kostelanetz, as part of Arnolfini’s artists’ book collection, held at Bristol Archives.
The Gathering Cloud (2017)
It seems fitting at a time when so much cultural output is being engaged with online, to look at a book which overlaps with digital artistic production. The Gathering Cloud is a poetic text interspersed with images, which explores historical ideas about meteorology with current thinking about the environmental impact of data storage and climate change. It was created by the wonderful Canadian-born, Devon-based writer and artist JR Carpenter, and won her the 2016 New Media Writing Prize. Originally commissioned by the 2016 NEoN Digital Arts Festival in Dundee, as a hybrid print and web-based work, it was published as a book by the Westcountry publisher, Uniformbooks in 2017 (the whole Uniformbooks back catalogue is a treasure trove for anybody interested in art, writing and place).